Nine Rules to a Successful Collaboration

by Robert Hyfler, PhD

Talk of collaboration is in the Jewish air. We discuss and praise its virtues constantly. Yet not all collaborations make sense, not all collaborations are well thought out, and not all collaborations work. Below are nine “rules”, briefly stated, toward successful communal collaborations.

  1. Vision, urgency of communal need and an ambitious social return are primary tests of a collaboration’s efficacy. A potentially successful collaboration must always promise to do what none could do on their own. When all four factors are present the collaboration can overcome the difficult mechanics and dynamics of turf and institutional self interest. When a collaboration works it brings out the “better angels” in us all.
  2. Collaborations need to be appropriately funded. Adequate plus resources must always accompany a passionate and expanded vision. While the drive for cost efficiencies is admirable, as an organizing motivator it makes for marriages of convenience and not inter-institutional love affairs.
  3. A collaboration requires leadership, coordination and accountability not domination. Convening organizations, be they Federations, foundations or large local or national agencies should act with constant consultation, smarts and humility. There will be plenty of praise and credit for all who traffic in the spirit of true collaboration. While we have sadly come to expect heavy handedness on the part of major players, gestures of empowerment and inclusivity will bring true rewards and be remembered.
  4. A successful collaboration is a partnership of the willing, the talented and the relevant all parties need to carry their weight. Conveners and funders should insist on first tier leadership from all parties and the deployment of top in their class line staff. The perennial “bench players” need not apply.
  5. Collaborations occur vertically and horizontally. It is as important to engage the line staff of the agencies in the spirit and protocols of the partnership as it is to secure the buy in of organizational leaders. In the delivery of services healthy morale and operational problem solving occurs in the field. In addition, the client centeredness of line supervisors and staff is often a healthy corrective to the politics of the board room.
  6. Collaborations must intensify when things do not go as planned. The collaboration must keep the active involvement of the partners fresh and dynamic. Ongoing “real time” evaluation and re-calibration should be built in from the start.
  7. Clients are collaborators. They are word or mouth marketers, providers of feedback for excellence at all stages of the project and can often be the impetus for next steps and future collaborations. Engage them with care and respect.
  8. Approach potential financial backers collectively. Foundations, government agencies and individual donors see the gravitas of the project when a coalition of parties knocks on their doors. The convening of a “funder’s forum” around a high stakes project further resonates.
  9. Be wary of “brand overload”. It seems as if, on a weekly basis, a new catchy titled program appears on the Jewish landscape. While good for our Hebrew vocabulary, judge carefully whether the time frame and significance of the project is realistically reflected in the language and scope of its publicity and marketing.

The rest, as we say, is commentary and performance.

Robert Hyfler is a Jewish organizational consultant. He can be reached at