Successful Collaboration Yields Bountiful Harvests

Seedsby Judie Fien-Helfman

On Sukkot, we reap what we have planted. We celebrate community. There is great potential in working together – whether cooperating, coordinating or collaborating. Working together across agencies presents tremendous opportunities to leverage individual expertise into greater impact. Why don’t we work together more? Why do some collaborations succeed and others fail? We know planting some fruits and vegetables together creates greater growth. Similarly, there are planting practices that create successful and sustainable collaborations. Here are ten proven principles, derived from my professional experience.

  • The Collaboration Benefits Each Agency: A partnership should complement each agency’s expertise and mission. Asking “what are we trying to achieve and why” leads to candid conversations. By each partner benefiting from the process and collaboration, the end result creates something bigger that neither could do alone.
  • Compelling Vision: A shared purpose and focused vision creates an inspirational foundation for the partnership. Defining and developing targeted opportunities builds the relationship and manages expectations.
  • Committed Partners/Effective Leadership: Everyone, at all levels of the organization, must have a keen sense of how to get things done and an urgency to achieve outcomes. The collaboration must address a crucial need, and not be viewed as an “add-on” to daily work. A designated “project leader” should represent the interests of all the partners.
  • Choose Partners/Services Wisely: The preliminary thought process must be focused to promote an innovative partnership. Often, initial thinking is too expansive – what programs or services might we offer, who can we invite? Early in the discussions, each participant must agree to the specific outcomes, roles and expertise of each partner, and the strategies for accomplishing vision and goals.
  • Anticipate Differences in Organizational Culture: Each partner brings a distinct culture – attitudes, values, identity and ways of working to the collaboration. Each partner must recognize and respect any differences in operations (e.g. service delivery, fund-raising, finances, staff management, etc.). This recognition builds trust and generates confidence in each other’s abilities.
  • Staff Autonomy and Supervision: Collaborations represent change. A vibrant partnership needs autonomy to forge new relationships that achieve desired outcomes. Everyone needs to understand their new roles. Implementing change requires inspiration and supervision, not micromanagement.
  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: Extensive and intensive communication must be present from the beginning. Communicate up, down, sideways, internally and externally. Solicit ongoing feedback from all levels. Have a clear communication plan and structure in place to share decisions, challenges and successes.
  • Plan for Evaluation at the Start: Defining a goal statement and outcomes, from the outset, creates empowerment and accountability for evaluation. Establishing what will be measured – when and how – promotes a shared commitment for success.
  • Outside Facilitation May Help: A neutral facilitator can ensure the balance of power between the partners is respected and valued. The facilitator’s role enables expectations to be managed, voices heard, thorny human resource and authority issues addressed, and difficult conversations held.
  • Pay Attention to the Process: Collaborative work can be complex and difficult! Anticipate the unexpected. Be prepared to make modifications. Remain attentive. Monitor your progress. Resolve challenges quickly. Most importantly, celebrate your successes along the way.

As the communal landscape continues to change, it is incumbent on those who care about improving, expanding and maintaining the vibrancy of community, to think holistically; to wisely and effectively leverage resources. A successful collaboration produces greater impact and synergy, and could also reduce expenses. To reap more, we must plant more.

Judie Fien-Helfman is the founder of Concierge Philanthropy and Non-Profit Strategies. Her experience spans some 30 years working in the Jewish community and serving on nonprofit boards. She previously served as Chief Planning Officer for a large city Federation. Judie can be reached at jfh@conciergephilanthropy.com

This article first appeared on Wexner Leads.