Is your collabortion structured to sustain itself?

The following article is excerpted from The Nimble Collaboration.

Collaboration is intricate work that occurs in the middle of a rapidly changing set of mandates, citizen interests, and funding. It’s easy to get bogged down, especially if you are trying to change a system deeply steeped in bureaucracies. You need a collaboration that supports proactive thinking in dynamic circumstances and quick decision making that keeps the partners involved. You need a nimble collaboration.

Nimble collaborations rely on three strategies: a focus on results, active work on relationships among organization partners, and resilience. In this article you will read about the 10 principles of resilience that support nimble collaborations.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, resilience means “elastic, capable of returning to original shape after being bent or stretched…recovering quickly.” That definition offers an apt insight. Resilience implies the ability to stretch and bend, to undergo difficulties and yet return to a recognizable shape. A nimble collaboration is built elastically on a firm foundation so that it can deal proactively with a changing environment.

If the governance structure of your collaboration is built on the principles of resilience, then your collaboration will survive the fantasies of policy makers, the vagaries of funders, and the inconsistency of collaboration partners.

1. The leadership of each participating agency energetically supports the results the collaboration aims to achieve. Leaders and board members are keenly interested in results and want to know how the work is progressing.

2. There is equity – not equality – of organizational power in the collaboration.
Each organization that has something to contribute to the issue is a member of the collaboration. Some organizations are bigger or have more influence than other partners, but there is space for each player in the game. Partners treat each other with respect, impartiality, and fairness.

3. Systems are changed when individual organizations change themselves internally.
Wise collaborators strive for permanent system change by demanding that parts of the system change. Each partner organization modifies its own policies, procedures, protocols, and priorities in order to create a better system.

4. Leadership is shared among organizations. There is no one leader in a collaboration, no single “big boss.” All the partners are held accountable for results.

5. Conflict is expected and will be managed effectively. A key function of any governance system is to manage conflict. Strategies for resolving conflict are spelled out, and there is a clear list of who makes what decisions.

6. Collaboration is transparent and does not create a new level of bureaucracy.
The collaboration does not constitute another hoop for local organizations to jump through in order to get funding. A collaboration is not a new agency.

7. Each agency in a collaboration is accountable to its leadership and its constituents.
Collaboration provides individual agencies with the opportunity to create policies for themselves that make sense in light of the bigger picture.

8. Decision-making gets faster and more effective as power to make decisions is delegated to appropriate sub-groups.. Good decisions are made as close to the consumer as possible. Decision making structures and processes are closely tied to trust. The more partners trust one another, the easier it is to delegate decision-making.

9. Collaborations are not permanent. The reasons partners come together are to achieve some results they cannot achieve alone. Successful collaborations act; they change the system, renew organizations, generate new funds, or involve citizens in new ways. When the new way of doing business is institutionalized the collaboration is dissolved.

10. Documentation ensures resilience.Written agreements spell out the vision, mission, and strategies of the collaboration.

The nimble collaboration shapes a structure that supports these principles, just as a skilled ship maker creates a sound hull. A governance structure that uses these principles helps a collaboration sustain itself as a healthy partnership.