There are some typical challenges in inter-organisational collaboration which it's as well to be ready for. I'll summarise them here, and then blog in more detail about each one over the coming weeks.
- it isn't easy
- decisions are shared
- it depends on great relationships
- it requires high-quality internal working too
- it's a marathon not a sprint
- success may look different from what you expected
These six characteristics emerged from research I carried out with experienced collaborators from the Environment Agency, when putting together some training for their managers on how to develop and support a team culture which supports collaboration. This training was developed and delivered with InterAct Networks (including Lynn Wetenhall) and a small internal client team, and some of Working Collaboratively also draws on this work.
Here's a little about our first characteristic - it isn't easy.
It isn't easy
This may sound a little trite, but there is an important insight here: you choose to collaborate (rather than work alone) when the problem you want to solve or the outcome you want to achieve is something that you can't tackle alone. Why can't you tackle it alone? Most likely because it is complex, systemic, entrenched, wicked, long-standing. And all of those things make it hard.
So you are using an inherently difficult approach (collaboration - see the other five characteristics for what makes it inherently hard) to tackle a hard situation.
Which means: if you are finding it hard, it doesn't necessarily mean that you are doing it wrong!
I say this so you can find comfort in knowing that the hardness is a feature of the landscape, to be expected. Don't beat yourself (or your colleagues, or your collaborators) up.
Instead, discuss the hardness. "Hey team, this is proving hard! What do we need to keep doing, and what do we need to do differently, in the face of the difficulties?". Knowing that it's OK to have this conversation - because the hardness is inherent rather than anyone's fault - will free you up to find new ways to address things or the strength to continue with the things you are already doing.