Collaboration: The process of two or more people, or organizations, working together to realize shared goals. Key words… shared goals. Collaboration is the opposite of competition (Thank you, Wikipedia).
Everyone you meet, (work with, partner with) has different strengths, skills, and experiences. Everyone has unique networks, and unique contacts. A variety of dexterities are brought to the table when you decide to collaborate.
In my current role, as Supervisor of the Community Connections Program, my most recent collaboration has been with The 519 Community Centre. In late 2015, the Community Connections’ Taste of French Program was looking for a new home. Reaching out to my contacts within the community, I connected with someone at The 519. The process turned out to be quite simple. When I first met with The 519, I told them about our Taste of French program and our target being newcomers. I explained how the sessions usually run and how we needed a larger space for this popular program. Immediately, they were very receptive! Sharing the same focus (serving newcomers), we effortlessly visualized a vibrant and powerful initiative. Acknowledging each others limitations (ours being space restrictions, theirs being French speaking volunteers), we built our collaboration on supporting newcomers in learning French in a encouraging and welcoming environment.
Most collaborations begin in much the same way. One party has an idea and resources, but lacks one piece of the puzzle. The other party, has the missing piece. We were fortunate enough to find a partner who was a) easy to work with, b) open to idea sharing, and c) extremely supportive during the entire process.
When starting, or thinking about starting, a collaboration with someone, it is a good idea to look within a setting that is common for both parties. Conferences are a great place to start a collaboration, because they provide many opportunities for one-on-one discussions. Another common setting for professional interactions would be your social network. Sites like LinkedIn allow you to find individuals within your sector and hone in on your similar skills and knowledge.
After narrowing down your list of potential partners, try not to assume that your chosen partner will make a good collaborator just because their work compliments yours. A collaborative relationship is unlike any other professional relationship. Shared work ethic matters… a lot. You may end up finding that your practices and styles aren’t compatible. One party may be doing most of the work, where the other just seems to be along for the ride. It is suggested that, once you find your collaborator, you set up a trial phase (soft launch/pilot run). This will be your way to see how the partnership is going and whether it is worth it to move further with the initiative. In my case, we set the program up as a 3 month pilot, at which point we reviewed and renewed.
As in all relationships, it is important to communicate in a collaborative partnership. Let me repeat that… it is important to COMMUNICATE. Both parties need to be clear of each other’s expectations, each other’s contributions, and who will do what and when. This needs to be continuous and ongoing. The same advice applies for if and when you encounter conflict. Discuss the issue, voice your concerns, and always listen to the other party. While researching this topic, I came across a quote from Daniel Vasgird, Director of Research Integrity and Compliance at the University of West Virginia. He said “You’re going to be sharing rewards, but also sharing problems and issues”. This would be a great thing to keep in mind if you experience frustration. They’re probably feeling the same way!
To close, I want to tell you that I love collaborating! It brings together people who may not necessarily have the opportunity to work together. Every time I have collaborated with another organization or person, I have always come out with new skills or felt more confident in my ability to develop these partnerships. I am only one person (one team, one organization). We need to be open and willing to collaborate to provide the best possible results!
When have you collaborated? Was it a positive experience? What did you learn? Leave your answer in the comments.
Thanks for reading!