What Does It Take to Collaborate?

Posted: April 20, 2016

I’ve made a real push for more collaboration in my corner of the nonprofit world. I believe that it’s critical for nonprofits to find common ground and work together. I’ve also acted on my goals to collaborate more within my own sphere.

Experience is a great teacher. My belief in collaboration is as firm as ever. But I’ve been thinking more about what it takes to successfully collaborate. Google collaboration and you’ll get a definition that basically describes working with someone to create something. That sounds simple – but we know it’s not. I’ve come to the conclusion that collaboration requires ground rules. Here are two that I think are essential.

Lead with Integrity

Not long ago, a consultant just starting out asked me for advice about boundaries. She had shared ideas in a preliminary meeting with another professional. She’d found out later that her ideas were being used, despite no follow-up discussion about her services. I always aim to be upbeat in my blog, but I’ll admit, I could commiserate. I’ve had what I thought was an overture to collaboration turn out to be a one-and-done conversation to pick my brain.

I love to network and I’m happy to share information. But integrity matters. I routinely do an integrity self-check – what are my reasons for wanting to work with XYZ? – and I want the same from others. And I believe I’m not alone in that expectation. Collaboration by nature is a two-way street. Of course self-interest motivates collaboration, but a genuine commitment to mutual interest has to fit into the equation. It’s the only way that 1 + 1 can equal 2 – that working together creates a product of shared ideas and effort. Whether you think of it as openness or honesty, integrity is the cornerstone of collaboration. All parties must have it. There’s no path to collaboration without it.

Build with Trust

Integrity is also essential because it’s what allows trust. Think about the nature of any friendship, partnership, relationship. Trust is at the heart of it. For organizations to be trustworthy, trust has to be apparent from within. That means trust among board members and trust between a nonprofit’s top leadership. As trust widens, it expands. As it expands, it strengthens. That makes it a great building block. If integrity is the foundation, trust enables a collaboration to take form.

What else makes collaboration possible? From my experience, everything flows from integrity and trust. Once you have those, other requirements like mutual respect, shared decision-making and equitable effort (or as near as possible) follow naturally. I’m currently part of a collaboration in development that has these qualities. It’s exciting and satisfying to combine ideas, skills and talents and to see the potential of how, together, you can create a greater whole. That’s why collaboration is worth what it takes to make it work.

Looking for support in building trust? Visit my new Resources page and browse Talking About Trust.