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Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations
Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations

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2 Nurturing over the longer-term

Earlier in the course, you reflected on Huxham and Vangen’s (2005, p.80) advice to collaborative leaders to ‘nurture, nurture, nurture’ collaboration like a well-tended garden. This ‘strapline for collaboration’ is a reminder of a key point you have encountered throughout this course. Collaboration (whether within or between organisations) is not self-sustaining. Like any growing, adaptable and vulnerable entity, collaboration takes a lot of looking after. A key task of leadership in collaborative contexts is this nurturing of a fragile entity – keeping a partnership focused, encouraging active engagement in a joint project, negotiating goals, giving direction, challenging and playing the politics to keep the show on the road.

A gardener bends to tend small growing lettuces in a raised bed.
Figure 1 Nurturing growing plants

As you have seen in this course, this is leadership as a complex practice which involves difficult decisions, compromises and trade-offs, but also ongoing commitment, determination and persistence to make things happen and drive collaboration forward. For individuals (perhaps particularly individuals in the voluntary sector), this frequently involves engaging not simply in one collaboration or partnership, but rather with multiple collaborations within a locality, or inter-related collaborations focused on a social issue or a community or place of interest.

It is because collaborative practice requires this continuing level of commitment and energy that it is important to keep asking the question – where is the potential for collaborative advantage? Or, expressed in a different way – what is it you hope to achieve by working together that you could not achieve alone?

Activity 1 Collaborative advantage

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Think of a collaboration which you or your organisation have engaged with over an extended period of time. This might be a collaboration within your organisation (for example, between departments), or across organisational boundaries. Can you identify the continuing potential for collaborative advantage, or have you and your partners lost sight of this potential over time as the collaboration has changed its structure, membership or purpose?

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As we have previously suggested, one answer to the question ‘where is the potential for collaborative advantage?’ focuses on so-called ‘wicked’ (Grint, 2005) or ‘relentless’ (Weber and Khademian, 2008) problems that no one individual, department or organisation can address on their own. These problems require organisations and individuals to draw on the knowledge, expertise, resources, networks and sources of power of as many players as possible, and to do this over extended periods of time. However, we know that in general collaborative partnerships are not long-lived – they slip into inertia (Huxham and Vangen, 2005), or become dominated by personalities and factions; they fall apart due to the competing interests of collaboration participants, but also due to external changes, including government policy and priorities. As a result, collaboration continually fails to address these complex problems over the longer term.