Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations
Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations

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Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations

3.1 Leadership media

The academic literature recognises the importance of leadership in creating and maintaining collaboration across organisational boundaries (Crosby and Bryson, 2010; Huxham and Vangen, 2000; Vangen and Huxham, 2003). As has been suggested in previous weeks of this course, this leadership is not confined to those with management positions or titles – it is enacted by participants at all levels, ‘champions’ who commit to the collaboration and engage others to do the same (Bryson et al., 2015). Influence can come from all sides in an inter-organisational collaboration. For example, in my (Carol’s) own research, I have observed small specialist voluntary organisations influencing powerful public agencies on the basis of their expertise and relationship with service users and communities (Jacklin-Jarvis, 2014).

However, in a collaboration, leadership, in the sense of setting the agenda, influencing the direction of the collaboration and achieving outcomes, is not entirely in the hands of participants (Huxham and Vangen, 2000). The structures and processes of collaboration also shape what it is possible (and impossible) to achieve. Furthermore, participants may have limited potential to influence structures and processes, because these are determined by outside factors, including government policy. The significance of structures and processes is particularly evident in formal collaboration arrangements, such as inter-organisational partnerships, with terms of reference, operating rules, and established processes for communicating. Huxham and Vangen (2000) describe participants, structures and processes as leadership ‘media’ that are all significant in ‘making things happen’, and determining the outcomes of collaboration.

Furthermore, leading across organisational boundaries adds a further layer of complexity to collaboration because each organisation has its own interests and purposes. Collaboration is possible because there is some overlap between those interests and purposes, but the distinctive identities of each organisation limit that overlap. Collaborative arrangements must both develop shared identity and respect and protect individual organisational identities (Jacklin-Jarvis, 2014).

Activity 3 Collaborative champions

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Watch the video discussion with Liz Gifford of Milton Keynes Council and John Cove from MK Dons Sports and Education Trust (SET).

Download this video clip.Video player: declvo_1_video_week6_interview_cove_gifford.mp4
John and Liz talking to each other.
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I suppose from my point of view, the importance of collaboration generally and particularly, I think, organisation to organisation is different organisations have different things to offer the public. We're all here for the public. That's what we've got in common, with different objectives but that's what we're here for. And if we're going to get the best value for the public and give the best value, we need to work together.
And as we go through an extended period of contraction in the public sector, actually, these new ways of working and these collaborations across fields are going to be increasingly how we all have to work together. I think there's different levels of collaboration that you can have. There's a straight business relationship where a public sector may try and procure a particular service and you're looking at ways of developing that.
But there are, of course, other ways that we can do and a key to it is identifying the common objectives and what you can bring differently to the party. Some of that may be cash resource but others might be people resource or it might be an audience that people need to get to that you can only get to in a particular way per organisation.
You have to identify the shared things that are really important because I think if something's not really important, in the end people won't do it. So it's identifying what's really needed and agreeing that there are things that people can do together which will be better than doing it separately. Often, the things that are needed are not just needed for the public. They're actually also needed for the organisations.
So it's identifying that kind of common cause and then having a systematic way of agreeing what's possible and then building relationships. I think without relationships between the people involved and the organisations involved and building those fairly securely based on trust, you don't get that far with collaboration in the end.
I think the key to me is the relationships, the relationships between people delivering, the relationship between the organisation and the relationship with the community and all those different parts. And they have to be functioning well and be robust enough. Now, with any collaboration, it's a bit like family. The family, you know everybody and work with everybody in your family but from time to time, you have rows.
And that's no different from when you're collaborating. There'll be time that you have rows. And I think actually what marks out a really good collaboration is how you deal with that row and fallout but don't disrupt the whole relationship going forward.
: One of the rich things about the voluntary sector is that huge range of people and skills and support that it can optimise. But that doesn't want to be antagonistic. It needs to be right in there supporting the collaboration.
End transcript
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Now answer the following questions in your learning journal: [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

  • what purposes do the council and MK Dons SET share?
  • how might those purposes differ?

Liz and John highlight the importance of relationships between collaborating participants, but is there any indication here of the kind of processes and structures that might shape collaboration between a public agency and a local voluntary organisation?

Make sure you title the post with the week number and the number of this activity, Week 6 Activity 3.


Liz and John champion the potential of collaboration because they each believe that more can be achieved for local people by working together. They recognise the importance of identifying where their organisational purposes overlap (expressed by Liz as serving the public), and the potential for bringing together their different organisational resources. However, they also recognise the different objectives and interests of their organisations and the inevitability of conflict. They each highlight the importance of building strong relationships with individuals from different organisations and sectors for the inter-organisational relationship to survive beyond such conflict.


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