4 Reasons to collaborate

Watch the following video, an interview with Ian Revell, Chief Executive of the MK Community Foundation, in which he sketches out some of the main features of collaborative working and ends by stating some clear benefits for collaborative working.

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I think traditionally organisations would do a lot of things on their own. Or they may be seeing it as other voluntary sector organisations as competitors, especially if there's funding available. But we're not in that world anymore. We've got less resources than perhaps we had once upon a time. And we need to be using what we've got to the best possible outcomes. And you never know you might even create alliances that go on to the next project or the next opportunity, things that you didn't realise existed.
In the voluntary sector, in some respects you kind of understand what your voluntary community sector partners might be wanting or how they might work. But if you're working in collaboration with other sectors, it could be corporate, private, it could be individual donors, or it could be the statutory sector, again, you've got to spend a bit of time working out what it is they're trying to achieve. And then, although you might come at it in a different way, different angle, different approach, again, you'll find different ways of working it out.
And if you're going to work collaboratively, you've got to all achieve something in the end. There's no point one person achieving and the other partners not achieving, because then they won't work with you again in the future. So it's a slightly more nuanced.
And people may get things that you wouldn't have wanted, but that's OK. We need to sort of let go a little bit and try to work together to achieve a greater outcome.
I make a lot of energy and effort to get to know the person, not the job that they're doing. Because often when you do that, when it comes to having difficult conversations, the shorthand is done, you know the person. And they would appreciate that you're doing it for the right reasons. The old meetings and agendas are a little bit out, I think, nowadays.
I very much believe if you’ve got a group of wise people, and most people in the sector, most people that are coming to a cause or of an issue will be wise or experts in those field, looking at a problem in a collaborative way, you will get solutions you didn't expect. So you've got to be open to work in a different way. And you mustn't be precious about which sector you represent or what fund you're trying. No, it's about solution focus. You focus on that and all partners might have something to offer. And it might be different to what they were traditionally offering, but that doesn't matter, because it's the outcome that's important.
End transcript
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Ian addressed something important for collaborative leadership practice in the video: namely, this shift to thinking of other people and organisations as partners rather than competitors. This is something that is easy to say but harder to do, as our society is, in many ways, predicated upon the notion of competition being a good thing. And it is, but only in its proper place. Ian outlined how important it was when collaborating to let go to a certain extent and to give people the space to express themselves, which clearly also means that you will have less control of the final outcome of a collaboration. Ian points out the reason this is to be welcomed at the end of the clip: collaborative leadership endeavours enable you to tackle problems in imaginative, innovative and unexpected ways. Now it is your turn to consider some of the key challenges in collaborative working.

Activity 2 Key challenges in collaborations

Timing: (45 minutes)

Now it is your turn to think about collaboration in your work place.

First, think about and note as many different examples of collaboration as you can in your own working week, or more broadly within your organisation. For each example, note whether this is an example of intra-organisational (internal to your own organisation), inter-organisational (across organisational boundaries), or cross-sector collaboration (with organisations and individuals from public or private sectors). Remember, you can rewatch Ian’s video for some inspiration to help you get started. Spend 20 minutes on this part of the task.

Think about why these collaborations exist in the first place. Do people share a common reason for being involved or are people’s interests more varied than that? If you are struggling to think of inter-organisational examples, start small. Any working relationship is basically a collaboration between two or more people. We anticipate that this part of the task will take you around 10 minutes.

Now bring your thinking to a close by summarising in your learning journal [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   up to five key challenges of collaborating with others. Make sure you title post the with the week number and the number of this activity, Week 1 Activity 2. Spend around 15 minutes on this part of the task.


Despite the challenges that you may have thought of in the last part of the activity, here are eight reasons that we think the need for collaborative leadership in and across voluntary organisations is so pressing and worth persevering with:

  1. Our world is becoming more interconnected than ever before. Many of the problems that communities, families and individuals face are now fuelled by cross-national, let alone cross-community, forces. Globalised trade and the overturning of how our economy is structured has led to more opportunities for many, but also left many people behind. Such issues defy previous ways of working that focused on national and regional working. Likewise, the degradation of the global environment by definition cannot be addressed by isolated organisations or governments.
  2. Money is tight. The effects of the global recession have not yet dissipated. Budget constraints mean that people need to work together in more creative ways.
  3. The small size of most voluntary organisations, especially in comparison to local authorities, can be posited as a good reason for collaboration, enabling greater reach and impact. The fragmentation of welfare service systems also suggests that organisations should collaborate more in order to achieve change.
  4. Change happens quickly. Globalisation and new technologies have transformed the way we live and work. Leadership has to keep pace and often this requires more creative and collaborative responses.
  5. Old identities seem outdated. People in our societies seem less willing to simply be a certain thing at work or in their extra-curricular lives. The idea that we should only be managers, volunteers or trustees seems outdated. While people’s responsibilities are of course important, it is also important to reflect on what is lost when we simply stick to our pre-defined identities.
  6. Old practices seem outdated. People are less accustomed to authoritarian relationships and by and large want to be more involved in the organisations and issues that matter to them. Collaborative leadership is one important way in which we can draw on more ideas and better practices.
  7. Collaborating more in leadership is socially and politically vital. While the political and economic forces facing our communities seem larger, a counter-tendency exists to withdraw simply to the private realm, to check out of the issues facing our society and the leadership of these issues. This is an unhealthy state of affairs and voluntary organisations play a crucial role between government and citizens in pulling people in, engaging them and, ultimately, transforming what we think of as important and possible.
  8. Academic knowledge and sector practices have moved on. New ideas related to leadership spring up all the time now and are more accessible thanks to the internet. We are able to share ideas related to what works and does not much more than in the past.

Practice of the week: interrogating problems

Wicked problems seem counter-intuitive in a world in which we are conditioned to think about problems as discrete and manageable. More specifically, much of our organisational training involves trying to reduce problems to such an extent that they can be managed or solved by experts. Grint (2005) refers to such work as taming work: like a new pet, the goal of taming work is to train the animal so that it can integrate into family life.

Working with wicked problems involves taking the opposite approach. It means asking yourself and others what you might be missing. It involves questioning the context of the problem at hand and seeking out ways of thinking about the broader complexity within which the problem is situated. This work can mean pushing yourself to think differently; it can mean pushing others to think differently; it also means asking ourselves different questions – questions that open up thinking and possibility, rather than shutting them down. All of the practices we encounter in this course will be focused on unfolding this approach.

3 Sector challenges and the course’s responses to them