Modern working is all about collaboration, but when we rush to collaborate professionally we can miss the personal, and our efforts fail.
We might miss the fact that collaborations are people working with people, and whenever people come together, the key to success is trust.
Collaborations are understandably booming in the third sector where the opportunity to pool scarce resources and budgets really appeals. Beyond these obvious cost-saving drivers, being able to share approaches, networks and knowledge brings further benefits. As a result third sector collaborations are on the rise; from external collaborations creating joint campaigns between organisations with a shared cause, to internal collaborations where transformation programmes bring together expertise from across departments. We’re seeing more collaborations than ever between individuals, teams, departments and organisations that wouldn’t traditionally work together. We’re also seeing lots of them fail. Trust, or rather the lack of it, is the key culprit.
Psychology teaches us that trust is essential for successful teamworking, but it’s even more critical in collaborations. When we create a collaboration, we are essentially creating a virtual team. Unfortunately, it also reduces the likelihood of trust.
In a virtual team, ambiguity is everywhere – what is this collaboration all about and what are the order of events that need to occur to see success? Who is involved and responsible for what? Role ambiguity can have a damaging effect on trust in collaborations. We’re used to working with our own team which means that working beyond that stretches our psychological comfort zone. People forming a collaboration may not even physically work together, meaning they miss the social cues people normally read from one another. As a result they often misunderstand people or misinterpret events. It is not hard to see why collaborations can be a breeding ground for conflict.
The solution lies in trust. If people have trust in one another, challenges like this are easily overcome. That’s why for a successful collaboration, trust isn’t just a nice to have, it’s an essential. So how can you build it?
Through my work with many third sector organisations I’ve seen lots of collaborations in action, and explored why they work and why they don’t. I’ve zeroed in on the Collaboration Three C’s – the three factors that make collaborations successful; and trust is at the heart of each of them.
The first C is clarity. Lots of mistrust in collaborations comes from ambiguity: “I’m not sure that you’ve got the same goals for this collaboration as me”, “I don’t know what my role in this is and what yours is”. So for your collaboration to succeed, get busy making every part of it clear: what the goals are, what the end result will be and when, and who will be responsible for what throughout. Being clear builds the foundation of trust from the outset.
The second C is communication. Mistrust loves a communication vacuum. Where there is silence, people create a “reality” to fill the gap and as a result, misunderstandings and misinterpretations become rife. Create and agree a shared comms plan – how we’re going to communicate and how often. Stick to it, and then grab every extra opportunity for informal communication where you can. When people talk, trust grows. Find ways to allow this to flourish.
The final of the three C’s is courtesy. Professionals are also people, and people want to feel respected, valued and treated with kindness. Make sure the workload in your collaboration is fairly shared. Support each other in challenges and celebrate each other’s successes. Remember it’s a collaboration, not a competition. In short, be human and the trust and your collaboration will thrive.
So if you want to see your collaboration succeed fill it with clarity, communication and courtesy. You’ll reap the rewards in your collaboration and its results – trust me.
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