Most cultures will talk a good game when it comes to external collaboration, but I find the behavior often doesn’t match. If you ask officially about the organizational relationships, you get the “one big happy family” answer, but if you get behind the scenes, you find people on every side of the equation complaining about the other. That’s not good collaboration, folks. So here are some tips to improve the situation.
That’s a verb, in this case, not a noun. If you want collaboration to improve, then trust the other side more. And if you’re thinking, yeah, but if we trust the chapters to do right by our members, they may not do it well and that will hurt our brand. That’s true, but if you thought you were going to be able to trust without making yourself vulnerable or taking a risk, then you misunderstood what trust is to begin with. Pick something small to start with if you have to, but show the other side that you are WILLING to expose your vulnerability. That’s how you build trust, and trust is at the heart of good collaboration.
FOCUS ON CONTRACTING
Here I’m not talking about legal contracts (per the last paragraph, Dan Pink once described lawyers as “manufacturers of synthetic trust”). I’m talking about doubling down on clarity when it comes to establishing the basic parameters of your relationship with the other organization. Who is expected to do what and when? So often we brush through this part because we are so focused on achieving the results together, and that won’t serve you in the long run. Or you’ve inherited a chapter/national relationship that did the “contracting” part 75 years ago, but times have changed. Invest extra time on clarifying things up front, or I guarantee it will bite you later.
MOVE TOWARDS THE CONFLICT
This is one of my core pieces of conflict resolution advice, and it’s particularly true when managing external collaboration. As soon as conflict emerges, move towards it and talk about it and work through it. Make conflict a normal part of the collaboration. If you choose the traditional response (avoid it until it becomes really ugly), you’ll end up in a tough spot, because the glue that holds this collaboration together is already fairly weak, since you’re two separate organizations. That means small conflicts can end up with completely severed relationships, and that can drain a lot of value from both sides.
So pay more attention to how you collaborate externally. Just because the people with whom you are collaborating are not on your payroll does not mean that your behavior with them isn’t shaping your culture—it is.