Easier said than done, most of the time. Nearly everyone loves the idea of collaboration. We all know we need to have partners, allies, funders, friends, support systems, and community in order to achieve big things. And, we've all had major blunders during attempts to collaborate. Sometimes bridges burn. Sometimes we ride the rainbow across the storm.
The best collaborators work forward from a problem to identify strategic partners, woo them instantly, and get to work. Most of us do things a little differently. We start by calling friends and asking our colleagues to chip in just a little more. We use our immediate resources, stumble through a familiar process, and maybe we get lucky. By all means, don't call in the competition.
When you work in the nonprofit or education world, competition for funding is intense. I ran across this situation years ago when I moved to St. Louis and started working for a local nonprofit. We were the best around at what we did, and we didn't let anyone forget that. Collaborating with competitors for funding was unthinkable, no matter the consequences.
In the article, 17 Strategies for Improving Collaboration, a concept called tribalism is described where people in different departments of a large organization often turn inward for support and a phenomenon occurs where they stop collaborating with other people in different departments. There are many reasons why this happens, and in every scenario, the outcome is a decrease in creativity and innovation that eventually stagnates the company. I've seen this happen firsthand in both for- and non-profit organizations, including schools. It takes a very special kind of leader to guide us out of tribalism and into collaboration, for the good of our organization and, in many cases, our broader community.
As a teacher, I often felt like I was working in a vacuum. And so did everyone else. I won't go into the reasons because we already know them. Instead, I'll highlight a few things that worked well to bring us all together, in the education world and otherwise.
Remember why we do this. Whatever it is we are doing, there is a big picture. In schools, it is to help children grow into caring and capable adults who will do well for our world. In nonprofits, the mission is everything. In business, progress is the bottom line. If we get too caught up in our own bubbles, we forget why we do what we do. Firefighters, Police and EMTs disagree about many things, but they must always remember that lives hang in the balance if they aren't able to collaborate when necessary. The rest of us could use a few more reminders of the big picture, and how we fit in, in order to keep the conversations going or create new ones.
Get to know each other outside of work. If you work in a big school or organization, create ways to meet where work is not the focus. Find common ground; we all have things we can relate to outside of the daily grind. Put together a happy hour, park adventure, family day, etc. After I left that nonprofit, I ran into my former "competition" constantly at social events. I realized that we really were in this together and that collaborating would have been better than competing.
Get out of your bubble. There are incredible people and amazing resources to connect with, no matter where we are or what we are doing. There are always improvements, adjustments, and innovations to make. We grow every day in our knowledge and capabilities, and so do others. Don't underestimate or disqualify the world beyond our scope. A local politician was recently admonished for her travels outside of her city, and what people weren't seeing were the new insights she had that she could now apply in her hometown. She would not have gained that knowledge if she stayed put, and the city will be better for it.
Thank you for reading this far. There is so much to say on this topic that you can definitely expect follow up posts in the future. Please always feel free to contribute to the conversation!