Increasingly, words like “collaboration”, “partnerships” and “creating synergies” are words you might hear often. But many organizational heads will confess that collaboration between and amongst organizations isn’t something that has always produced the desired results. In part, because collaborations stand on personal relationships instead of institutional needs. Partnerships with other organizations work well to support organizational goals but they can also create an environment of frustration, delayed implementation, and resentment amongst the collaborating entities.
Here are a few reasons why collaboration fails. These factors are not absolute, but they are a good place to start in attempting to understand the subtle forces that influence collaboration in a negative way.
Even when organizations are involved in work around the same issues and the same sectors, they may not always agree on broad goals. Within the non-profit sector, some entities tend to concern themselves more with social change while others prefer to focus on elite politics. Unless these two types of organizations agree to collaborate at an arms-length distance, a closer partnership may end with one of them attempting to pull the other in an undesired direction. This will cause the partnership to fail. So, organizations must understand; what is the desired strategy preferred by the potential partner? On the whole, it is also important for organizations to come to terms with the idea that being involved in the same type of work doesn’t necessarily mean you must collaborate. It is possible to exist in a manner that is operationally isolated but connected in solidarity.
Sub – Cultures and Policies
Every organization has a subculture that guides it. Many times, these subcultures aren’t created deliberately but are rather a reflection of the personalities and norms within the organizations. Inevitably, collaboration requires an interaction between the subcultures and policies of different organizations. This doesn’t always go as smoothly as you would expect. If an organization with a subculture that requires employees to respond to an email within the two hours of receiving it partners with another in which staff only respond to email twice a day – the former will feel frustrated by the delayed communication. Work will lag. Moral will dampen.
Relationships that involve uneven power are difficult to sustain if one of the partners feels they do not have control over the happenings with a collaboration project. Feeling powerless does not come from having zero resources – it comes from having no control over actions. The reality of collaboration is that many entities get into partnerships in which power isn’t distributed evenly. Sometimes powerlessness could also be a perceived lack of control. Either way it creates feelings of resentment, frustrates creativity and dampens moral.
Many times, power relations are as subtle as they are complex, but it usually falls on those that supposedly have more power to fix it. Uneven power might manifest itself in one partner announcing changes in strategy as opposed to consulting the other partners first.
Being alive to these challenges and attempting to address them would potentially sustain and improve synergies and relationships while collaborating. On the whole, collaborations, if well managed can create exponential and rapid growth for organizations but this can only happen if organizations understand the complexities involved to leverage the advantages of collaboration.