Five Effective Collaboration Tips…and Some Common Errors

Being open to the end result may yield some unexpected and pleasant surprises
Collaborating with groups can be challenging and as rewarding if managed in a thoughtful and intentional manner, especially if the group is brought together in a true sense of collaboration – to come together around a common problem or idea and to listen, learn and come to consensus about strategies for moving forward. There are five strategies you can employ when bringing together a collaborative of people, and before I elaborate on those, I want to address three common errors that are made when a collaborative is formed:
• The purpose of the collaborative is to gather people to agree on a pre-determined outcome;
• The collaborative is made up of all like-minded individuals;
• One of the stakeholders is asked/volunteers or is assigned the role of facilitator.

When people are gathered for the sole purpose of validating an already existing response to a problem or idea all of the people on the collaboration are rendered null and void. One of the most vibrant parts of a collaborative is gathering people and asking them their opinions and really listening to them. And why is it important to really listen to a group of people sharing their opinions within a collaborative setting? It is important to help identify the real issue or problem. If the resolution to the problem is already pre-determined and all you are looking for is feedback on the resolution, schedule a focus group or listening circle and be genuine about what is needed. Feedback groups will help you identify and drill down on issues related to your idea and will get there faster than convening a collaborative with a false sense of purpose.

Collaboratives that are made up of all like-minded people may have less conflict and come to quicker resolution; however, the resolution will be one-dimensional and may even reinforce the original problem which originated the need for the collaborative. Many of us tend to be conflict-averse and seek others who reinforce our opinions or thoughts and so it is vital that collaboratives have a wide spectrum of people with many frames of reference and context to share. You are gathering in response about something – most of us do not form collaboratives simply because we want to spend more time in meetings – there is a reason your collaborative formed – find people who are impacted by your concern and invite them to the table, invite people who have diverse opinions, and most importantly be genuine is your desire to hear from all points of view – that will create a richness to your collaborative and sustainability to your strategies for action.

The number one common mistake made by many groups when convening a collaborative is to assign someone within the collaborative the role of facilitator. It does not make a difference whether the person is a paid staff or a volunteer, if they are a stakeholder; they lose their voice when they become facilitator. To adequately facilitate a meeting of broad-minded and diverse individuals and solicit wide-ranging opinions, a facilitator must be in the moment and completely present with the group which means disengaging from their own opinions and responses. The facilitator loses their voice and the collaborative loses their valuable input.

My philosophy around facilitation and building collaboratives is strength-based, asset-focused and grounded in appreciative inquiry – I focus on the positive, the possibilities and opportunities. Now that the three most common errors are behind us, I would like to share five effective collaboration quick tips:
Identify key stakeholders: Make a list of all of the people, groups and organizations who have something to gain, something to lose and something to contribute to the issue at hand, connect with them and help them identify what is in it for them to participate;
Discover what makes the members of the collaborative “tick” what they passionate about: be clear about role and responsibility, what the expectations of each participant is and ask if there are some skills or contributions that they can offer to the group (and then deliver);
Collaborate for success: develop a clear purpose and stay focused on that mission;
Sweat the small stuff: have an agenda, follow the agenda, be on time, organize content ahead of time so that meetings are interesting and of value, be respectful of the participants’ time;
• Evaluate: review successes and evaluate what still needs to be accomplished on a regular basis, be clear about the relevant and meaningful work around which the collaborative is engaged.

Healthy, vital collaboratives can solve any problem if you set the stage for success. Collaboratives can gain information and ideas from a well-balanced group of people who bring to the forefront new context, a difference frame from which to look at an issue and can help to get clear about the real problem. Asking the right question to the right group of people in a setting where everyone has a voice.

Kathy Stutzman is a facilitator, trainer and evaluator working with groups and organizations to move ideas, visions and concepts forward. If you would like to contact her to discuss developing a strong collaborative with your group, contact her at [email protected], call at (507) 219-0912, on Twitter at @KathyStutzman or www.kathystutzman.blogspot.com For “Quick Tips” on effective collaboration visit www.kathystutzman.blogspot.com and request a copy, or send an e-mail to [email protected] and put Collaboration Quick Tips in the subject header.