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Can Collaboration Kill Your Collaboration?

Can Collaboration Kill Your Collaboration?

Karen Pittman

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Anderson Williams’ latest blog post reflects on the question of how to be strategic and effective in collaboration. Working together doesn't always mean that we end up with the best result. It takes big-picture thinking to do it right.

I spend a lot of time doing that big-picture thinking and helping people in the child and youth field think carefully about how they can best join forces to ensure all young people in their communities can be ready by 21. So, I found Anderson’s blog full of interesting and detailed ideas about how we collaborate.

Anderson is right about the difference at the program level between collaboration and integration. The only way to get seamless integrated services for youth is to be in constant communication with our peers in the field.  That is how complementary efforts can be aligned to achieve common goals.  

I think this blog goes too far, however, when it labels strategic plans, visions and alignment efforts as “narrow bastardizations of the concept of strategy.” This implies that those serious about collaboration should skip these steps and get on with the task of integrating services.  Collaborations should not be counted as effective if they don’t “show the beef,” but effective plans and visions can be the building blocks of an integrated strategy – especially when coupled with strategic data and communications.

It is true that our standards for calling any of these alignment approaches “strategic" are often too low. A truly strategic plan does more than simply sort and sift the recommendations from other plans. And many times these efforts are incomplete; leaders create strategic visions but fail to implement the steps needed to follow through.  

True collaboration in our field of youth development – or in any other field – aims for 100 + 100 = 300. This means we want 100 differently-focused programs plus 100 single-issue coalitions to create something fully integrated and well-oiled that gets  children and youth truly ready.  To achieve this, leaders and communities must create not just opportunities for authentic analysis and co-creation, but a permanent management infrastructure that includes rules and systems for large-scale collaborations. If we don't, we will continue to see programs and coalitions create partnerships but lose out on the niche success of true collective impact.

What's the magic touch to effective collaboration? Are we on the right track? Adjust your own lens and read Anderson's blog post here.


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