Last year, my friend and colleague Debra Askanase posted her responses to frequently used objections to using social media that she was fielding from clients. It was a great start to conversations about what fears or misconceptions still exist about using social media in nonprofit organizations. Taking that conversation as a lead, I would love to examine objections and corresponding responses around collaboration (within organizations and across organization/sectors/geographies). Collaboration is one of my focus areas to explore this year so I hope this will be the start to an evolving conversation!
What are the objections to collaboration at your organization?
Some of the general objections that I've experienced firsthand and know others have heard time and again as well, include:
Collaboration is great in theory but doesn't work in practice.
When I get this objection, it's usually rooted in the fact that potential partners don't share a definition of what collaboration is or how it works. There are so many buzzwords in our sector, or words that used to have a meaning but are now used so often and in so many diverse contexts that it's hard to keep them straight. I have a definition of what collaboration means to me, but that might be interpreted differently by someone I'm collaborating with!
It's incredibly important to define:
- what your particular collaboration includes and how it operates (including the work no one wants to do, as well as accountability for all partners)
- how it benefits partners
- how all contributors actually contribute
- how those benefiting (both the contributors and whomever is being served) will be informed, involved and empowered to be part of sustainability
The collaboration not working in practice all comes back to the definition and setting up a collaboration that will work in the first place!
Collaboration just means more work without any added value.
This statement is one I separate into two parts: Firstly, when anything requires that the way you work changes, sure, it can mean "more work." The first step here is to create processes within your organization that are collaborative by nature so that when any new projects (whether they are collaborations—with other orgs, etc.— or not) emerge, doing them in a collaborative way does not actually create new/more work. The second half of the statement addresses the culture or mindset of those involved, believing that collaboration does not create a more valuable product than going it alone. Regardless of whether the project or work in question is contained within your organization, your physical community, or across the sector/world, collaborating with all those who have a stake in the outcome and the success of the project can ONLY create a more valuable outcome and process. A great voice on this subject is Hildy Gottlieb and her book, The Pollyanna Principles.
Collaboration means we'll do the work and not get the credit.
This is a response that always goes straight to my heart. When it comes to social change and community impact work, who gets the credit for projects or successes is sadly still part of the picture. The newspaper or the blog will pick up the story when an organization or company pushes out word that they've done something great. Not often do you hear a story that simply says, "this place is better because of so many people coming together to make it that way!" Partly, a little, that's okay. If there wasn't any credit then many groups wouldn't have that last bit of incentive to get involved. But, who gets credit can't be what holds you back from collaborating with others to make the most, widest, deepest impact possible.
Something I like to encourage when this is a constraining issue, is for groups to create a new title that the collaboration or partnership can use to describe the work. This will get rid of the quibbles over who's name is first, who's logo listed at top, etc. Participating groups can unite under the shared title and the work can be credited to that name, one defined by all those contributing.
Lastly, what's most exciting for someone that works at the intersection of social change work and technology is the emergence of many tools, platforms and online spaces that actually support collaboration. And, like social media in general, using social tools for your collaborative work means it's far more transparent - and all that credit is visible all the time.
Those are just three examples to get you started - but really, this is a conversation! What are objections to collaboration that you have heard or responded to? And what's the comeback line? Looking forward to your ideas!
*Amy Sample Ward is a blogger, facilitator and collaborator around social technologies for social impact. You can learn more about her and her work at http://amysampleward.org/about