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Posted by Arthur T. Himmelman in Uncategorized.
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Arthur T. Himmelman – ArthurTHimmelman@aol.com
January 2015

In community and systems change collaboration there are four shared Rs that are helpful for effective collaboration: shared risk, shared responsibility, shared resources, and shared rewards. Each one can deepen and increase the high level of trust required in working together strategies as well as the likelihood that the intended results of common efforts will be achieved. When all four shared Rs are present and supported by quality collaborative leadership, which I describe as “facilitating mutual enhancement among those working for a common purpose,” their synergy can produce the collective energy required for collaborative processes. This is necessary for moving collaboration forward in a timely manner while carrying out the action plans and strategies it has created to achieve its mission and goals.

Shared RISK
It is common for those considering working together with others to have concerns about the risks involved in collaboration. These risks can include losing some of the decision-making control they have within their own organizations. Another is possible damage to their reputations/brands for competence, quality, and effectiveness that distinguish them in competitive philanthropic, public, or market environments. There are also risks in engaging in potentially controversial efforts to change particular circumstances or advance new, even very unpopular, ideas or policies. Granted, these concerns are serious and important. However, if there is no or very little risk taking required when becoming a partner, it seems quite reasonable to strongly question the value collaboration could have for desired changes in communities, organizations, institutions, or businesses.

In addition to assessing the risks involved in working together with others, it is also important to consider the consequences of not addressing challenging issues in different and better ways. It is often the case that the lack of effective and strategic collaborative action results in existing problematic circumstances and conditions becoming more difficult to address at a later time. Therefore, it is often, albeit not always prudent, to risk moving beyond the status quo and familiar comfort zones when the risks involved in doing so can be shared clearly and honestly with all those working together. Shared not only in terms of what a partner is willing to risk, but also in terms of what a partner is not willing to risk. Without a mutual understanding of both risk judgments among all partners, it is unlikely that the necessary high levels of trust required in common efforts will be possible to create during the collaborative process.

Shared responsibility is obviously an important requirement in working together. Unfortunately, what is obvious is not necessarily easy to accomplish in collaborations. Challenges in sharing responsibility range from partners taking too much responsibility and, as a consequence, too much decision-making power as well, to some partners taking little or almost no responsibility for the work of collaboration. To make the latter circumstance even worse, some partners may still want to claim some credit for achievements and receive benefits resulting from the work of others. This range of possibilities suggests that: (1) very careful thought should be given to the levels and kinds of responsibility required of partners; (2) the clarity and importance of how such responsibility will be shared should be well accepted by partners; and (3) mutual accountability for producing overall results should be monitored and verified by all partners taking responsibility for particular strategies and actions.

The good news is that, if partners fully accept and foster an essential quality of collaboration, the willingness to enhance the capacity of another for mutual benefit and a common purpose, it is often relatively easy for partners to agree to their fair share of common work. If, indeed, each partner wants to help the other become the best that they can be, this also opens possibilities for being very honest about what a partner can and cannot do relative to their initial commitments. For example, rather than trying to obscure the fact that something has not been accomplished or well done, a collaborative culture encourages partners to share this information and either ask for assistance or indicate that expected results are not possible and need to be modified.

An equitably shared and most desirable distribution of collaborative responsibility is best achieved when all responsibilities are formulated with the approval of all partners and they are thoroughly documented in writing in a clear and transparent manner. This transparency should make it possible to know what every partner is doing to responsibly achieve which particular goals with what action plans and strategies. This clarity also is essential for monitoring and evaluating of the effectiveness of particular actions and strategies in support of goal achievement. Even when these measures are taken, however, some confusion about responsibility can occur if ambiguity increases for various reasons. The most harmful reason is that some partners may prefer ambiguity because it makes it harder to hold them accountable for their actions or inaction. A simple truth: as ambiguity increases, accountability decreases.

Sharing resources moves partners on to each other’s “turf,” or areas within their internal control. As is understandable, most organizations are very careful about allowing others share their turf for obvious and generally sensible reasons. Sometimes, however, a hesitancy to do so reflects an unwillingness to share resources because this might diminish their external control over markets, geographic areas, professional fields, organizational domains, or personal authority and prestige among other concerns. Given the many reasons why sharing resources raises control issues, it is very important to be thoughtful about establishing sufficient trust prior to agreeing to share resources with partners. This is why, at least in part, I have suggested considering the four basic working together strategies, networking, coordinating, cooperating, and collaborating, as equally valid and appropriate depending on the time, trust, and turf issues present (please see attachment: Strategies for Working Together in Partnerships). Sharing resources begins in my view when organizations decide to cooperate, thereby, in contrast to networking and coordinating, moving onto each other’s turf for the first time.

Establishing what constitutes sufficient trust to share resources varies, of course, for each particular partnership. It is relatively easy when individuals and organizations have prior histories or current experiences of working together well. If this is not the case, it can be confirmed through examples of potential partners acting in this manner in various circumstances. If substantial trust does not exist before working in a partnership, it also can be created and expanded over time by working together in networking and coordinating efforts that do not require sharing turf. With all these options, it is usually unwise to share some kinds of resources, particularly funding for joint organizational or community initiatives, without a high level of trust.

The range of resources that can be shared is almost limitless. As noted above, funding is one such resource, and is among the most beneficial kinds of resources if shared appropriately within clear guidelines and mutual accountability for its allocations. Obviously, the consequences of sharing funding improperly can be extremely detrimental to all stakeholders directly involved in a partnership as well as its intended beneficiaries and for various others affected by the actions of the partnership. Other resources commonly shared in partnerships include expertise, research, information, skills, staffing, facilities, technology, supplies and materials, facilities, and access to various stakeholders, constituencies, and geographical locations, e.g., neighborhoods. In all cases, sharing resources is best practiced when clear expectations, guidelines, and accountability for their use are confirmed by all partners prior to particular to agreements to do so.

While sharing rewards may seem like a given when working with others, it can be quite problematic in actual practice. In some ways, it is counter-intuitive in environments that strongly encourage and celebrate “winner takes all” or other forms of highly competitive relationships. Sharing rewards when working collaboratively includes but is not limited to: (1) various kinds of recognition for the achievements of mutual efforts that can enhance the reputation and credibility of partner organizations; (2) direct benefits resulting from achieving a partnership’s goals, e.g. finding ways to properly treat preventable illnesses before they require emergency care in hospitals; (3) increased likelihood of securing grants and other sources of funding or investments based on the results of collaborative efforts; (4) opportunities to increase clientele or customers and related service expansion or shares of particular markets; and (5) increased access to exceptional individuals, who can become interested in partnership organizations because of the success of their common efforts, as potential employees or as advocates or champions who can “open doors” to greater resources, power, and prestige.

A problem of particular concern in some cases is how best respond to foundations or other funding sources that want to identify one or only a few organizations among many in a partnership for support based on perceived special merit in a collaborative effort. This can, and sometimes does in fact, lead to competitive behavior among partners for this recognition. To reduce the likelihood of this kind of challenge, it is useful to engage in discussions with funding sources about why this kind of selective recognition can be very detrimental to a partnership. It also is helpful for all partners to address the possibilities of this occurring and creating a mutually agreed upon response if such selective recognition happens or some partners attempt to promote their particular work in a manner that would draw selective recognition by funders.

Given these and other rewards of common efforts, as well as possible issues needing attention, it is reasonable to clarify how rewards will be shared before committing to collaborations. If this is not possible, it is prudent to address this issue at the earliest possible time once a partnership begins to be implemented. Such agreements can even include what kind of actions, if any, would be taken if individual partners attempt to claim the work of the partnership as their own in order to take unfair advantage of common work to improve their own circumstances. Essentially, shared rewards means the accomplishments of a partnership should benefit all partners and, even more importantly, shared equitably and strategically with those being served by the partnership.

Arthur T. Himmelman: Definitions of Strategies for Working Together in Partnerships

Networking: Exchanging information for mutual benefit

Coordinating: Exchanging information for mutual benefit, and altering activities to achieve a common purpose

Cooperating: Exchanging information for mutual benefit, altering activities and sharing resources to achieve a
common purpose

Collaborating: Exchanging information for mutual benefit, altering activities, sharing resources, and enhancing the capacity of another to achieve a common purpose