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Make Collaboration The Next Big Thing.

As charities look to the future, and resources become more critical and harder to find (especially human resources), how will charities and NGOs become better at problem solving and creating new ways forward to achieve their goals? We believe at the heart of the ability to harness the collective power of the team lies in people’s (and entire organization’s) skills and willingness to collaborate.

The non-profit sector is instinctively collaborative, full of altruistic people, often feeling at odds with a more commercial, single-minded approach. In The Social Conquest of Earth, Edward O. Wilson sets out a view that anyone group, with many members willing to contribute to or sacrifice themselves for the common good, will be victorious over other groups that are less collaborative. In other words, collaboration wins the day. We also think collaboration lies at the heart of the human experience, and is particularly key within organizations that want to do more, in better ways.

According to PND Philanthropy News Digest, non-profits collaborate for three reasons – to boost organizational efficiency, increase organizational effectiveness, or drive broader social and systems change. So our interpretation is that collaboration drives efficiency, effectiveness and mission. They make the point that the 3C model is key (co-operation, coordination together with collaboration). But much of the focus is on how non-profits collaborate with each other or with other partners (which is important and has lots of potential for shared skills and better use of resources).

But we think the real challenge is with how we collaborate within our own organizations.

We all know the challenges: Data systems that don’t talk. Comms on brand and fundraising on income generation are not integrated. Finance is ruling and deciding strategy. Endless examples of systems and processes and people not working together or not connected in the vital places that make a difference to innovation in approaches or the delivery of amazing donor experience. If you are thinking it’s just your organization, think again! But what can we do to start to build a better way of working to meet the challenges ahead as we emerge from the pandemic?

Perhaps the biggest shift is to decide to fix the way we work internally. That requires leadership and direction. And above all, it requires focus on a big Why? and a single unifying force that commits to making it work – for the mission, for your own people and for the people you support or inspire to give.

Here are 5 ways we can make a big shift to a more collaborative and focussed organization:

  1. Focus on common purpose

Ask yourself, “Do you know your organization’s purpose?” Over time the simplicity and clarity of your ‘why’ is sometimes lost. Revive and reconnect with this and ensure all people who work in your world get it, can say it, and above all, understand and feel it. Provide a constant reminder of the vision and purpose in all you do (Jeff Bezos of Amazon keeps an empty chair at meetings to remind people of the customer – we may need to remind people of our stakeholders, beneficiaries, donors or community too). If they are passionate about the purpose as a focus, it will be easier to find common ground and it will be easier to define a better way to work together because everything that is done will be focused.

  1. Leading from where you are on collaboration

A key part of effective collaboration is leading from where you are and making change where you are able. You may need support tools to help you achieve better collaboration skills on the team – things like training on listening strategies, enhancing problem solving skills, or even reviewing (and increasing) the authority your teams have to resolve donor issues or deliver great donor experience. You will be amazed at what people can problem solve, create innovative solutions or resolve donor issues when they feel they have the authority and skills to collaborate and take action!

  1. Find and know yourself

It’s not always someone else that’s the problem. Helping ourselves and our teams to connect with our behaviours, helps us build trust and understanding. Knowing yourself, your faults and habits, your insecurities and fears, how you learn and how others on the team do the same, can greatly improve collaboration and communications. Look for ways to build empathy and understanding between people and teams and open talk about authenticity and trust, particularly if you already have them in your values statements! Talking about what we mean when we say X and opening discussions and shared behaviours will build understanding and help you identify where there may be gaps.

  1. The sum of all parts

From sports to business to charities, positive results, achieving goals, delivering a successful campaign or securing a transformational investment in our work all comes down to the team – people working together to achieve a small or large goal. No one is an island – the people behind the scenes, the people contributing, the people who are doing just one very specific role in your organization are all key. Everyone must feel they are adding to the whole and that their contribution matters and is appreciated. Take time to learn, understand and appreciate. Solutions come from small shifts together and we truly believe we are more effective together. And remember, people do what is valued, measured and celebrated – so make sure collaboration is one of these!

  1. Encourage curiosity

Curious people seek improvement at every level. Being curious is leaning in. Open the silos so they are transparent and open to others. Seek out diversity and challenge. Work on processes and journeys. Innovate around everything. Curious organizations and people are never satisfied because they are always seeking to improve and learn. Seek out people who always question things and who are curious about the why’s and how’s – they will help your internal collaboration! Invite new thinking in and make them feel welcome because we really believe that more thinking and more brains at the table make for amazing work!

These 5 ways to encourage collaboration require a recognition that culture matters. Culture is set at the top and modelled, so if collaboration matters to your organization, it needs to be demonstrated across all areas and by everyone involved.

The greatest asset you have in your organization is people – getting them to work together and collaborate will create a powerful force to help you meet the change and challenges that our sector faces head on. Let’s make collaboration a new force to get things done.