When one organisation is collaborating with another, both are doing so because they have chosen to.
Which means, ultimately, that either collaborating party can walk away if the collaboration is no longer meeting their needs.
The kinds of things shared decisions need to be made about
Walking away might happen because the outcomes which are being worked towards (the what) are just not compelling enough. Or it might be because the process of how the collaboration is working (high level governance, day-to-day secretariat work, speed and complexity of decision-making) doesn’t suit them. Or it might be because the other collaborators (the who) make too uneasy a team – perhaps there’s a fundamental clash of values or identity.
What this tells you, then, is that decisions about these three threads (the what, the who and the how) are shared. No one party can impose their preference on the other(s).
So sometimes there’s a need to compromise, if the prize is worth it
Some outcomes that one organisation wants to achieve may depend on it helping others to deliver their own outcomes first or at the same time (the what). This may mean that some collaborative work doesn’t easily fit into the first organisation’s priorities, processes and systems. This is the main reason why collaboration depends on great internal working too – see future post.
You can’t force collaboration
Organisations which the initiators or collaborators would really like to involve, can decline to get involved (the who). You may need to go into persuasion and listening mode, asking “what would it take, for your organisation to collaborate?” or “what do you want to achieve, that this emerging work could help take forward?” or “how would it need to be organised and run, for your organisation to be happy with getting involved?”
Helping your team share decisions
The big challenge in sharing decisions is knowing how much decision-making authority you have within your own organisation. Let me explain why. There will almost certainly be some tension between what your organisation wants and what your collaborators want. Even if it’s just over process matters like how far in advance to send around pre-meeting reading, or whether to have formal Terms of Reference for a steering group. So the people ‘in the room’ doing the negotiating need to be clear about their organisation’s ‘bottom lines’ and preferences, and clear about their own mandate to commit it to things (including things which don’t directly deliver their own organisation’s objectives).
You or your team need to be confident that the people the report to are happy with the ways things are progressing.
And if you or your team are involved in working out the process (e.g. planning wider stakeholder engagement, planning and running meetings, project planning), they need to do this in conjunction with collaborators’ organisations.
If your organisation has rigid annual planning and budget-setting processes, there may be a tension because it will not be in control of the pace that the collaboration moves at, so there will be quite a lot of uncertainty to take into account when doing that internal planning and budgeting.
Keep an eye out for the impact of your own internal systems such as authorisation or reporting procedures – are they getting in the way of collaborative work? Who do you need to talk to, to sort this out?