To collaborate or compete: that is the question.

An African proverb goes something like

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

It’s a competitive world when it comes to ever decreasing funding, short term contracts and the need for immediate and usually measurable results / impact.

So where does collaboration fit into this competitive environment that now is the VCS? Increasingly commissioners and funders are looking for charities to work together to deliver services.

Collaboration can take a number of forms along a spectrum including:

  • Policy alliances
  • Joint programme delivery
  • Shared staff/resources/back office
  • Co-location
  • Group structures – leading to … full merger

Ben Hughes (CEO CDFA and an experienced practitioner of collaboration) identified at the 2013 NAVCA conference the following core principles / essentials to successful collaboration, wherever it is on the spectrum.

  • Mission – must drive any collaboration
  • Purpose – why are we considering collaboration? What is the advantage and impact?
  • Damage limitation to critical mass – funding can be a legitimate reason if the first 2 bullets can be ticked
  • Quality – do not compromise on quality, especially to your USP

Ben also identified some critical success factors that need consideration

  • Resources, including financial, time, human cost
  • Risk – including financial, assets, reputation
  • Stakeholder buy-in
  • Trust, openness, transparency

His advice for those organisations considering collaboration was to take 1 step at a time – commit to moving on to the next step. In this difficult minefield there is help out there.

Collaboration Maturity Model

There is a very useful model developed by Red Ant Consulting that I have benefitted from in the past. A ‘maturity model’ is a common enough idea, but as a means for thinking about the benefits and risks of collaboration it is an excellent tool. Red Ant Consulting say that:

To be consistently successful, collaboration requires:A formal process to find the right partners; planning, goal setting and follow up; frequent and open communications; a supportive environment with strong leadership, incentives, processes and metrics; and trust among partners

Building on this, Red Ant have developed a framework made up of 30 key factors which are critical for collaboration success. This forms the basis of their collaboration maturity model and enables the organisations to take a comprehensive view of all the most important issues that should be addressed when considering collaboration. The 30 key factors are grouped within four high level ‘quadrants’ in their framework, each quadrant containing 7 or 8 of the key factors.

The Vision quadrant is about setting direction: creating a shared vision, objectives and goals, and knowing what success looks like.

The Action quadrant is about implementation and operation: making it happen: setting up the right structures and executing projects to deliver quickly.

The People quadrant is about roles, capabilities and relationships: getting people engaged, working across boundaries and building effective working teams.

The Results quadrant is about driving benefits from the collaboration: focusing on outcomes. measures and results; tracking, KPI development and realising benefits.

My recommendation to anyone considering collaboration is to not rush into it. There is plenty of help out there and it is probably worth seeking it. If you would like further information about using the maturity model please contact me or Tim Bourne of Red Ant Consulting.

Two sombre thoughts to finish:

  • Collaboration will work if the 2 CEOs and 2 chairs agree; if 1 of the 4 does not agree it will fail
  • No charity has a right to exist