Collaboration- Red Flags & Difficult Conversations

Collaboration. The stretching and combining of two organisations toward a common goal or the completion of a project. It’s going to become more essential to organisational survival in the next decade. We’re going to be asked more and more to pool resources, be agile, share audiences and reduce overheads and it’s becoming clear just how much healthy collaboration will be vital to the success of big projects and small organisations.

Most of us have experienced the uncomfortable in artistic or resource collaborations. Many of us have had to have difficult conversations to bring the project and relationship back on track. Some of us have walked away from collaborations where we couldn’t find a compromise or communications turned rancid.

Plenty of us have driving collaborations that have increased our capacity and given great results for each collaborator. Collaborations where values align, the relationship deepens and it results in new discoveries and better ways of doing things.

So how can we avoid the organisational equivalent of getting a terrible flatmate in to pay the rent?

After some thinking and consulting with trusted colleagues I compiled a handy shortlist of red flags to look for when choosing a potential collaborator :

Red Flag 1.

They use of lots of ‘I, my’ language and very little of the ‘we’ ‘us’ language. When you collaborate you’re creating a new shared language, fed by common understanding and new knowledge.

Red Flag 2.

Early attempts at asserting control or status which seem incongruous to the situation. Healthy collaborations are generally entered into by organisations who are confident in what they bring to the table. They’re comfortable being flexible, tempering their need for complete control and happy to discuss problems as they arise.

Red Flag 3.

Early on there’s an uncomfortable feeling about who is doing what and when. It feels a little like a relationship with someone who’s just not into you. Effective collaborations have a clear sense of who is leading each aspect and there’s respect and supportive behaviour on show.

Red Flag 4.

Take a look at your prospective collaborators’ social media channels. Do they acknowledge collaborators? Do they shout out the success of others? Or do they have an organisation policy which bans supporting others publicly?

Red Flag 5.

Your values are miles apart and you’re struggle to find commonalities in terms of approach or organisational purpose.

Red Flag 6.

Do they balk at setting up a mutually agreed document outlining the relationship with mutually respectful terms? This can be as complex as a a legal partnership agreement or as simple as one page description of process.

Red Flags are there as a warning. Sometimes with some clear, timely communication and eyes wide open they can be transformed into a healthy, collaborative relationship. But don’t ignore that horrible feeling that something isn’t right. It is guaranteed to fester.

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