COLLABORATION ESSENTIALS: What Leaders and Organizations Should Know to Build Successful Collaborations

Collaboration In simpler terms means the way people engage or partner or come together and pull in their expertise for the benefit of a shared goal, vision, or mission. Collaboration involves tam work or partnership and the success of the team or the partnership in terms of achievement of the shared vision, mission or task depends on the nature of relationships within the team or partnership.

So, Why is Collaboration important in today’s interconnected world?

There are many reasons to give on why organizations, individuals today must collaborate; the main reason being no organization, individual, and nation can survive on its own regardless of the number of resources they have or own. Some of the other reasons that are worth noting is that: collaborations help organizations and individuals to solve complex problems easily; collaboration informs the way individuals, countries, organizations, and team works; the more the people engaging and supporting one another towards a task or project the easier it becomes to spot problems and solve them. We have seen the epitome of collaborations in the current period of the pandemic, where all countries, organizations, and individuals have been pulling together to get a vaccine that would help ease the scale of deaths and infections we have experienced over the last 1 year and the success of such collaborations have yielded into a vaccine today that has helped ease the pressure in many countries so far.

Collaboration also helps bring people together and fosters cross-learning from each other; in collaborations, countries, organizations, bring individuals with varied skills and diverse backgrounds together to work towards a specific shared vision or project. These people possibly could never have worked together in such a setting. For example, a financial institution trying to build their digital financial service (DFS) systems would need to have individuals from various departments internally to work towards their goal of delivering robust DFS system; Today’s many countries have pulled together towards the long term collaboration of finding a sustainable solution for the pandemic regardless of the current vaccine, there are still many collaborative studies going on to understand the nature of Covid-19 and how best to find a long term solution. Safaricom Plc. in Kenya among other organizations in a consortium has collaborated to venture into the Ethiopian market for various reasons among others to ensure there are cross-learnings based on the individual expertise within the consortium to deliver robust solutions and services in the new market. Politicians today form coalitions due to the various strengths that each partner has and their contribution to be at a good space for them to have a chance of winning an election or tackle a particular project or problem like we saw in Kenya with the handshake partnership. This is the essence of collaboration. We can go on and on to give the reasons why collaboration is important and not organization today can exist in isolation without collaborations.

Therefore, looking in-depth at the aspect of collaboration, three critical areas of focus must all integrate into whatever space of collaboration (whether individuals, political, organizational, or even at global level) for it to be a success. These components are: There must be a SHARED VISION; there must be LEADERS spearheading the collaboration; and there must be other STAKEHOLDERS (could be employees, partner teams, political allies, citizens of nations among others). This is shown in figure 1 below; if all these components are not integrated or aligned then there is no collaboration ongoing. If there is not shared vision, then there is no essence for collaboration and the stakeholders will be disintegrated into doing their wish; if there are not leaders leading collaborations there would be no direction, no focus, and would be a breed for conflict in the teams; if there are no stakeholders, the leaders will only have their vision to themselves and may not be able to actualize. This is the key importance of why all the elements work together.  

Figure 1: interconnected elements for successful collaboration

From the engagements above, we can see the role of the leader is critical in building and sustaining successful collaborations. The leaders hold the key to the success or failure of collaborations. This is the reason why such aspects of collaborative leadership have come into play over the last decade to educate, and challenge organization leaders, political leaders, leaders of countries, and cross-cultural organizations on the key skills, and attributes they need to learn to lead successful collaborations in their spaces. We will look at a few areas that would be a key summary for leaders to understand. Figure 2 below shows the key steps that leaders should engage in if they are to build and sustain successful collaborations in their various leadership spaces.

Figure 2: Activities for collaborative leaders.

Building Relationships

Archer and Cameron, in their book “collaborative leadership,” addressed these three activities that all leaders must be able to continuously engage to build successful collaborations. The leader’s critical role in leading collaborations, coalitions, or partnerships is to strive to continuously build relationships; if a leader fails in this front then all other activities are not used as there would be a gap already and there is no relationship between parties in the collaboration. We have seen today in the political fronts that coalitions fail when leaders stop cultivating relationships between themselves and between their stakeholders or teams; organizations have had collapsed partnerships when such organizations have neglected the aspect of cultivation continuous relationships. Without mutual relationships, there is no collaboration, no coalition, and no partnership.

Conflict Resolution

In any coalition, collaboration, partnership there are always varied ideas, opinions, ideologies, philosophies coming from each individual, organization based on their own experience and expertise. This definitely can bring conflicts as a result of the way they engage in sharing their thoughts or points of view. This means that in collaborations conflicts in inevitable. Therefore, collaborative leaders must be able to coordinate, get involved and quickly find ways of resolving conflicts as they arise and not postpone or assume that teams will work their way out on their own. They may not direct or order but must be involved in enabling the teams to settle in and find amicable ways of resolving such conflicts as and when they arise. This is critical and if conflicts are not resolved on time, they have the effect of destroying the gains made in the partnership or coalitions. A few examples here are the fall of the eminent partnership between Telkom Kenya and Airtel Africa in Kenya which was marred by a few areas of conflicts and their leaders dragged in resolving such areas and eventually resulted in shifts in their strategic focus and therefore killing the eminent partnership. In the political scene, the current rift between the President of Kenya and his Deputy President is a typical scenario of non-resolved conflicts at the right time which resulted in the current split in opinions and ideologies despite the initial shared vision that was so solid.  

Shared Control

In any collaboration, partnership, coalition, the leaders must be able to allow for shared control of power if the collaboration is to be successful. If power is centralized on the leaders or one leader or one partner alone, there is a high likelihood that the collaboration will not survive over the long run, Therefore leaders must be able to remove their egoistic cap and allow themselves to share their control with their partners, leaders and even some shared power to their stakeholders for purposes of creating trust among the collaboration and authenticity in the partnership which is key to its survival to the achievement of the shared vision. If the power of control is centralized, this would lead to dictatorial leadership which will not drive the spirit of collaboration and therefore kill the whole partnership whether internally within an organization, in political scenes, or even in countries. We saw this in the political scene in Kenya, in times of the former President Mwai Kibaki and former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga; we also have such an example in South Sudan over the last couple of years between the President and his deputy; we have an example of Equity bank and Safaricom in Kenya, failed partnership in 2010 for M-kesho among other examples you can think of from a global context.

So What Actions Should leaders take to start re-building or building successful collaborations?

Leaders must be able to build the key steps in their collaborations that would enable them to create proper structures and systems for success. Archer and Cameron called this Three-legged tools, but in this particular case, we will call them Strategic collaborative tools and are shown in figure 3 below.

Figure 3: Strategic Collaborative tools

Based on figure 3 above, key areas of importance for each tool are: Governance involves creating proper engagement rules and contracting, which is key in any coalition, partnership, or collaboration. It can be a document that defines the focus and alignment of the shared vision and how success will look like.  Governance also involves how the collaboration design looks like the organizational design, or coalition or partnership design and roles for each partner or individual in the collaboration. Operations involve the specific tools to be used in the collaboration in measuring success or milestones or progress; it could also imply the technology or the systems in place that would ensure proper execution of the collaboration, coalition, or partnership. Finally, Leaders’ behaviors are critical and this involves the skills and attributes that leaders should have, or learn to lead successful collaborations and these are also summarized in the below figures 4 and 5 below.

Engaging others means developing networking capabilities, relationship building, and communicating the shared vision and mission. Mediating involves the aspect of leaders addressing conflicts that arise in collaborations constructively and Influence skills means the aspect of leaders sharing control with responsibilities and also understanding the culture and personality of their partners and teams.

Figure 4: Skills of collaborative leaders

From the attributes perspective; Agility involves dealing with issues urgently and having a forward-looking attitude. Patience involves being authentic in your relationship and allowing time and space for your partner or stakeholder in addressing issues and also ensure there is proper alignment and an amicable schedule in deliverables. Finally, Empathy involves listening to others, allowing them to share their opinions, and understanding the angle they are coming from.

Figure 5: Attributes of collaborative leaders

So What Next?

If organization leaders, organizations, countries, political leaders want to see long-term success in their partnerships, coalitions, and partnerships, these are critical steps they need to employ in their personal, organizational, or political cultures. The need to understand the bigger picture, and why leaders are the central point of any successful coalition, collaboration, and partnership, and the need for leaders to develop proper structures from governance, operations, and their behaviors that means building requisite skills and attributes that will position them as collaborative leaders.

But, it doesn’t end there, this process is iterative and must be continually applied in the life of the coalition, partnership, or collaboration for purposes of sustainability. If not applied well then it would be a waste of time. Whether you are a corporate organization, a small business, a Nation or country, political parties or systems, and even religious organizations these steps of collaborations cut across every sector.

If the above makes sense to you and you wish to apply in your organization and doesn’t know how to let’s engage and see how we can develop a structured program for your teams especially leaders in understanding how to implement. If you like the article and feel it added value to you share your comments, feedback on the comments column of my email below.

Reference resources

Archer, D & Cameron, A. (2013). Collaborative leadership: building relationships, handling conflict and sharing control (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Bushe, G. R. (2010). Clear leadership: sustaining real collaboration and partnership at work. Boston, MA:  Davies-Black.

Goleman, D. & Boyatzis, R. (2013). HBR’s 10 must-reads on collaboration. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press

Gilbert Ang’ana is the Managing Director of Accent Leadership Group; an Authentic Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Teacher. A Researcher, Author, Life Strategist, and enthusiastic about collaborative, humane, and clear leadership. He is a Certified John Maxwell Team member; Certified ICF Engagement and Productivity Coach and a Ph.D. scholar in Organizational Leadership Development. He Coach, Speak, and Teach on matters of Leadership. Get in touch through info@stepafrique.com or view his profile on www.stepafrique.com or +254 762 990422.

Published by Coach Gilbert

I am Gilbert Ang'ana (Coach), the CEO/Founder of Accent Leadership Group. I am a Leadership Coach, Scholar and Practitioner with extensive experience in Corporate Leadership (15+ years). I am also an Award-winning Global Change Management Expert. I have worked with over 2000 leaders worldwide on various change management initiatives through Coaching, Training/Teaching, Speaking and Research. My purpose and that of my organisation are to Advance Leadership Advocacy in Africa and Beyond Through Coaching, Teaching & Research to Build a movement of Leaders whose Power of Influence will far Exceed the authority of their Position. Want to be part of this movement? Join our various programs at www.stepafrique.com

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