I am an advocate and try to be an effective practitioner of collaboration, especially working with groups in school and education settings. It is a challenge to collaborate in schools as the organization and the culture, by design, is segmented. We organize by grade, subject area, space, access and need that encourages focusing on discrete scopes of work rather than organizing with a focus on collaboration.
That is not to say that some schools, some leaders, some teachers, some staff and some families and community members do not collaborate at all, rather to suggest that collaboration challenges school organization and culture. I have experienced many schools that, in spite of such challenges, co-create and sustain collaborative opportunities, strategies and cultures that are beneficial to students, teachers, staff, leaders, families and the community.
In my experience when collaborations work well everyone commits to principles of collaboration and corresponding strategies supported by a collaborative culture that includes expectations, support, encouragement and positive impacts.
Recently I have experienced several collaborations that, while build on solid agreements and commitments, have, as the saying goes, gone south. What is common among my recent experiences is that individuals fail to adhere to the group’s expectations and like a slippery slope slowly contribute less to the common work. As time goes by the collaboration becomes less efficient and thus less effective and allows members to return to earlier habits of individual efforts rather than group work.
OK, so what can we do to acknowledge challenges and better ensure collaborations work? Here are some things I am trying, that may work and may not, but strategies I am trusting to rebuild our collaborative spirit, practices and impacts.
- Revisit expectations for each individual team member and the group to ensure a common understanding of previous agreements.
- Assess the collaboration’s effective, efficiency and impacts frequently to celebrate progress, document what is working and make necessary mid-course corrections.
- Acknowledge that some members of the collaboration may face unforeseen challenges and may decide (or it may be suggested) to leave the collaboration.
- Identify potential new members of the collaborative that bring additional assets, talents and gifts to the common work to deepen and expand the collective impact on individuals, institutions and the community.
- Determine if and when the collaborative has achieved its goals and no longer needs to exist.
- Share, with constituents, the collaborative process and the collective impacts so that others know of the progress, lessons learned and characteristics of effective collaborations and can consider, adopt and/or adapt collaborative strategies.
In my experience it is difficult to acknowledge that a collaboration, built on common commitments, fails to be as effective, efficient and impactful as initially constructed but implementing these six strategies may be helpful to recognize challenges early and make adjustments. I also acknowledge the discomfort of asking or allowing a member of the collaborative to depart but at the same time exiting should be an option as realities set in and things change.
In a future blog I will share the effectiveness and challenges of implementing these five strategies and encourage others to respond to, add to, delete or enhance these strategies as we advance collaborations as common experiences in schools and education settings.