By Amy Celep
As families across the country prepare to gather for Thanksgiving, it is an opportune time to share a practical tip for collaboration. Even in families, it requires intentional effort to ensure everyone is working together effectively to pull off a fantastic Thanksgiving feast. A shared understanding about the way things will be done is important. For example, does everyone share the same attitude about what the traditional meal should entail, who should be invited, or whether a prayer should be said? Or, if there is not alignment on all aspects—which is probably closer to reality—is there at least respect for differing beliefs or attitudes?
Whether the goal is pulling off a fantastic Thanksgiving feast or achieving transformational social change, developing a shared understanding across boundaries—family, organizational or sector—can be critical.
In my last blog post, Don’t Let Culture Eat Collaboration for Breakfast, I talked about the importance of intentionally building a shared culture among collaborators. I’d like to share one of the practical tools—the creation of partnership principles—we’ve used with collaborations to establish a shared understanding of how the collaborators will interact with each other.
One of our first steps with a collaborative is to facilitate a conversation about partnership principles, which we have found is often best facilitated by a neutral third party. The principles are the core values that serve as the foundation for collaboration, guiding how the participants will interact with each other. These principles need to be brief and few in number in order to be easily remembered by all. After establishing the principles, it’s critical to clearly articulate the behaviors, or the specific actions, that demonstrate the principles in action. The most important outcome of the discussion is not just the articulation of the principles and behaviors but a commitment by all collaborators to hold themselves and others in the group accountable to what has been established.
For example, one statewide collaborative we worked with created—among a number of others—a principle of “respectful dialogue.” One of the associated behaviors was to “seek first to understand and then be understood.” Another example comes from Oxfam International, an international confederation of 17 organizations networked together in more than 90 countries. Oxfam is reliant upon collaboration to achieve its mission of building communities free of injustice and poverty. All of its work in long-term development, humanitarian response and disaster prevention, and campaigns and advocacy is guided by a set of partnership principles. The organization openly shares these principles with the hope of clarifying and being held accountable for the types of relationships it seeks to foster. These principles are key to its ability to work across a diverse set of players.
So as you head off for your Thanksgiving feast, don’t be afraid to spark the conversation with your family about the principles that will guide your interactions with each other this year. And, similarly if you dream of transformational change, try to resist the temptation to skip over this sometimes uncomfortable step. We have found it makes all the difference.
Happy Collaboration and Happy Thanksgiving!