Talking Collaboration

In an article that recently appeared in The Public Manager, author Russ Linden identifies six elements for successful collaboration.  The six factors he lists are consistent with what others have written about collaboration.  In short, people know what it takes to work together in teams or groups, but collaboration remains very difficult to achieve.  Linden’s six keys to effective collaboration are:

  • Partners have a shared, specific purpose that they are committed to and cannot achieve (as well) on their own.
  • Partners want to pursue a collaborative solution now, and are willing to contribute something to the effort.
  • Appropriate people are at the table.
  • Partners have an open, credible process.
  • The effort has a passionate champion (or champions) with credibility and clout.
  • Partners have trusting relationships.
One of our associates, Susan Driver, commented that the most successful multi-party negotiations she has worked on have been cases where all the relevant parties were at the table and all the parties had passion, credibility, and some clout.  She said it was especially vital that the “policy makers had definite clout.”  Our associate, Rusty Sanders, remarked that “a great deal depends on who is on the team.”  Even the most committed leaders will find it difficult to ensure that everyone at the table is fully committed to a shared purpose.
In most negotiations people are sensitive to the fact that the right people need to be at the table.  This is the one of Linden’s rules that is most commonly addressed.  But even making sure the right people are present is complicated.  First, it is important that all the legitimate “parties” are represented.  A party refers to any organization or individual who has an interest in the outcome.  Second, it is important that each representative is capable of participation.  We often find the right parties at the table, but some are represented by the wrong person. One of the earliest tasks in a multiparty negotiation is to figure out who has authority to decide and whether each representative can actually speak for that party.
Although attention often is paid to having the right participants involved in the negotiation, it is much more difficult to ensure that the negotiators are champions with passion and clout!  Because having champions at the table is so important, it is incumbent on leaders to assign negotiators who can actually carry that burden.
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