What is Collaboration?
Collaboration is a process where two or more people, groups or organizations come together to accomplish a needed task. For instance, two parishes plan and execute joint human concerns projects; three schools focus on a coordinated science project; two religious communities come together to share living space, ministries or care for the elderly; two colleges extend support for a research project. Collaboration involves sharing projects with a common goal in mind.
1. Collaboration is an example of good stewardship of human and financial resources . In many cases, collaboration diminishes the need for separate staff to accomplish a particular job or a ministry. For instance, a finance manager, depending upon the size of the institutions, might be able to share time and effort by working with different organizations. Two parishes might collaborate on a youth ministry program and eliminate unneeded staff. This can save money by avoiding duplication. It also can free up some staff and financial resources for a new ministry or one that is not in existence at either parish. Two religious communities might share health care facilities and/or professional staff.
2. Collaboration can increase the quality of programs.
The old saying is “two heads are better than one” can apply in collaboration. A different set of skills may be needed to accomplish an administrative job, as well as develop a new program. One person may not have both set of skills. In such a case two people or three organizations can share staff, when different gifts, abilities and experiences are called for.
Two or three people from one or multiple organizations working together often will generate new and creative ideas that neither one would develop alone.
3. Collaboration often bonds people for emotional, psychological, spiritual and professional support.
a. .In collaboration there are many opportunities for bonding and mutual support. People often have more energy to take on projects that call for creativity or courage when they are part of a group that supports new ideas and “risk taking.”
b. In faith-based groups spirituality is integrated into collaborative projects. Prayer and quiet reflection are often regular practices. At other times spiritual charisms are exercised, built on specific customs, often rooted in the Paschal Mystery.
c. Professionally, it is often very effective to deal with large or even national social justice issues collaboratively. For instance, a college may want to start a program on ecology and local environmental concerns. Because of the political atmosphere they may decide to do it in collaboration with other institutes of higher education or local agencies that share the same values.
d. In another instance, a religious group desires to address homelessness. They decide to restore an old school into low income housing where a requirement is that the residents be part of an education program. To do this they work together in a collaborative fashion with local sponsors of “GED” programs, junior colleges or trade schools.
The chances of being successful are enhanced through collaborative mutual relationships. A sense of working together, bonding, sharing spirituality for the sake of the mission and fruitful change builds a great sense of community.
What are the Challenges in Collaboration?
1. Trust is the first thing that needs to be established among collaborators.
There are many aspects of trusting. The need to have and work on mutually agreed upon goals is paramount to collaborating on projects. Believing that all members of the team will work diligently for the same goal is important and integral to positive achievements. Trusting that there will be loyalty amongst those working together is essential.
2. Another challenge in collaborative efforts is the ability to “let go” of control.
This is particularly difficult when the task or project is a “pet” one, created by an individual in the collaborative partnership. Collaboration assumes joint decision making in many aspects of the relationship. Shared outcomes may differ to some degree and need to be resolved. Overcoming “the way we always do it” can be a big challenge.
3. Fear that a particular organization, ministry or position will be changed diminished or ended are inherent in some collaborations, especially where there are some financial or membership issues.
Change is always intrinsic in collaboration. Sometimes the change is minor as in two organizations collaborating on an adult education program or a field trip, etc.
At other times change can lead to name changes in projects, when collaboration leads to mergers or new identities. Such is case in mergers of parishes or schools. As difficult as mergers can be, they are less problematic, if the entities have collaborated on projects before they merge. Collaboration, as described in the first section of this article, can lead to developing significant relationships, which eases the pain of mergers.
Another change that may occur, especially in more radical collaboration, is the need to do a new and collaborative strategic plan. That takes a lot of time, similar assumptions and good relationships. Initially there may be resistance to planning, as “we already have one that we worked on before” or more cynical expressions such as “why bother, no one listens to us anyway.”. Doing a collaborative strategic plan may take an outside facilitator to help moderate discussion around different assumptions or use of resources.
There is the fear that the collaboration may not work, especially if there is a change in leadership in the organization, parish, school or religious congregation. The anxiety is that the collaboration could be stopped or radically changed by a new leader. Such fears are usually somewhat alleviated by patience, understand and appropriated dialogue.
The fear of failure in important efforts of collaboration is real, often due to unforeseen circumstances. The value of collaboration, if a sense of community has been developed, is that the group deals with whatever did not work out, not just an individual or several participants. A group brainstorms and problem solves to determine a solution and understands it as a step along the journey—the big journey lead by the Spirit.
SUCCESSFUL COLLABORATION IN FAITH-BASED ORGANIZATIONS IS TRULY THE RECOGNITION OF THE PRESENCE AND CALL OF THE SPIRIT AND THE HUMAN RESPONSE TO THAT INVITATION, FOR THE SAKE OF WITNESSING AND CONTRIBUTING TO THE REIGN OF GOD.