How can we best support cross-organizational collaboration?
It seems that many of the conversations I am engaged in these days focus on the need for organizations to collaborate. When I first started working in the area of collaboration, the focus was on creating cultures in organizations that supported people in collaborating across their often siloed functional structures. Maybe that was the beginning of the emergence of complexity in organizations, when leaders began to recognize that functional silos couldn’t address the challenges of delivering services and products that would meet customer needs.
As complexity has increased both within organizations and communities, along with recognition that the problems we face are systemic, there is a clear need for collaboration across organizations and sectors. Sustainability efforts have drawn together multiple organizations to address environment needs. Organizations such as Valley Vision, in the Sacramento, CA region, developed the means to identify stakeholders needed to address specific concerns and projects, bring them together, help them see how they are interconnected within the region and environmental system and support them in taking collaborative action. Dale Ainsworth, PhD, a graduate of Saybrook’s Organizational Systems program, is Managing Partner of Valley Vision.
In December 2010, President Obama established the White House Council for Community Solutions to bring together cross-sector leaders to support this type of cross-organizational collaboration and analyze the effect of collective impact. This effort was in response to a growing recognition that no single organization or sector can address the complex social and environmental issues. FSG is a non-profit consulting firm that is focused on strategy, evaluation, and research in this important area of collective impact. Work in this arena is high leverage and critical to creating the transformative change needed to address the many systemic problems before us.
Today, as I was speaking to one of our Saybrook PhD students working in healthcare, she pointed to the importance of having organizations like Valley Vision and FSG that are working to bring together healthcare providers and other stakeholders within the healthcare system to support systemic change. Mara Zabari works for the Washington State Hospital Association, an organization that brings people together across the many hospitals in the state to supportive collaborative learning and action in support of quality care.
In previous blogs, I have written about the work I am doing to support an organization, Circles New Mexico to bring a systemic approach to helping people move out of poverty and helping communities end the cycle of poverty. We are working to bring together job providers, education providers, social service agencies, affordable housing, transportation and government to address this systemic social problem.
Cross-organization/sector work is the work that needs to be done now. We need to prepare ourselves to do it. That includes developing competencies to bring people together into a collaborative learning space, to facilitative multiple perspectives, to support development of a common systemic understanding of the problem, and a common vision of the solution. It also requires the ability to facilitate collaborative action and action learning, measuring collective impact and the resulting change. These are new competencies and skills, skills that our Saybrook students are developing and putting to good use and that I hope we will see offered in more academic programs. Our future depends on this work.