Thursday, 30 May 2013

Collaborating: How to do it

I wrote in a blog recently about the importance of collaboration but I want to go a little further and discuss the conditions that make collaboration possible.  The hope is that others may decide to work together and do so successfully.

So here are my key features for successful collaboration:

1) Identify at least one other person / organisation who wants to collaborate
OK, this is just stating that you can't collaborate with yourself but it is important.  There are many people / schools who do not like collaboration, they see it as a waste of their time, or, at least a diversion from the important tasks they are getting on with.  There are those who might like to collaborate, if they can find a good reason to and those who will collaborate with anyone over anything.

The best way to identify who will and who won't collaborate is to talk to them and find out their views.  If they are not interested then don't waste your time, you need them to be at least interested, if not enthusiastic.

2) Agree what you are trying to achieve
Collaborating without an aim in mind will just lead to nice, friendly but pointless chats.  Whilst these are needed in the early stages of building relationships, you need to identify why you are getting together.  There are many reasons, here are a few to think about:
  • Widening curriculum choices
  • Raising attainment
  • Developing joint CPD
  •  Sharing resources
The best approach is to discuss issues you are each struggling with and see whether any of them are common to most partners.

3) Build trust through openness
If the people involved do not trust each other then it won't work.  The best way of building trust is to be open about successes, failures, strengths and weaknesses.  This will take time and it is worth taking the time to get right.  Some partnerships establish a broker role, to liaise between the partners.  This is a very useful role when things don't work out as they should, though it is not vital.

4) Don't get too legalistic
It's very easy to spend a long time making all sorts of agreements and then trying to write them down so that everyone agrees etc.  Whilst you are spending time doing this, there are few actual results.  Get a few basic principles going and work to those.  One successful collaboration I worked with had the following:
  • Put your best foot forward. (If offering something to the partnership make sure it's your best resource, don't fob them off with rubbish)
  • Before reacting, listen to the other side. (This was the best way to resolve conflicts between partners)
  • Do the right thing.
 5) Be willing to compromise
There will come a time when the needs of the partnership clash with your own needs.  You need to be willing to solve that dispute.  If every time a clash occurs each partner does what is in their own interests, the partnership won't last.

6) Work on maintaining the relationship
In the early days this will involve getting key people together and giving them time to bond.  (This does not mean a raft-building workshop!  I would walk out of any collaboration that required me to do something like this.)  A day out of school in a hotel for key people on a regular basis really helps.  When key personnel leave and are replaced, work on rebuilding the relationships.

Whilst writing this I realised that the best sort of model for a collaboration is a good marriage: find yourself a partner, woo them, get hitched and stay hitched.


  1. Thanks for this, Rob. Have just got back from Rome - a trip to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary (my husband was there too....). So am with you on 'get hitched and stay hitched' BUT I think with school partnerships often you need to forge different partnerships at different times for different purposes - and it isn't adulterous!

    Read Dave Harris's 'Brave Heads' today. He says of partnership, 'The bravery is not in forming these links, but in the enthusiasm and depth of the relationship and in the activities you then put together collaboratively' which I liked.

    And is the 'Robert Anthony' be quotes on page 8 (in between Nelson Mandela and General Patton!) you???

  2. I agree that with school partnerships, multiple links are best as long as you don't over-stretch yourself so that you can't keep all your partners happy (I was going to say satisifed but felt that this might have additional meanings).

    Thank's for the suggestion about Brave Heads, it does look like my sort of book, one for the summer holiday.

    Unfortunately, I'm not THAT Robert Anthony, though I agree with many of the things he says. He's written lots of books such as

    1. I will have a look at this other Robert Anthony then - but promise I'm not being unfaithful...

      Am tweeting quotations from 'Brave Heads' at the moment - on the train travelling to London!