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
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.
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.