Collaboration – what does it really look like?

We are now one year into our journey working within the space of systems change and design thinking, and as such are constantly searching for new tools and techniques to assist us in achieving our desired outcomes. Key to our success is using a te ao Māori lens and developing integrous bicultural partnerships with those who share our vision for equity in education – the data continues to show that our current system is not working for Māori learners – we all know change needs to happen and that collaboration will be the catalyst. We know we need to do things differently, be different, think differently, but most of us are locked in to a conformist mindset that puts the problem out there rather than looking within. The reality is transforming the future starts with transforming oneself.

The success of the intervention is based on the interior condition of the intervenor

Bill O’Brien

As a team we’ve been reflecting on the challenges of authentic communication. We know the literature inside out with regards change management, collective impact, systems thinking … and yet largely we remain inept at taking our learnings and integrating them into our work practice. The fact is, true collaboration is much harder than it seems. Often we are reproducing systems simply by replicating ‘the way we do things around here‘. We may also be unintentionally putting barriers in front of well-meaning people who are trying to innovate and respond to the needs as they arise. What we have learnt is that without a shared vision, people perish. That is, we regularly need to check back in to our vision and re-remember why we agreed to partner in the first place. It is important to think about what we agreed to do and purposefully make a choice to be part of the solution. If we don’t we can become yet another barrier.

We also know that shared measures are essential – everybody talks about agreeing to a shared way of measuring success, but when working within a collaborative space this is much easier said than done. This is often because we all bring our own lens to the reality. We also bring our own iwi, organisation or institution’s lever of success. So we need to get clear on what we agree to measure at the outset and revisit it regularly. Using data to make informed decisions helps us to navigate personal and professional bias (we all have these). We also know getting clear on roles and responsibilities is key to successful collaboration. Everyone is busy and often wearing multiple hats therefore when we work on collaborative projects, we need to make ourselves accountable for what we say we are going to do and what we actually do. Revisiting our vision is key to recognising our own responsibility and reconnecting to our motivation for signing up in the beginning.

There are many positives that come from working collaboratively as a team, such as shared responsibility and playing to each other’s strengths. We recognise we are not all good at everything and collaborative efforts really allow us gain economies of cooperation. Having the right combination can create a formidable team! Lastly we’ve learnt that celebrating the small wins is key to keeping each other motivated and inspired. Working on collective impact projects means we are taking a long-term view – working towards long lasting impact and significant changes in the system. On the way we need to take the time to celebrate those small milestones within the bigger journey. Staying connected to a kaupapa that is much bigger than ourselves is transformative, but to ensure sustainability, we must have the tools to maintain and continue to grow healthy collaborative environments.

So here’s some tips to consider when thinking about collaborating:

  • Take the time to formulate a collective vision.
  • Agree on measures of success
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities
  • Recognising our role within the system and choosing to be solution-focused and strengths-based
  • Revisit vision, roles, measures and the ‘why’ regularly.

For more information please contact Porsha:

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