Revisiting Mission in the Course of Collaboration
During collaboration, many times individuals confront opportunities and obstacles that “test” the stability and reliability of a collaboration—in the process of forming as well as the process of maintaining a collaboration. For example, individuals may allocate additional funds to the collaboration; or in the less happy instance, an organization may encounter financial difficulties that pose a threat to the collaboration (e.g. change in personnel, less time to spend on collaboration). In such situations, organizations may need to go back to the basics. This activity reveals whether individuals and organizations are aligned about the “higher purpose” of the collaboration; in the process, it indicates whether collaborators should re-assess or re-assert their commitment to the collaboration.
Read the dilemma and respond to the following questions.
Dilemma: Tom is the executive director of an organization advocating for fair access to higher education for young students. For the past five years, he has been convening foundations, experts in the field, and pre-collegiate and higher education leaders to work with him on these important issues. He has been offered a large grant by a well-known institution in the field, which he takes because he feels that the money will help reach his goals of fairness and equity for all students.
The collaboration with this organization is complicated on two levels. First, the public image of this organization in not favorable—it is a for-profit organization and is believed to work against the values Tom is trying to re-instill. Tom knows that to this group, the collaboration is beneficial because it may help rebuild a favorable image. Many supporters (who have given money over the years) disagree. Tom describes a recent meeting:
I was at a meeting [trying to garner support of potential partners]…And one guy just stood up and yelled at me. And that was really a hard thing to take. And he did that publicly. He said, “You’re selling out. Where’s your credibility?” Blah-blah-blah. And I had to learn, I just sat there. I was numb. And a lot of people came up to me and said he was out of line. So, there’s a perception out there.
The second complicating factor inherent in this collaboration is that the current funding organization does not want Tom to collaborate with any other organizations that could potentially “compete” for its member base. However, at the moment, Tom has applied for a grant that, if it comes to fruition and is successful, may create a similar service that the organization he currently collaborates with already provides. To pursue his personal and professional mission, Tom would like to keep both collaborations. He rationalizes:
And I’ve made the decision. This is what we’re going to try to do and I’m going to try to push it as hard as I can. And I think we’re able to do more good this way. It depends on the final outcome, the final product. Right?
Follow-Up Questions (to discuss together):
1. What do you think about Tom’s predicament? What does this situation tell you about how Tom thinks about the purpose of these particular collaborations?
2. What would you do if you were Tom? Tom’s mentor? An independent foundation officer who believes in Tom’s mission? Tom’s staff?
3. What would be helpful resources, strategies, and skills to employ in order to resolve this situation? Do any of these supports exist? Is it possible for Tom to reach a resolution?
4. Is Tom violating his principles by working with the first organization? The second organization? What is he willing to risk? Is he “selling out”?
5. What is more important, the process of collaboration (following the guidelines set by particular collaborators) or the product of the collaborations (changing the institutional behavior so that the system is more equitable and fair)?
General Questions to Consider as Potential or Active Collaborators:
1. What is the central mission of your potential collaboration? What is the purpose of your work together as a group, and as independent organizations? What do you want to accomplish together that you couldn’t accomplish alone? How can you each benefit from this collaboration?
2. What are the most valued desired outcomes?
3. Is there anything you are willing to risk in order to achieve these desired outcomes?
4. Anything you are not willing to risk?