Mapping Obstacles: Where Do Ours Lie?
The purpose of this activity is to identify, articulate, and discuss obstacles that confront participating organizations.
There are many obstacles that have the potential to derail the collaborative process. Below, we offer several types of challenges, explained further with examples from actual practitioners.
Mission Clarity and Alignment of Goals
Issues of misalignment can appear at any point during collaboration. Attention to goals at the outset will help to ensure that those involved in the collaboration are in agreement as they begin their work together. But what about in the midst of the process? Sometimes, over time, organizations develop different foci, perhaps as the result of new funding or change in staff or leadership. As one individual explains:
The motivations that got certain people excited to be involved in certain aspects of the collaboration were not necessarily the same motivations of the people who would be the key players later on because of different interests and motivations of different people. So, in a sense, the work got transformed into something that was a different animal, which means that different people come in, and there’s different leadership in different organizations. You can have an institution that has a collaboration, but those institutions are dynamic, and the external forces are dynamic, and the work is dynamic.
“Cultural differences” may refer to issues as specific as variance in how groups approach work or preferred means of communication. Even when groups within the same discipline (e.g. education) are working within the same country (e.g. the U.S.), there is tremendous potential for differences in approach to work. These differences can prove just as difficult as collaboration between organizations that literally speak different languages. Here are a few examples:
-Even at our graduate school of education there are different cultures. Literally, we’re in three different buildings, and the cultures of each building are different… they’re different programs. [one building] is teacher ed and curriculum instruction. This is the organization and leadership. And then [there] is human development. And first of all the disciplines are different and then the cultures are different.
-Until you recognize and name those culture gaps, you can’t really work well together. So I remember sitting in my office … and having the school where I’d been working call up and say, “We have broken windows in the gym. Can we use your facilities for graduation tomorrow?” And you say, “We make a plan two years in advance for how every room is used, so it seems fairly unlikely.”
-The funder’s timeline is not at all the way time works in the real world and certainly in Italy; the time that they take doesn’t match what we do in this country.
Limited Resources (time, money, experience, logistics)
Lack of time is frequently mentioned as an obstacle to good collaboration. When the collaboration is seen as something “additional,” an add-on to regular work responsibilities, the process becomes even more vexed. The fiscal health of the various organizations involved in the collaborative work is also clearly important, as are the other types of resources available to bring to the table. Some examples to further illustrate these ideas:
-It takes an enormous amount of energy, which I tried to do, and the more energy I put into that, the less energy I had available to pay attention to the people we were trying to help.
-Another place where I think there’s been and there are potentially problems and tension is when the money runs out. Often you’re in a situation where the money runs out, and you really need to get the stuff done, and you want to get it done, and you’re depending on people’s good will. Some people are a lot more willing to put in their time, pro bono time, than others.
What obstacles are present for you in this collaboration? What obstacles are present for your collaborative partners? Below, in addition to the obstacles highlighted above, we list several other potential challenges to good collaboration. Please check every item that you find difficult in your collaborative work:
______Mission Clarity and Alignment of Goals
______Limited Resources (time, money, experience, logistics)
______Power Struggles (politics, issues of respect, institutional hierarchy)
______Honesty and Trust
______Personal Traits and Interpersonal Issues
Choose one of these obstacles, and, in small groups, brainstorm a potential strategy for dealing with this issue.