When Change Occurs
Open and honest communication at the start of collaboration is imperative to ensure a culture of trust between the organizations working together. Many times, lack of communication can lead to false expectations and unclear delineation of responsibilities. This failure in turn may lead to situations in which a partnership becomes fragile, and work in the service of the collaboration becomes extremely challenging. This activity helps participants to establish that trust, which is essential to a successful collaboration.
Read the dilemma and respond to the following questions.
Steve is the CEO of ChildCare, a nonprofit dedicated to children’s academic and social development. A few years ago, they were funded to work with education reform groups to implement their community and culture building programs in schools. The first organization ChildCare worked with was an education reform group, School Action Plan, with development programs in place in many schools. Steve and his colleagues knew and respected Paul, the CEO of SAP. Paul was immediately very receptive and open to the idea of collaboration and seemed genuinely excited about using their program in the classroom. He even appointed a member of his SAP, Cindy, to specifically work with Steve and his staff to help things run smoothly and efficiently.
Although the collaboration started off on a promising note, shortly after the partnership began, Paul left for a one-year fellowship, putting Bob, his second in command, in charge. Although Steve and Cindy worked very well together and were equally enthusiastic about the program, Bob never got on board. He did not trust what was going on. Steve explains:
Well, we spent a lot of time with the new fellow [Paul] had assigned to work with us, and we really hit it off and established a great relationship and what we thought and he thought was a great plan. But [Bob] never bought in, and he was the guy who was running the show and then did continue to run the show even, I guess, when [Paul] [came] back… [Bob] never bought in. He never trusted. He thought (we learned this later) that somehow we had co-opted the new guy. And I think what he was really afraid of was that if he let us into his schools, we might get the credit for the work, for whatever the fruits would be of our joint labors.
Matters were made even more complicated when Steve and his colleagues started working in schools where programs established by SAP were supposed to be in place. In fact, in many cases there were no such programs established. Because the new, shared reforms were designed to build off of these existing programs, implementation became impossible.
We didn’t quite know what to do when we found this, how to report it back to them, the developers, or what we should do in the circumstances. In any case, with School Development Program, things became very awkward.
Steve did not know if the collaboration was salvageable or if he should pull the plug and return the money to the funders.
Follow-Up Questions (to discuss together):
1. What do you think about Steve’s predicament?
2. What would you do if you were Steve? An independent foundation officer who believes in Steve’s mission? Steve’s staff?
3. What are some helpful resources, strategies, and skills to employ in order to resolve this situation? Do any of these supports exist? Is it possible for Steve to reach a resolution?
4. How could this situation have been prevented? What are Steve’s responsibilities in this situation? What are Paul’s responsibilities?
General Questions to Consider as Potential Collaborators or Active Collaborators
1. How can trust be established at the beginning of a collaboration? Why is it important to set clear expectations from the beginning? What factors should be considered in setting these expectations?
2. How can you respectfully ensure that your partners are being honest in their work?
3. What are possible methods that hold both sides accountable for their responsibilities in collaboration? How might this be sustained throughout the duration of the collaboration?