The “Messiness” of Collaborative Relationships

Many researchers and consultants who study organizational dynamics agree that personal relationships are the seeds of nearly all collaborations and key to fostering success once a collaborative effort is underway.

Describing her work with collaboratives, Marianne Hughes of the Interaction Institute for Social Change noted that “collaboration takes more than well-meaning people with good intentions coming together to determine a set of outcomes. Successful collaboration requires solid process design and skillful facilitation. The process itself is what catalyzes the critical shift from believing that the right answers and expertise are held by a few to an understanding that it is the collective wisdom of the group that determines right action and greater impact.”

Collaborations are relationships among individuals as much as they are ventures among organizations. Strong interpersonal relationships “can help resolve small conflicts before they escalate,” as Kanter has noted, and factors like trust and respect “play a far greater role in collaborative problem-solving than in more traditional decision-making methods” or those seen as “more rational.”

Yet it’s also true that, except for the occasional individual donor, just about every member of a funder collaborative is representing an institution — a source of ambiguity or “messiness.” “Each person in a collaborative has to represent his or her foundation,” a grantmaker pointed out, “as well as the views of the collective. Everyone needs to make sure that whatever is being done doesn’t go too far from what their own foundation would support, while taking into account the needs of all their colleagues — each of whom is dealing with specific stresses and strains within their foundations.”

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by GrantCraft using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Funder Collaboratives.