Achieve more: The art of collaboration

As part of my ongoing series titled “Achieve More,” I’m profiling this month the role of collaboration in the development of dynamic, meaningful, and compelling education and networking experiences.

Interestingly enough, collaboration is defined as the act or process of collaborating, as well as the product resulting from collaboration. A few years ago, the Michigan Society of Association Executives (MSAE) introduced a new award recognizing innovative collaboration. This annual recognition continues to spotlight and reward collaboration both as a process and as product.

But that’s an aside.

I was fortunate enough in 2011 to attend ASAE’s Invitational Forum on Leadership and Management. If you’ve never been, I would highly recommend looking into it. Yes, it’s a little pricey; however, it was—perhaps—the best professional development experience of my life (and as a professional development junkie, that’s saying a lot).

In addition to good, quality information that was immediately applicable to my work, I was introduced to and worked alongside dozens of well-respected and seasoned association professionals. Even more than that, I was challenged to think about collaboration in a new and somewhat innovative way.

I’m paraphrasing here, but a few key takeaways/principles that continue to guide my work with others (and which I return to from time-to-time to refocus and refine my approaches to collaboration, particularly in situations involving strongly divergent opinions):

  • When a problem exists (in this case, any challenge your association could and would face during the normal course of business), my solution and your solution are fundamentally different because our views/perspectives on what should be done are based on our own unique skills, expertise, beliefs and values. And this is perfectly okay (and, in fact, to be expected).
  • Simply selecting one solution over the other or creating a compromise somewhere between our two solutions would result in a fundamentally deficient decision or product. Likewise, when one person “wins” and the other “loses,” friction, hostility and demoralization could affect not only our relationship, but our future collaborative work.
  • Instead, a third option should be devised that honors the best parts of my solution and the best parts of your solution, builds upon our respective strengths, and results in a third, more robust solution that elevates the skills, expertise, beliefs and values we each bring to the table.

In my experience, organizations often excel or have strong expertise in a particular functional area. Many resources are funneled into this department to ensure success and, ultimately, to create value and best serve the membership. Naturally, these projects gain the attention of top leadership, are allotted disproportionately more time on the board agenda, and appear first in both the monthly newsletter and the year-end report.

Meanwhile, the remaining departments suffer from inexperienced/undertrained staff members, as well as a lack of resources, poorly defined goals/objectives, board/leadership apathy, and an overall lack of time, attention and focus. Intentional or not, these dynamics have a tremendous impact on staff morale, motivation and productivity.

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as simple as striving for perfection (sorry Type As). If it were easy for every organization to be the best at everything they do, wouldn’t we just strive for perfection each and every day (and be increasingly more disappointed when every association began to look more and more alike or the occasional human error reared its ugly head)?

Therefore, in my opinion, we have at least two options:

  1. Strive to be more balanced. Aim for excellence in the functional areas our organizations excel at, but be more mindful of and fair to the other departments and staff, too.
  2. Be more deliberate about collaboration. Be honest about the functional areas that could use a bit more attention and resources – and deploy them accordingly.

Here, resources include staff (be it full-time, part-time or the often under-utilized intern), supplies, training, recognition and support. Additionally, collaboration is key. Collaborate with a trusted partner (such as a colleague or a consultant) and you’ll undoubtedly infuse new ideas, new energy and a renewed spirit into your department and, subsequently, your organization.

In addition to keeping projects on time, on message and under budget, I think you’d also be surprised by the impact collaboration can have on strategic thinking and long-term outcomes. In terms of professional development and creating dynamic member experiences, it could be the difference between planning the same conference year after year and developing a compelling experience – delivered in a unique and interactive way – that inspires learning, engagement and community.

So, my question to you is this: Do you identify with this model of collaboration? In what ways does your organization encourage collaboration both internally and externally? What outcomes – otherwise unachievable – has your organization realized as a result of collaboration?

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meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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