Leaders' Edge Advisor

Long Lasting and Vibrant Collaboration

By Gary De Carolis, President, Center for Community Leadership

Understanding, respect and recognition: Three key qualities you can count on to be present when true collaboration among interested parties takes place. I'm sure we have all had that experience when early in the work of collaboration everyone sitting at the table actually begins to understand all the variables that drive the work they do with children and families, or whichever groups they work with in their communities or states. This includes the many federal laws, various funding streams, state statutes and the differing stakeholders behind each agency's work.

When understanding, respect and recognition are all encouraged and nourished, they naturally lend themselves to developing trust, the vital fourth quality that undergirds most successful collaboration. Once the level of trust increases there is so much that you can plan and implement together, from interagency financing, program development, training, social marketing, comprehensive intake and assessments and unified data systems.

Building trust is certainly a goal of interagency collaboration. We all know that people, organizations and systems can do amazing things together when there is a high level of trust among parties. What can seem impossible when people and agencies are suspicious of each other can seem like common practice when there is a shared sense of trust. I am reminded of so many times when blending funds among agencies happened at the state and federal levels. Each of those events was preceded by building a high level of trust. We all had been working together for a long period of time. We knew the good and not so good of each others' operations and agreed we were doing the best we could do with what we had to work with.

The key ingredient in each of those situations was that someone intentionally created a forum for us to collaborate; a regularly scheduled meeting where we came together and worked on pressing issues or decided to undertake a collaborative initiative to better serve children and families. Someone initiated that first meeting and kept us moving forward together by continuously scheduling meetings and encouraging our ongoing participation. An example of this is the current Circles of Care federal grant program, specifically designed to support American Indian communities in designing culturally unique systems of care for children with mental health needs and their families. This initiative came about directly through a collaborative planning process among four federal agencies, spearheaded by leadership at the Center for Mental Health Services and the Indian Health Service.

That is the little known secret to building the understanding, respect and recognition that lead to trust, and thus to effective collaboration. Someone has to break out of our silo world and say "Let's work together. Let's see if we can accomplish more together versus separately." It is actually that simple. The trust therefore starts with one person who TRUSTS that creating the collaborative forums and inviting others in will lead to great success. From my experience it will, almost always. Give it a try.

Questions to Consider:
  • Are you courageous enough to create a collaborative forum where none have existed in the past?
  • How are you doing these days on forging those collaborative relationships?
  • Do you have any interagency agreements that formalize your work together?
  • How have you included families and/or consumers in those interagency efforts?
  • How have families and/or consumers made a difference?
  • How have you brought into your interagency work that partner that is hesitant to enter into a working relationship?

Please share your thoughts with:

Gary De Carolis, President
The Center for Community Leadership

Center for Community Leadership · P.O. Box 3069, Burlington, VT 05408-3069
ph: 802-863-9132 fax: 802-863-6586 · info@centerforcommunityleadership.com

Copyright 2005 Gary De Carolis. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

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