Strategic Collaboration
by Keith Nicholson
Achieving goals faster, optimising the use of available resources, achieving funding targets, mitigating risk, navigating Brexit comfortably, learning and developing as an organisation and increasing the skills and experience of a staff team are all potential reasons why external collaboration with other groups should always be at the top of your strategic priorities list. Collaboration has always been a demonstrably positive way for organisations to formally and informally join together to achieve shared aims with a common purpose. Achieving responsible and sustainable aims is a huge challenge and something that Henry Ford understood well as he developed his great thinking around collaboration as a pioneer in the early manufacture of motor cars, and a thought that has stood the test of time.

The range of collaborative efforts is wide. Huge global firms collaborate on everything from shared transport to move goods and services through to the collaborative efforts of big pharma and tiny biotech companies to deliver new, novel life-saving drugs. Hyper local informal groups collaborate all the time, throwing celebratory events to reclaim the streets on a one-off basis and individuals coming together to introduce old books, free to people in deprived neighbourhoods. All great stuff, so what next??

An important place to start is to understand how your organisational vision, values and objectives are articulated and what restrictions or boundaries you have in place. These need to be clearly articulated so that a clear match or conflict can be raised and then addressed. Selecting partners with shared goals is not an easy task! Hosted by the North East Leaders for Social Change, the recent North East Collaboration Conference made some fantastic progress into this area and put hard cash into collaboration projects. Impressively, the money was purely to explore and discern collaboration opportunities, a very brave and forward-looking approach from these funders. For example, one group was looking at using the funding to set up a collaboration of addiction services in one area to make sure that beneficiaries could access services quickly and to reduce a duplication of services.
Read the full case study here.

Having clearly articulated goals, objectives and responsibilities at the start of any partnership is critical (this TEDx from Simon Sinek on Why, How, What is excellent background watching) and anyone involved in contract mediation will say that getting the principles and detail right from the start is the essence of good contracting. Methods of collaboration deserves an article in its own right, but there are some excellent resources available Knowhow Nonprofit and the Charity Commission to help frame the discussion. Your local CVS or infrastructure support organisation will be able to help guide you to local support to help navigate how to collaborate for impact. The range of collaboration methods generally moves from informal working together, formal partnerships or agreements, through to merger or acquisition. Having an understanding of each will allow you to be informed when it comes to making a decision for your organisation.

Evaluating performance and a mindset of continuous learning and evaluation is one that is particularly important with regard to collaboration. You may have output targets to hit to maintain payment points, you may have actions to undertake to satisfy a partnership agreement or contract and you may have behaviours to demonstrate to show how your efforts are contributing to shared aims. If you are suffering from mission drift or your strategic priorities change, then you need to understand your options around an exit arrangement and in doing so how any negative effects can be managed. You should also be able to articulate your learning and be able to remember how far you’ve travelled on the collaboration journey.

Collaboration is a powerful force for good and in working together, great things can be achieved with limited resources.

This article was written by Keith Nicholson in November 2018. If you would like to discuss or comment on the content, please feel free to get in touch at or