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Cohesive Collaborations: What They Are and What They Are Not (Part 1)

The word “collaboration” may give you mixed feelings.


On the one hand, we all understand the value of collaboration. A group normally accomplishes more than a single person can. 
On the other hand, you have probably experienced the downsides of collaboration. Perhaps you were involved in one that failed to get results because of in-fighting or inertia. 
Either way, grant writers must participate in collaborations. Sometimes we even have to lead them. To be in one, it helps to know what type of collaboration is in front of you.
I have identified four basic types of collaborations over the course of my career.  Some collaborations may contain elements from multiple categories.  Others will shift from one category to another over time. In any case, here they are.
Type #1:  CINOs, or “Collaborations in Name Only”
Usually, CINOs are formed for the sole purpose of getting a grant. They usually fail. It is hard to present CINOs as something other than what they are. 
A CINO subtype is the “800-Pound Gorilla Collaboration” dominated by the partner with the most resources or stature. Like the proverbial 800-Pound Gorilla, this partner does what it pleases because no one can stop them.
Fortunately, CINOs tend to have short lives. The second type of collaboration, though, does take on a life of its own.
Type #2:  The Dysfunction Junction Collaboration 
As implied by the name, the Dysfunction Junction Collaboration (DJC) is afflicted with one or more of the following: outsized egos, in-fighting, backstabbing, passive-aggressive behavior, a high level of disarray or disorganization, feet-dragging, or general drama. 
Most people want to do the right thing. Members of DJCs are no different in this regard on an individual level. However, to earn the DJC designation, all it takes is a handful of personalities feeding off each other in unproductive and even disruptive ways. 
Can a DJC get anything done? Yes, under one condition.
I was involved with a DJC formed to solve a pressing problem. It was dominated by a well-meaning but strong-willed individual who swamped group members with phone calls seven days a week to impart his every random thought.  Another prominent member also had her heart in the right place but alienated several group members for various reasons.
Despite the problems, the group rolled out a strategic plan that served as a model for others to follow. 
How did this happen? The group had a deadline and a strong sense of urgency. You can diminish the dysfunction in your DJC if these two elements are present. 
However, DJCs eventually become less effective because they burn people out. Negative energy, if present, can be overcome for only so long. However, some DJCs go on to be...
Type #3 – The Habitual Collaboration
The Habitual Collaboration is your run-of-the-mill collaboration, a “business as usual” type of collaboration.
They probably help their target audiences, but they usually are not transformative either. The sense of urgency that was there at the start may have dissipated. 
The Habitual Collaboration may lack imagination. The collaborators may be achieving most or all the goals outlined in the grant proposal, but the overall impact is less than what it is capable of being. 
Resistance to change is often found here. As a result, a “go along to get along” philosophy takes root. 
CINOs are normally a lost cause, but with effort, Dysfunction Junction Collaborations and Habitual Collaborations can evolve into the fourth type of collaboration:  the Cohesive Collaboration. We will discuss the Cohesive Collaboration in Part 2 of this series. Stay tuned!
Can you identify a Dysfunction Junction Collaboration in your life?
Bruce Ripley is the grant writer for a nonprofit organization in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky as well as a freelance writer and consultant.

GPC Competencies:
03 - Effective Program/Project Design