Part IV: Walking the Talk. How can we learn to be better collaborators?

In Part I and II of the collaboration series, I shared some of the reasons why leaders, organizations and sectors need to collaborate, particularly when addressing intractable challenges embedded in complex systems. While Part III highlighted best practices in collaboration, this post outlines various resources that can build the necessary skills for effective collaboration. 

Making it Work: Building Partnership Competencies

How do we align all this talk about collaboration with the robust capability to execute on it in ways that can change the world?

Fortunately there is a growing infrastructure of training, educational and advisory resources on collaboration. Here are several:

Tamarack Institute: Canada’s Leading Collaboration Resource

Tamarack Institute, Canada’s leading capacity building organization for the community sector, will be running their annual Communities Collaborating Together: Accelerating Our Impact this October 7-11 in Edmonton. This follows their April event – in partnership with FSG and John Kania – a 3 day educational training for 150 leaders called Champions for Change that provided “a detailed look at the roles played by backbone leaders; dealing with complex issues in a changing and emergent environment; collective governance; shared value; and, exploring the development of a collective impact initiative over four phases of maturity.”


c/o Champions for Change event day 3

Partnership Brokers Association

A unique and important global training organization, the Partnership Brokers Association (PBA), has built deep knowledge and learning about partnerships and what makes them succeed. (Full disclosure: I just joined their board.)

PBA is training and supporting a worldwide community of partnership brokers who, working as consultants or employees from inside an organization, bring strong professional competencies to the development and fulfillment of new collaborative ventures that cross sectors and organizational boundaries. Brokers fulfill two major functions:

  1. Helping partners address typical partnering challenges
  2. Improving a partnership’s efficiency, effectiveness and innovation
PBA Which-hat-cartoon-380x225

c/o PBA website


PBA has published a guide entitled What Do Partnership Brokers Do?  And they have recently started a new journal Betwixt and Between that is “the platform for stories from partnership brokers everywhere – bringing together insights in practice, thought leadership and critical analysis.”

According to the PBA Board chair, Microsoft executive Greg Butler, writing in Good for Business?, we need to shift from transactional partnerships to transformational ones:

“Partnerships come in all shapes and sizes. In the private sector, many so-called ‘development partnerships’ are essentially transactional and tactical involving philanthropy on the one hand or service-type contractual arrangements on the other. However, we came to realize in Microsoft that a true partnership approach is something very different. A better managed and understood partnering process can lead to genuine win-win collaboration—where the conversation moves from ‘here’s some money, this is what we expect you to deliver’ to ‘this is the problem/challenge, how can we solve it together?’”

Operating without great fanfare, PBA has been training small numbers of Canadians for some years. In fact, a Newfoundland and Labrador government department – The Rural Secretariat – has ensured that all its staff have taken at least the PBA’s Level 1 Training since they employ PBA’s partnership approach to achieve their mandate. As the Rural Secretariat explains, they are “a unique and innovative Provincial Government entity that strives to advance the sustainability of rural Newfoundland and Labrador communities and regions…by engaging the public in deliberative dialogue about sustainability issues and challenges [and] supporting collaboration between and among rural stakeholders including governments…”

PBA partners with local hosts to bring their trainings to Canada. The next 4-day Level 1 training is in partnership with JS Daw & Associates in Calgary the week of September 24th. The following session will be in Ottawa in March or April 2014.

The Intersector Project

Among the new resources in the collaboration ecosystem is an emerging organization, The Intersector Project (TIP). It is a merger of Tri-Sector Forum and the Collaborative Governance Resources Institute. Its goal is to enable “intersector leaders across the business, government and non-profit sectors to come together and create new solutions to society’s most pressing problems and challenges.”


c/o The Intersector Project website

TIP recognizes that “the most pressing challenges we face as a society – such as access to education, the rising cost of healthcare, energy security and infrastructure redevelopment – are best addressed through collaboration among and between the business, government and non-profit sectors.”

“Successful collaboration is not easy, however,” says TIP. “Reaching innovative solutions requires a complex set of collaboration strategies and processes that ensure the right people are engaging in the right way. Shepherding this along requires a unique type of leader who has the mindset, skills and networks to appreciate, engage and collaborate with and among all three sectors.” TIP will be providing professional services supporting these types of boundary spanning initiatives.

Moving Forward Together

The Toronto organization Rethinking Sustainability Initiatives (RSI) is also working to build strength in partnership building. RSI describes itself as “a hub for leaders who want to optimize sustainability and innovation for greater business and societal success.” On June 20th they hosted Taking Action: The Power of Collaboration, which “explored how diverse groups of business leaders and subject matter experts took action to break through traditional sustainability barriers with strategic collaborators…And what the collaborators would do differently if they could do it again.”

Two leaders in Deloitte’s public sector practice, US-Based William Eggers and Canadian Paul Macmillan, have a new book coming out entitled: The Solution Revolution: How Business, Government and Social Enterprises are Teaming Up to Solve Society’s Toughest Problems. They are identifying the importance of promoting a solutions ecosystem where “all the elements together draw strength from the diversity of contributions that collectively target all aspects of a given social challenge.”

solution economy

c/o The Solution Revolution to be published Fall 2013

The Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF), scheduled for October 2 – 4 in Calgary, illustrates a prime example of Canadian collaboration. Event host, TRICO Charitable Foundation, is partnering with the Social Enterprise Council of Canada, the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, Social Innovation Generation, the Social Finance Forum and the Canadian Community Economic Development Network. Through this groundbreaking partnership, SEWF 2013 is poised for the world stage. It is in this spirit that the SEWF will host a series of breakout sessions on Collaboration, featuring leaders like Ros Tennyson, co-founder of the Partnership Brokers Association, and covering topics like open data, sharing failure, and making unlikely alliances.

There is much cause for hope that we can move from a country of siloed efforts to one with a deep culture of effective cross-sector partnerships. The next step is where the rubber hits the road and we look forward to sharing the stories of breakthrough success in this collaborative new world.

Tell us your stories, share your experiences with us. We learn best when we learn together and we achieve more when we work together.

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Tim Draimin About Tim Draimin

Tim Draimin is the Executive Director of Social Innovation Generation (SiG)


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