Collaboration principles: dodging seagulls and building constellations

Collaboration principles: dodging seagulls and building constellations

Posted on May 15, 2013 by Pam Truitt

Last week, I dissected two of the four collaboration principles found in the Foundation Review article. The authors —members of the University of California Berkley faculty — developed and honed the principles to guide us all in what contributes to successful collaborations. As the authors note, there are plenty of collaborations that didn’t work. And as I shared last week, after 20+ years serving on boards and being active in my community, I'm guilty of adding to the pile. But I’m committed to working smarter/better and promise to do my best in using these wise guides.

Principle 1: Strategy is determined by mission impact before organizational growth

Principle 2: Build partnerships based on trust, not control

Principle 3: Promote others rather than yourself

Principle 4: Build constellations, not stars

I opined on Principles 1 & 2 last week and as promised, Principles 3 & 4 are today’s highlights.

Principle 3: Promote Others Rather Than Yourself

The image that pops into my head are the group of hungry gulls in the movie Finding Nemo eyeballing Dory and Marlin for dinner. Heads are bobbing. Me! Me! Me! Me! Dory and Marlin attempt to negotiate with the gulls; but alas, they had quite different agendas.

Leadership and management development programs incorporate this principle. But I’ll bet a lot of you will agree with my assessment—that it’s only followed by true leaders and managers. Many take the position of the hungry gulls.

In my former life, I was in the urban planning field and held high the notion that I could walk the fine line of helping communities achieve their goals—and ensure that plans and policies were fair and reasonable. But even serving in a volunteer capacity in my own community, seeking to bring the voice of reason to controversial community topics, I found that collaboration is easily thwarted when there are "hungry gulls" in the room and egos out in full force. With this dynamic, people can't see beyond themselves to practical approaches.

There will always be hungry gulls, but one way to try to get in front of the situation is to have a one-on-one conversation with each player before a collaboration meeting. Another option is to be very honest that collaboration requires a healthy dose of humility.

Principle 4: Build Constellations, Not Stars

I love this one and am immediately putting it to use in collaborative talks I'm about to launch with nine small arts and culture organizations that form a coalition. I know instinctively that they are too small to deliver their missions alone. They know it, too! My role will be to help them come together around an effective structure/network that will accelerate their missions. I will also guide them to work collaboratively, building a constellation and resist putting their efforts into a star!

What are your experiences with these principles? Please share!

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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