Friday, 1 November 2019

I’m sure we’ve all been to meetings, workshops and conferences that have encouraged collaboration. We’re energised by the thought of working together, sharing ideas and delivering great outcomes. There’s a spring in our step about what’s possible, particularly if it enables us to work alongside someone who we respect, be part of a project or initiative that we are passionate about or to have the opportunity to harnesses collective resources that are otherwise scarce. What a time to be alive!

The reality quickly unravels when returning to our desk, our library and our day-to-day job. It can often mean that the momentum is lost, quite often the collaboration goes nowhere or falls short and great ideas quickly dissolve. I’ve certainly been there many times and others tell me this is often their reality too. It got me thinking about why and what we could be doing to try and contribute to making more of our collaborations a delight or meaningful success.

Collaboration is the action of working with someone to produce something. It sounds easy enough to pull off doesn’t it, but do we always have a common goal that we are working towards? Misalignment in how the act of ‘working together’ will take place and inadequate understanding of what the strengths and the weaknesses of the team involved can creep in. Limited time, if any, is taken to understand the systems and frameworks available to support the collaboration and we might not have been explicit about how the team will communicate, particularly if the team is geographically dispersed. We have a tendency to jump in to find a solution and do our assigned bit, whipped up in a frenzy of excitement to get the job done.

I hear a lot of talk about partnerships. This was certainly a topic of focus at the recent ALIA Board, as we reviewed the ALIA strategy. There is high value placed on finding good people or organisations to partner with to further an agenda and many are strategic in nature and long-lasting, for example ALIA’s partnerships with LIANZA, CILIP and ALA for example. I do wonder whether we use the words too loosely and that collaboration and partnership are used interchangeably. To me they are something quite different, even if under the same guise of connection and togetherness. As library and information professionals I’d suggest that we are more finessed at partnerships, doing things together as separate entities rather than entwined, working together, interconnected, and bound by a common goal and vision to produce something.

So how might we improve how we collaborate? I’m not sure I have the answers myself, I’m always learning, but I’d suggest we might consider some of the following:

  • Establish a shared goal from the outset.
  • Create a common language.
  • Set clear expectations and non-negotiables.
  • Establish what success looks like (or otherwise).
  • Understand the strengths and weaknesses of the team – pulling in other colleagues as needed.
  • Identifying a budget and timeframe, with milestones.
  • Establish how the team will communicate openly.
  • Spend time in each other’s worlds.
  • Hold each other accountable.
  • Learn from others.
  • Celebrate successes
  • Reflect and refine for next time.

What would you add to the list from your experience of working in collaboration with others, or has it just been a partnership?

ALIA is fertile ground for collaboration, underpinned by energetic Special Interest Groups, at the forefront of great events, initiatives and pushing our membership forward. The ALIA mentor scheme, this year with its biggest intake, is a great example of collaboration in action, individuals supporting each other to learn and grow together, something I’m personally very passionate about. The collaboration opportunities really are endless in our sector and I truly believe ‘together we are stronger’.