Why Collaborations Fail

Jon Huggett at the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “…power is the secret sauce of nonprofit collaborations. Great collaborations between organizations achieve more than either organization could achieve by itself. But when nonprofit collaborations don’t talk about power and address the implications of power imbalances openly, each party runs the risk of stumbling into (or contributing to) an ugly, counterproductive situation. This is true on an organizational level and a personal level, as relationships naturally grow and evolve over time. Sometimes, organizational and personal issues are one and the same. And sometimes the breakdown is irrevocable, and each party regretfully—and usually wrongly—walks away thinking the other was ultimately too uncollaborative.

The true nature of the problem

Over the past year, I have interviewed dozens of collaborators all over the world, at the request of a group of Australian nonprofits whose leaders wanted to better understand what effective collaboration looked like before working closely together. I observed many effective collaborations. I also observed an assortment of dysfunctional ones, where leaders and others privately confided that they felt the other party was uncollaborative. Based on these interviews and my own experience, I’ve identified three major types of power struggles, where one party (either an organization or individual) implies the other is “bad,” “sad,” or “mad.”…

It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, many of the successful collaborations I’ve observed seem to get power right from day one. Specifically, ones that:

1. Set clear goals…

2. Recognize each other’s legitimate needs, which may differ….

3. Set clear roles, showing which parties have more power others, and why…(More)”.