This past week I tuned into the Country Music Awards – who would have thought that watching the CMA’s would have brought my thinking to collaboration? Well, it did.

I have to admit that I’ve not really listened to country music in the past few years but for many years I was an avid fan. While many of the artists were new to me, I have to say that I most enjoyed the performances from those that I remember from my earlier days as a fan. But this article is not about the music but rather the thinking it sparked in my mind.  Country music artists have always appeared to me to be very appreciative of the recognition, thankful for their talent, and supportive of those that are part of the “country music family”. I was reminded of the “all for one, and one for all” philosophy.

Just imaging if communities were successful in bringing together all those interested in turning struggling and even good communities, into great communities!  It would be of great benefit to local communities and local leaders to adopt this philosophy. If we are to truly make a difference in our local communities, we must do so collectively. There is no one organization, no one strategy, no one community that can tackle the economic and labour force challenges facing many communities. We will only achieve greater things that if we combine our efforts.

From a community perspective that means truly understanding the priorities of local organizations and identifying the common threats that can be woven through these strategies. It means being open and responsive to the thoughts, ideas, and priorities of all. It especially means being mindful and engaged in the conversation.

I found myself asking the question, “why does collaboration work in some communities, but not others”? Off to Google I went to see if I could find valid examples of where collaboration has worked, and more importantly why it worked. That led me to an article that originally appeared in The Healthcare Forum Journal, November-December 1995, Vol. 38 #6. Yes, that reads 1995! and the conversation of how to work collaboration continues today and will probably continue for many years to come!

I found this article fascinating as it offered the hypothesis I was contemplating and it offered the evidence to back it up.  The key elements as identified by David Chrislip and Carl Larson, for successful community collaboration included the following:

1. Good timing and clear need. Some stakeholders were ready to act with a sense of urgency.

2. Strong stakeholder groups. Well-organized, they could speak or act for those they represented.

3. Broad-based involvement. There were many participants, from several sectors.

4. Credibility and openness of process. Participants saw the process as credible, as fair (not tilted to any one group), as open (not excluding any important stakeholders), and as meaningful (making or influencing real decisions, not just rubber-stamping).

5. Commitment and/or involvement of high-level, visible leaders. Mayors, CEOs, city council members, and executive directors either attended or openly backed the process and gave decisionmaking power to their representatives.

6. Support or acquiescence of “established” authorities or powers. City councils, mayors, chambers of commerce, and the like agreed to implement the results of the collaboration–at least in part because they were involved from the start.

7. Ability to overcome mistrust and skepticism. The initial mistrust of the participants–of each other or of the process–decreased over time.

8. Strong leadership of the process. Leadership of the process, rather than of a particular point of view, included keeping everyone involved through difficult periods, acknowledging small successes, helping negotiate the hard points, and enforcing group norms.

9. Interim successes. Successes along the way built credibility and momentum, provided encouragement to the stakeholders, and helped keep them involved.

10. A shift to broader concerns. Through the process, people came to see how necessary it was that they focus on the needs of the whole community, not just of their particular constituency.

A second great resource on community collaboration is Tamarack – they offer links to additional articles, books, etc. Worth checking out theirwebsite.

So what did I “take away” from this exercise” Well for me, it’s about leaving competition at the door, and allowing new approaches and ideas to be explored – it’s about being inclusive, respectful, and recognizing that we all must give up something to achieve a greater something.

So as communities work to address their economic and workforce challenges, perhaps approaching the conversation with the intent to truly collaborate (not in mere words but in actions) can help make a real difference.