The first thing I realised this week following a call with my learning programme and helping a friend with their new business, is that our sector doesn’t network. What’s that about? We’re told endlessly to work in partnership and collaborate, but this fundament of business simply hasn’t made it over to the third/social enterprise sector. Which means when it is contrived onto the end of meetings, we’re a bit rubbish at it.
Which brings me to collaboration and why I don’t think we do this well either. Because of competition? Admittedly resource in our sector has always been tight, but do we really think the high street, restaurants, phone shops or solicitors don’t have competition? Personally, I’m really excited when I find a competitor. I can learn so much, reflect on what we do and this is so much more effective than bouncing of a blank piece of paper. Trust me, what we do is do darn hard, I really don’t think someone is going to steal it!
So if you’re bridging sectors as social enterprise does, have high standards, values matter and those in your sector really aren’t interested in going for a no-strings coffee, trust me, it makes collaboration hard. It’s hard for other reasons too. Because it’s hard to do something else/more unless you’re resourced to do so without seeing immediate gain. Is that what collaboration means? And that’s the other reason it’s hard.
Do we agree on what it actually is? Are we collaborating for the immediate aim of linking the people we support up with other services (this seems to be the general definition of the sector)? That’s great, but believe me, we could literally spend all our time doing this and wouldn’t actually achieve what we set out to do. Are we collaborating to enhance our service? This requires thinking. It can be hard to see the opportunity to do this, how to do this, who to do this with and to find the time.
So, following a FANTASTIC collaboration that we’re about to announce, my reflections are actually pretty prosaic. That like everything else, it takes planning. It takes:
- knowing your mission
- knowing how you’re going to achieve it
- knowing your negotiables
- knowing what added skills, resource, time and friends you need to achieve it
- going out there and making it happen – step by tiny step