Pick your crisis: climate change, pandemics, political division, economic stagnation, international relations. When concerned members of society are faced with big obstacles, they cry out for like-minded groups to come together and effect a greater change. This clarion call urgently summons interdependent agencies together for meetings. The goal of this organizational cooperation is always to find ways of collaborating to solve the issue at hand. These meetings, these gatherings are innumerable.
So, why do people often complain and define the problem as one of little to no cooperation among organizations?
This complaint may hint at a classic consulting scenario that requires reframing.
If you used the standard meeting model, you would invite the groups to talk and share their concerns, and ideas. Next, you would invite them to agree on common goals, shared projects, develop a cooperation strategy, work out a schedule of milestones, and decide on the next meeting date.
Here’s the thing: Communication and defining common goals are not the problem.
If these were the problem, they would have been solved already. The problem between groups is territory, territory, territory.
They each have defined their boundaries tightly around their organizational structures. They think their mission is to do a good job within those boundaries. As a result, progress toward resolving the issue is episodic, at best. For change to really happen, the reality is that each group will have to yield territory and control.
This is a sour pill to swallow. They must confront the question: “What are you willing to give up for the sake of the larger purpose?”
They have to be willing to give up projects, budgets, and a piece of their identity if anything beneficial is going to happen for their citizens or clients. This requires trust.
Trust is built from telling the truth and from acts of surrender.
There is no other way to build the relational capital necessary for organizations to partner successfully. Trust is the ONLY way.
One word of caution.
Don’t buy the medicine that better communication is all you’ll need to get a good start. It will be the start…one that leads to a lot of motion and no movement.
Instead, you need to first create a condition for making a partnering agreement: All organizations must make meaningful sacrifices to create trust. If they choose not to make this necessary sacrifice and perhaps lose something in the process, then you will become a puppet in their negotiation strategy. It would help if you take a firm stand on this point early in the conversations when you have the most leverage.
When it comes to organizational cooperation, refuse to settle for the thought that because a gathering occurred and words were exchanged that anything meaningful happened. Instead, reframe the nature of the gathering by focussing on the core issue of why barriers to true cooperation persist. Address “why” they’re protecting territory.
In this way, organizations can come to the table as partners ready to take ownership for what they will sacrifice for the greater good. The investment of each organization’s sacrifice will create the bonds of trust necessary to make a change.
To act within this frame: