Putting collaboration into practice

Based on practice that already exists in the sector and the recommendations we consulted on in 2020, we have identified some behaviours for organisations who want to become more collaborative. We think that collaborative behaviours are essential to enable charities of different types and sizes to work together to provide holistic support and tackle complex issues. Collaboration can also ensure people can access the support they need, and can exercise choice in the services they access.

These behaviours are a starting point for thinking about collaboration and should be tailored to the size of the charity and the role it plays in partnerships. Organisations with more power may find it easier to put some of these behaviours into practice, but there are still actions that organisations with less power can take. These include being open to learning from others and adapting ways of working, networking and building relationships, and showing an openness to working in collaboration.

Collaborative organisations

1.Compete in an ethical and responsible way.

2. Are open to collaborating with various organisations. These organisations often do the following:

  • Think carefully about going into new areas, and always consider partnership working.
  • Clearly communicate their intention to collaborate and build a reputation for partnership.
  • Judge each organisation on their merits and culture, avoiding blanket assumptions about organisations.
  • Open lines of communication to build trust, in response to any suspicion or hostility.
  • Build partnerships over time and choose partners well, whilst being willing to develop new ones.
  • Explore partnership with different types of organisations, including smaller organisations and organisations led by marginalised groups and communities (e.g. user-led organisations, BAME-led, LGBT- led etc..).
  • Work collaboratively, or co-produce services, with the communities or people they exist to support.
  • Recognise the value of others and understand how organisations value themselves.

3. Support other organisations in a variety of ways. These can include:

  • Pushing back on poor commissioning practice and resisting ‘contract culture’.
  • Exploring different mechanisms but being honest about what will work for the partnership.
  • Bidding for and delivering contracts together.
  • Considering the impact of their funding strategy on other organisations that support the communities they work with.
  • Sharing infrastructure, training, resources and learning.
  • Buying in the services of other organisations.
  • Building the capacity of smaller organisations.
  • Facilitating the flow of money to organisations that struggle to access funding.

4. Develop fair and equal partnerships. Organisations ensure positive collaborative working by doing the following:

  • Aligning values but allow for and learn from organisational differences within partnerships.
  • Sharing decision making power and knowledge within partnerships.
  • Developing reciprocal relationships with partners, where each brings complementary skills and experience.
  • Managing partnerships fairly ensuring fair payment and processes for resolving issues.
  • Ensuring flexibility and support for partners where needed and are willing to adapt their own approach.
  • Trusting and respecting partners, and those who work for other organisations.
  • Investing time and energy in collaboration and developing partnerships early.

5. Nurture a collaborative organisational culture and leadership behaviours

  • Ensuring strategy and decision-making processes support collaboration. This can include embedding partnership in decision making about what to bid for.
  • Taking a nuanced and broader approach to growth, recognising the differences between growth, sustainability and impact.
  • Developing a collaborative leadership approach.
  • Devolving responsibility and listening to staff but directing when change is needed.
  • Developing a board that is critical, outward looking, comfortable with risk, and focused on delivering quality not quantity.
  • Building internal capacity for collaboration, including reducing internal barriers, rewriting job descriptions, and asking staff to focus on serving communities.