How to Promote Collaboration in an Association

Leaders seek to discover new ways on how to promote collaboration in an Association. Collaboration is linked with increased performance and Member engagement. What are some specific actions Association leaders can do to build collaboration?

A classic Harvard Business Review article, Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams, spells out strategies for increasing collaboration in organizations. The article focuses on for-profit companies. How can these strategies be applied to Associations?

The eight strategies are:

Promoting relationship practices unique to the organization.

Leaders modeling collaborative behavior themselves.

Building a culture that views collaborative interactions as something of value and selflessly shared.

Training in collaborative skills.

Promoting a sense of community.

Cultivating effective team leaders.

Building on pre-existing relationships.

Focusing on role clarity over task clarity.

Promoting Relationship Practices Unique to the Organization

Every Association has its own unique character. Leaders first need to pinpoint what makes the Association different from others. Second, based on the distinct mission, culture and types of Members, leaders can craft a collaborative environment that best fits the organization. For example, the way meetings are conducted can set a tone for the overall collaboration ethic of the Association.

Leaders Modeling Collaborative Behavior Themselves

If Association leaders want to encourage collaboration, then they need to “walk the talk.” Senior leaders should try to work collaboratively in situations where Members can observe their behavior. Another outward sign of collaboration at the leadership level is for all leaders to know how to do tasks beyond their own roles. For example, a Marketing Committee leader knowing enough about the head of the Finance Committee’s duties to fill in as needed.

Building A Culture That Views Collaborative Interactions as Something of Value And Selflessly Shared.

Fostering a culture that values collaboration at a more emotional level requires leaders to passionately convey its importance. Leaders need to speak from the heart and strongly advocate for collaboration as a core value. The goal is to make collaboration considered a highly valued practice shared between members as if it were a gift.

Training in Collaborative Skills

Collaboration comes naturally to some. To others, skills must be learned. The Association will benefit if collaboration skills training is made available to Members. Whether in-person (post-COVID) or online, the investment in training is a key way on how to promote collaboration in an Association

Promoting A Sense of Community

Members join Associations to be part of a community. Associations can heighten the feeling of community by holding events and activities that stress the group identity. Another reason Members join is for networking opportunities. When Associations support informal networking among Members through activities and tools like dedicated networking software, the sense of belonging, camaraderie and engagement increases. This become yet another way of how to promote collaboration in an Association.

Cultivating Effective Team Leaders

Collaboration is not only influenced by peer-to-peer interactions. Collaboration happens most often in the context of teams and committees. These groups typically have leaders who become involved in supporting collaboration. The HBR article noted that leaders who had a combination of task-oriented and relationship-oriented skills had the most significant positive effect on collaboration.

Building on Pre-Existing Relationships

Collaboration can be enhanced when the Association leverages pre-existing relationships among Members. When relationships already exist, teams achieve a collaborative rhythm quicker. Teams with Members who are new to each other need extra time to build trust. On the other hand, organizations need to make sure established relationships don’t lead to cliques that actually hurt collaboration. 

Focusing on Role Clarity Over Task Clarity

The conventional wisdom about teams is that assigned tasks must be crystal clear to achieve maximum collaboration. However, the HBR article authors reported that role clarity was more important. They observed that group members whose roles were unambiguous were better able to collaborate. Role confusion leads to turf battles that detract from the group cohesiveness needed for good collaboration. Association leaders should remember that while task clarity is important, it has less impact on collaboration than role clarity. 

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