Insights from the third of a series of conversations exploring the six foundations for effective collaboration

We recently launched our Guide to Collaboration, a short summary of what we’ve learned about how to create sustained, effective collaborations for social change. It distils our reports, frameworks, and projects into twenty informative pages introducing the six key foundations of effective collaboration.

In this event we explored the collaborative mindset – the determination to enact the belief that we will go further together, especially when motivated by a strong sense of shared purpose. We invited Fiona Carden, CEO of CoLab Exeter; and Rebecca Sycamore CEO of Toynbee Hall to talk about their experiences as two CEO’s from the VCSE sector who lead collaborative communities in social change efforts.

We were interested in what came from the conversation between them as much as learning more about the work they were doing on the ground, and this proved to offer valuable insight into the reality of the challenges that can inspire all of us.

Fiona talked about how her team have been grappling with how to build collaboration across Exeter city, as part of efforts to meet an array of complex needs in a time of reducing resources.  She described how they had embedded a collaborative mindset and sense of shared purpose within an emerging leadership team, drawn from across participating organisations with the same goals.  They had used the guide to  develop the collaborative and growth mindset rooted in passion, gratitude, and a sense of live to give, even as they dealt with an array of challenging issues.

Rebecca described how Toynbee Hall is leading a coalition of organisations around debt advice and emotional wellbeing support to socially isolated older people.  Their work is to collaborate with community through peer led action research and build a shared purpose to promote fairer systems and better ways of addressing economic instability and poverty. 

What followed was a far reaching, passionate and insightful conversation, where these two leaders who had never met before, were able to not just connect and share what they were doing, but to spark off one another, receive acknowledgement of their approach, and generate new ideas in areas where they were struggling.  It was collaboration in action!

So, what did we learn about collaborative mindsets from their conversation?

That it’s critically important to value relationships across the board and not be extractive.  That its valuable to make the starting point our connection as people – to begin by seeing each other as people – not representatives of an organisation, or someone with only the dimension of lived experience.  To simply come together, focus on what brings people together, what connects them, and from that connection address the challenges they share. 

There was a shared belief in the value of remaining strengths-based and hopeful, even when the challenges were great, and there was an increasing culture of scarcity, less resources and increased demand.  It was clear that collaboration was most potent when everyone was involved in the solution, and it wasn’t about one person, one role holding that, it was a shared endeavour with shared responsibility. 

The audience wanted to know how best to hold that, particularly in areas with less supportive leadership and agency to act.

The speakers were mindful of their unique agency and capacity to act and acknowledged that this wasn’t so easy for everyone.  There was something powerful in their humility, in their ability to model how to hold the collaborative mindset, even in the face of current pressures and ongoing uncertainty, because it was the right way of doing things.  This certainty seemed to come from something, as Fiona said, deeper in the DNA, which wanted to create the optimum conditions for a better future. 

“Its like that saying…we are planting the trees that men in the future will sit under – we might not see the benefit, but we must do it all the same….”

Perhaps this is the place where collaborative mindset and shared purpose meet. Where the hope and aspiration meet the reality and still find energy for action – the source of what makes people and organisations flourish. 

The conversation was dynamic and wide ranging, and what we have here is just a few highlights.  If you are interested in listening to the whole thing, then click here.

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