What makes a collaboration complex?

Clearly, people and organizations from post-secondary, healthcare, social services, and community agencies coming together to create a shared product, service or environment will have challenges working together. The complexity of such a collaboration comes from a variety of factors, including:

  • Different professions and people work through problems and make decisions in different ways – and may not recognize that their own process is not shared by all, nor is it always better than others’ approaches in all situations;
  • Different professions and different agencies focus on different aspects of a student’s life, or on different aspects of their mental health, illnesses/disorders or addictions. Some focus only on factors within an individual, others focus on environmental factors;
  • Post-secondary campuses, student associations and community agencies vary in size and function, bringing a wide variety of considerations such as different requirements for approvals, people having very specialized responsibilities, or being responsible for a wide range of functions etc.;
  • Student associations, community agencies and post-secondary institutions have different time horizons for making changes, introducing new projects etc. This includes different fiscal years (with the associated differences in planning and budget decision cycles), and different timelines for making structural changes in their operation. For example, post-secondary institutions will have a multi-year process for planning curriculum, exam scheduling etc. whereas student associations are much more nimble;
  • Collaborators have different community contexts – including the different operational challenges posed in rural and remote, urban, metropolitan contexts;
  • Collaborating organizations can have differing diversity of students – their demographics, programs, life situations and histories differ across institutions and student associations;
  • Subgroups of organizations will have shared history and terminology that aren’t shared across the whole Regional Hub;
  • Post-secondary institutions, student associations, community agencies all have different constituencies. This may include different accountabilities, different social norms, different fears of loss. A collaborative’s decision-making processes must provide time for members to maintain those linkages and communication mechanisms to allow those constituencies to support decisions over the long term in order to sustain the benefit of the collaborative process.
  • An Inter-organization collaboration adds complexity because the agreements cannot simply be at the level of the representative. The collaborating organizations must establish processes whereby the representative can gather and distribute information throughout relevant sections of the organization, and establish transparent decision-making protocols if the representative is not authorized to commit their organization.

Each collaboration may find other complexity factors at play in their particular situation. Being realistic about what is possible, given degrees of complexity, time available for collaborative decision making and keeping members constituencies on-side through a process requires being clear on the opportunities and the challenges of a potential collaboration.

You may find the attached Complexity Assessment Worksheet useful as a conversation guide and vehicle for onboarding new members, as well as providing a start on determining the level of process support that will be beneficial.