Building Capabilities

Structures and Supports, Building Organizational and Individual Capabilities for Roles

  1. Structures and Supports

Part of the process of operationalizing a complex collaboration is determining what type of ‘glue’ is needed to help the group work together make collective decisions, and to be the steward of the collective – a sort of ‘virtual organization’ that provides the structure and processes to help organizations make decisions along the process.

This ‘glue’ can take a variety of forms, depending on the complexity of the project and process required.  Through the toolkit, this was called ‘Secretariat’ to allow for choice of the most appropriate structure and function, and whether different functions would be undertaken by different members of the collaborative, or contracted out.  

The Secretariat function(s) have been developed and described in different ways, e.g,  Backbone organization for Collective Impact , Network Administration Office for Inter-organizational networks, Secretariat.  The term ‘Secretariat’ is used in this toolkit as a generic term, each Regional Hub will benefit by making a purposeful decision on the level and type of support structure they need, in different parts of their work (i.e. a particular working group might need a different level and type of support than others)

The basic Functions of a Secretariat are:

  • Administrative, logistical, and personnel, finance, information systems
  • Decision support (e.g. gathering and compiling information and opinions from the group to support planning, illuminating the terrain, measurement etc)
  • Dynamic Process Design approach to group facilitation, mediation to support the collaborative’s sense-making and decision-making.

Some or all of these functions can be provided by members of the collaboration itself, but as a collaboration moves to the right in the Inter-organization Collaboration Continuum,  there is more need for participants to be deeply confident in the facilitator’s neutrality, and able to help the group ‘hear, understand and respect’ each participant’s contribution.

The ‘organizational’ functions of governance, management and service delivery required of a multi-organization collaboration are usually structured by committees and working groups. These require clear terms of reference and agreements on roles and responsibilities by all members of the collaborative. Project Charters need to align with the nature of the project – those with a low need for navigating uncertainty can use conventional specified milestones, deliverables etc, but those projects which will require

b) Building Organizational and Individual Capabilities for Roles

A critical aspect of a collaborative’s ‘structures and supports’ are the capabilities of all the collaborators, as well as the Secretariat.

As well as the capabilities that the organizations and individuals bring to the collaboration, there will be lots of opportunity to use the experience to build additional expertise, or new capabilities, especially in the ability to navigate ambiguity, volatility and uncertainty in a group.  Awareness of self and others, non-violent communication and ‘bricoleur’/ creative crafting of new ideas will be invaluable skills to have and develop further.

As the desired level of collaboration moves to the right in the Inter-organization Collaboration Continuum, the need for more sophisticated levels of capabilities is required of everyone.

This is especially needed in the Secretariat where there is variable capability across the collaborative’s membership, which will be the case with Regional Hubs.

In a complex collaboration it is especially important for representatives on the Coordinating Committee to be clear about their relative roles. They have BOTH a role in representing their organization, perhaps their sector, AND a leadership role acting for the whole region. This will place them in conflict unless the group agrees to work for BOTH / AND strategies. Supports for this approach come from multiple directions:

  • Clarifying the rules of consensus decision making
  • Members believing there will be strategies that enable mutual gain – that Both/And is possible although it may require considering other strategies than an initial position
  • Growing the level of trust in the group so that individual members are comfortable in raising requirements from their organization, so that the group can widen the solution space to find strategies that provide mutual gain.