GovernanceLAB

Why collaborations fail

January 7, 2016

Collaborations must be based on a clear common goal if they are to succeed, says Professor Patrick Kenis in below column. Many collaborations fail because of the lack of consensus on the goal. "In a collaboration, organizations come together from different contexts. That is actually an opportunity." However, the collaboration must be based on a common goal.

The challenges we face in our society force organizations from different backgrounds to work together. The integration of refugees into the labor market is a typical challenge that cannot be solved by one party. The government wants these people to start work as soon as possible. Employers can achieve innovation by deploying new blood. To achieve this, governments and employers will have to work together.

Collaborations are often said to be difficult and problematic. This is unfortunate because collaboration brings together various competencies thus creating an opportunity to address problems which otherwise would not be dealt with. The differences in organization provide opportunities. Nevertheless, 70 to 80 percent of collaborations fail.

Collaborations fail

Collaborations fail because of a number of factors. First, sometimes, the choice is made to work together with other parties while such collaboration is not really necessary. Collaboration is a strategic choice, which should not be made if there is no real necessity for it.

I also notice that there is not always a clear objective for collaboration. It is the urgent or important goal that stimulates contributions from different organizations. Obviously, the parties also have other goals, but there should be consensus on the goal of the collaboration. As in any organization or project, the collaboration must also be clear on the ultimate goal.

Collaboration goes beyond organizations

The third reason why collaborations fail is that the parties do not recognize that, as a partnership, they have to create something that goes beyond the organization. A collaboration is more than a sum of its parts. It is a new relationship with its own development paths, logic, leadership questions, and structures. It is not just a matter of working together, it is a matter of being part of an entirely new structure. All the questions about goals, structure, and function that are valid for an organization are also valid for a collaboration. It is true, however, that the answers that we give at the level of an organization are different from those that apply to a partnership of independent organizations. Because no one is the "owner" or the big boss, other means are necessary to keep everything together and make it productive.

Leading collaborations

There has already been some research into the management of collaborations. The key prerequisite to managing a network is perhaps that the manager must have an open mind. After all, you need to work together with many different organizations with different backgrounds and they must be respected for their own significant merits.

It is clear that managing a network is different from managing a traditional organization. Things happen in partnerships not despite differences but because of differences between independent parties. That is why collaboration is perhaps the hardest way to get things done. At the same time, however, we are facing more and more challenges that we can only solve by working together. This is essential in our society.

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