Do you struggle to create meaningful collaborations in your home town/area?
I was recently asked for advice from someone who said they want to work with other businesses in their area but struggle to get people involved, and to really make a difference. They were frustrated by the negativity of some people .
I've created a lot of collaborations and marketing consortia over the last three decades. Here are a few of the lessons I've learnt.
Ignore the negative
There will always be some people who are negative, who just use your meetings as a talking shop, who put obstacles in your way or who say they'll do things and then don't. You could spend a lot of time battling them. Don't.
Just ignore them completely. Adopt a laser-like focus on things you can actually achieve yourself.
This doesn't mean that you can't all work together - you can, but not immediately. I'll come back to this later.
When you start, don't go for a big number of participants - focus on a small group of very positive people even that's only you and one other person.
You might be raring to go, full of ideas and want to achieve the maximum possible but it's much better to focus on one small activity initially. Keep it simple and relatively short.
Ideally make it something that you can measure, an activity with a beginning and end. The more tangible, the better. This makes it easier to explain to everyone to get started, easier to stay focused, easier to promote and easier to talk about afterwards.
If you're trying to galvanise interest in a place where people either haven't worked together before or where they've disagreed, it's much better to choose a small simple activity because your chances of success are higher. Once you've actually done something you have established a track record and can build on that. Focus on telling people about your activity after you've done it, rather than in advance.
Sometimes it's worth doing an activity that's not really part of your overall vision, just to get started and show some positive action. For example, you might want to focus on marketing activities but perhaps there's an ugly corner in your village that people comment on or that looks unloved? Simply tidying that up, and planting a few flowers can make people take notice and see you mean action. Often actually doing something is quicker than the endless discussions and moans of a meeting>
Start to tell people
Once you've done something successful, even if it's only small, tell everyone. Post on social media, tell your local paper, ask people to share what you've done. You don't need to keep saying, "look what I did" and make it all about you - the purpose of doing this is just to show that positive change is happening.
You can then choose something a little bigger but this time, start in a different way. Don't do anything overly ambitious that needs involvement of lots of people. Keep it relatively small but this time tell people in advance. Share your plans on social media and tell the local paper. You'll probably notice that because they've seen you achieve something before, some more people will now come forward to get involved.
Remember to ignore all the nay-sayers and keep focused on what you want to do. Once you have another achievement under your belt, remember to spread the word and tell people about your success. By telling people in advance what you're going to do, and then doing it, you'll start to build trust. Now things will really start moving.
Meet, talk, plan
At that point you can either create a more ambitious activity or have a meeting and ask for other people's suggestions and ideas, ready to develop more substantial plans. If you've already achieved something, this gives you more authority.
I sometimes start such meetings by saying I want it to be overwhelmingly positive, and that I'll close down any repetitive discussions about dog poo, public toilets and litter (or whatever your local issues are...) so we can focus on positive actions that make a difference.
However, you may want/need to give everyone the chance to say what's wrong and generally have a moan. One way to keep discussion of each point short but make everyone feel listened to is to quickly note each point on a flip chart. Once noted, move on & have a no-repetition rule. An alternative is to ask everyone to jot comments on post-its and put them on a wall.
When you've done this, cross through or take down the ones over which you have no control or which are too big for you to handle. Ask people to suggest solutions or ideas for each of the other ideas and to take responsibility for them.
There's nothing wrong with you saying this isn't something you can handle, and instead turning to others, so you can stay focused on your activity.
Make sure you end the meeting with a positive call to action, clearly laying out what you plan to do and when.
Ask for help
If you do decide to develop a new, more ambitious activity, make sure someone takes notes. Have a clear, timetabled action plan and ask people to volunteer to take on jobs. It's a good idea to circulate this so everyone knows who is responsible for each element of each plan.
You may need help at the beginning but you'll get more meaningful support if you can do something yourself and lead by example, and then ask for more specific help later.
What makes collaborations more successful?
1. A clearly defined activity
2. One person leading. I used to spend a lot of time consensus building to create new collaborations, particularly in areas where there had been quite a lot of discord. Over time I've realised that clear leadership actually works better. People are more ready to join in when they see success. Clear leadership doesn't mean you've taken over - you're just focusing on doing one thing well, and others can take on and lead their own projects.
3. It's much more effective to have a definite activity and build a team around that, than to spend time thinking about how you'll structure a committee or organisation. Don't get tied up with deciding on a name, coming up with a logo etc. Focus initially on tangible actions to get started then think about organisation, names etc.
4. Funding may be an issue. Again, it's easier to attract funding once you've done some grass roots activity really well.
5. Use technology to make you more efficient e.g. email, social media, website etc but don't make it the focus of your activity e.g. an app, unless it's something you are really skilled in. The market is flooded with unused apps.
6. Try to find a way to evaluate your activity, to make it easier to tell people what you've achieved and what you plan to do next.
7. Tell people, put up posters, use social media and your local paper or radio station, and then tell them all again. Don't assume everyone knows about everything you do - they're busy and so you'll probably have to tell them more than once.
8. Ask people to help. Specific, individual requests often work best.
9. Have an overall vision and plan what you want to achieve, but make sure you focus on step by step activity to get you to your vision.
10. Don't overload people with too many ideas and angles.
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Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs