Beware culture eats strategy for breakfast

It takes a smart and heart approach to make collaboration work

Strategy and culture must be at the very heart of every collaboration.  This is no easy task, but CollaborationNI have developed proven methods that invest in and effectively develop the strategy and culture of collaborations.  These are essential to help collaborations grow.

‘Collaboration of the willing with purpose’

In CollaborationNI we work under the ethos of ‘collaboration of the willing with purpose’.  This was purposefully agreed by the three partners who make up CollaborationNI; NICVA, CO3 and Stellar Leadership.  It is the ethos we work under and it guides us when the going gets tough!

Occasionally I am asked what does ‘collaboration of the willing, with purpose’ really mean, given the changing times we are living in?  Are people simply being forced to work in collaboration and we are the vehicle to make it happen?  If so, there is a real risk that we are simply moving furniture about and stakeholders involved and indeed beneficiaries see no difference.  For the partnership of CollaborationNI we firmly believe that collaboration can be a mechanism for positive change but we have learned that certain building blocks are fundamental.

From working with over 900 organisations to build alliances, partnerships and support mergers, I know that the key to making effective change requires both a collaboration of the willing and a clear purpose.  Too often we have all sat at steering groups and question why we are there or what is the real vision.  CollaborationNI strives to ensure this does not happen when you work with us.  This is because we will keep you focused on what your vision for change is and provide you with tailored support to help the change be realised.

Our work involves winning both hearts and minds, because alone, neither can make the effective changes required to reap the benefits of collaborative working.

Are you willing?

The first question that an organisation needs to ask in relation to collaboration, is what is your true position towards collaboration?  Is this simply to tick a box or is it part of the fabric of how you do things around here? This is a question that boards and senior executives in the sector should be asking regularly as part of a strategic review of an organisation.  As part of a wider scanning of the environment, are there other providers in your area that you could benefit from working with?  This question should be framed firmly in terms of the organisation’s beneficiaries- would it benefit the beneficiaries you serve by if you work in collaboration with other organisations?

The Smart and Heart Approach taken by CollaborationNI

From working in CollaborationNI, we fully recognise that supporting both strategic and cultural issues are essential to make collaborations happen.  I like to refer to it as a ‘Smart and Heart’ approach to getting things done! Why? as described by one of the best known thinkers on management theory and practice; ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ (Peter Drucker, 1909-2005).  Our experience is essentially that, if you fail to invest in the culture of the collaboration then regardless of the quality of the strategic thinking behind the change process, there is a high risk it will fail.  Hence CollaborationNI has developed a support programme that provides interventions which both strategically develop the collaboration, and provide mechanisms to nurture the culture that will be essential to bring about the required changes and new ways of working.

Figure 1: A Smart and heart approach to successful collaboration

Figure 1 has been developed in response to our lived working experience of the areas of need that require support when you work in collaboration.  The CollaborationNI staff will always take a smart and heart approach to supporting organisations involved in a collaboration.  This is not an exhaustive list, as every collaboration is unique and support will be tailored appropriately.  However these are the key building blocks that we have learnt are essential to make real change possible.

It needs to be much more than just talking:  Let us help you!

Working together is nothing new in the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors.  In many respects it is how we do things around here.  But what is new is the move to more formal relationships that can cause unease.  It is natural to fear a loss of identity or indeed to fear the unknowns that change may bring.

Supporting collaborative working is what we do!  So if you think we could help, do not hesitate to contact me: [email protected] or 028 9087 77777.  If you would like to find more about our work check out our website:

The opinions, views or comments in this article do not necessarily reflect any views or policies of NICVA.