Collaboration: Help or Headache?

Guest post by Elham Bidgoli

When we first started the UofT chapter, we jumped at any opportunity to collaborate with other student groups. Amnesty? We'd love to help with your bake sale. International Health Program? We want a table at your conference. Bollywood Association? We've always dreamed of working with you.

When you are new and unknown on campus, especially one as vast as UofT, collaboration opens up tons of opportunities. It can mean sharing in resources you otherwise would not have access to, and meeting lots of new people with whom you can share your message. It can open up new avenues of ideas for creating a buzz around campus. But as I've learned over time, it can also mean one huge headache after another. Here are my three tips on when collaboration can cause more hassle than opportunity.

1. Wanting World Peace is Not Common Ground
As advocates against genocide, we often feel that every advocacy, humanitarian and awareness organization is in line with our policies. After all, who doesn't want genocide to stop? None of our chapters have had to deal with any pro-genocide groups on campus. The problem, however, lies in the word genocide. Collaboration with other groups on genocide awareness can often result in a down spiral where the use of the word is debated in its use for other crimes against humanity. This can detract from the efforts of your chapter to raise awareness about Darfur.

How can you avoid being overshadowed by controversy without giving up opportunity? One way around it is to participate in a multiple day initiative where your event is separate from other groups. This way you benefit from the promotion and collaboration, but avoid the negative press.

2. Kittens have nothing to do with genocide
As I mentioned, it is tempting to work with every group out there. But it is important to also keep your audience - and the message that you are trying to send - in mind. Yes, the Association for Cruelty Against Kittens also speaks out against unnecessary violence, but are they really related to your cause? More importantly, will people intuitively see the connection at the event, or will they leave scratching their heads? It's important to keep your message as clear as possible, and the groups you choose to work with are a part of your message.

3. Step Up or Step Out

When Stand UofT was approached to collaborate with ten other groups on genocide awareness week a few years ago, we entered into it thinking it involved minimal effort on our part. A little promotion here, hosting a small speaking event there, all for the opportunity to participate in a huge event. The problem is that all the groups had come together with the same intention, and no one was in charge. It was chaos until the current Stand leader at the time took over and clearly outlined who was doing what. Clearly, this kind of responsibility was not what we signed up for. If you're not prepared or willing to take over, it may not be worth your team's time and effort to get involved.

These tips are based on my own experiences. What are your experiences with collaboration? How do you approach working with other groups? Leave a comment and let us know!


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Josh Gold said...

Thank you for your very well written post. I too feel that collaboration can be a headache rather than a positive thing for organizations. Often we enter a collaboration expecting one thing and getting a very different result.

I recently wrote about this at my blog. You can read the post: