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  • Writer's picturesabina strachan

Who are my collaborators and how do I find them?

So, you know what collaboration is, what it's for and when it's the right approach. You have a collaborative mindset and you are motivated to collaborate – now, how do you find a collaborator?

There is a difference between finding 'someone' to collaborate with to achieve a particular outcome, finding a 'good' one, and finding the 'right' one.

Being more selective about who to collaborate with is a key strategy to ensure that a collaboration will succeed. What can happen is that we default to collaborating with people we already know. And that's absolutely fine if you have a broad network and are able to draw on a connection who brings a diverse perspective to help achieve a shared outcome.

But what if you don't have a wide network and are struggling to identify potential collaborators in the first place?

Finding 'someone'...

A good starting point is to spend a little time pursuing two lines of inquiry:

  • First, you've already come to the conclusion that your desired outcome is a shared one. So, who are the stakeholders in achieving it? This is not about creating a complete picture, but sketching out a beginning drawn from your own knowledge, expertise and a quick dip via a search engine. Literally a sketch will do.

  • Second, who makes up your existing network? This is not about creating an exhaustive list or a contacts database. If you are at the centre of your network and your desired outcome is the destination, start mapping the individuals, groups or networks that could be points along the way.

These exercises will likely show you the 'gaps' between your existing network and some of the stakeholder groups your interested in, but some of your first degree connections could hold the key to bridging those gaps and introduce you to potential collaborators.

Even better, do some stakeholder and network mapping with a friend or colleague who'll spare you an hour – it's likely you'll spark more ideas than working on your own.

Finding a 'good' one...

If you've already understood how collaborative you are, then it is also worthwhile to think about how ready the potential collaborators you've identified are. This will help determine how smooth or bumpy your future collaboration could be.

You can find out more about potential collaborators through the 'connectors' in your existing network and by developing your understanding of the recent or current collaborations they have been involved with. This research will also help you work out how interested they might be in your proposition because of certain commonalities or key issues they have been focusing on.

Potential collaborators are as interested in 'what's in it for me' as you are. And so a lot can be gained from an open no-obligation chat. It's worth finding out early on what each other priorities and challenges are to find commonalities and shared outcomes. But equally, your points of difference are also useful to define the potential benefits of working together. For example: do you have different/complementary audiences and communication channels?

Finding the 'right' one...

If the 'right' one is defined by who has the most to contribute to finding a solution to the issue you share, then they might also be the 'tricky' one. For example, they might be so well-connected and such a stand-out influencer, that everyone wants to collaborate with them. Or maybe they are an inexperienced collaborator and so there might be more bumps and troughs along the way to the desired outcome.

But knowing this upfront is good. If they are the 'right' one then the next step could be to develop your proposition to fit better with the 'star' collaborator's priorities. Or it could be about finding more support and planning for a longer route to achieving the desired outcome to work effectively with a potential collaborator who's new to this way of working.

It's also OK to manage your expectations and decide that a 'good' collaborator is actually 'good enough' given your resources and scale of what you're trying to achieve.

Having access to support for successful collaboration is a really valuable asset. What does 'good' support look like? And if you are an enabler, facilitator or broker, what are the key skills and strategies you can adopt to enable even more impactful collaborations? See the next blog to find out more!

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