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From the Inside Out: Developing Partnership Capacity of an Organization

Author: Mark Avery
Date: 10.06.2012
Category: Partnership

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Originally Posted in English

In the year 2012, partnership is not an idea that has to be sold.  Many, even most organizations operate today in some form of cooperative arrangement with others.  The lone ranger who is totally isolated from everyone and everything is increasingly the exception.   However, as many have pointed out, there is a gap between the will to partner and the ability to do that effectively.  “How do we actually do this?”  A key piece of this issue is the capacity of organizations themselves to partner with others, and this is our focus here.

Why develop collaborative capacity?

We believe that partnership and collaboration are basically good ideas… so why is it so difficult to actually do that?  Why does it not come naturally? 

Here’s the bottom line: Organizations are not designed to work together.  That is not why we build them and it is not essentially what they are for.  Organizations are created to do specific things, things we are really good at.  We cannot be really good at everything and we are not called to that.  We create organizations to accomplish visions (what we want the world to look like) through missions (what we do to get there).   We have goals, objectives, and often elaborate membership criteria.  We hold staff meetings, evaluation meetings, board meetings and planning meetings… all behind closed doors.    “We cannot do everything, but we can do this.  Praise the Lord; let’s do it!”

Here is the problem with that logic: The way we have organized ourselves does not correspond to the way the world actually works.  We’ll use the acronym “S.H.O.R.E” to look at five reasons why our organizations need to develop the capacity to collaborate with others:

  • Scale: The scale at which the problem actually works is so much greater than any single intervention by any organization.  No matter how big your organization is, it cannot be good at everything!
  • Hammer: They say, “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  The same can be said of us.  If I am an educator, I try to change everything using education; a preacher, through preaching. 
  • Ostrich: When an ostrich is afraid, it will sometimes bury its head in the sand, seemingly ignoring the problem!  When we realize the complexity of our context, we focus back on what we can manage.
  • Radar: Radars will see airplanes, but not clouds, wind, rain or birds; they are programmed to alert us to some things and ignore others.  In the same way, we see needs we are there to meet, and the rest fly by us unnoticed.
  • Energy: The real world (the community, the context) will always have more total energy available to spend on resisting change than any organization will have to spend on nurturing it. 

The real world just does not work in neatly bounded categories like our organizations do.  We translate a Bible while paying little attention to leadership development, and we end up with a translation no one is reading.  We resolve denominational conflicts about reaching Africa by comity agreements (you take that tribe, we will take this tribe), and discover decades later that tribal divisions are now sanctified by denominational distinctives. 

Keywords: Lausanne, partnership, collaboration, Mark Avery, people, shared responsibility, organisation. innovation, social culture, go-betweens

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