Lack of Clarity and Common Purpose

Everyone seeks meaning in their life and their work. We want to feel connected to each other and to something bigger than ourselves. A common purpose fulfills this need. The daily fire drills, tactical operations, and weekly grind distract and distort the big picture… Partnerships need someone to maintain a constant drumbeat, holding the center for the collaboration itself.” – Richard Crespin (2017), Backbone Organizations: A Field Guide


Despite common perception, people change all the time. Moreover, the circumstances that surround people change just as frequently. When we consider then that non-profits, governments, corporations, and virtually every other institution is made entirely of people, it follows that they too experience change. So, when a partnership brings together these organizations from different positions and viewpoints, even small changes can resonate into instability. But where partnerships differ from the usual hierarchical organizations is the lack of built-in resiliency that comes with obligation. In partnerships, many of the people directly involved were delegated to the task by their parent organization – and therefore have to dedicate time, talent, and loyalty to an institution outside of their normal silo.

Part of keeping people and organizations bought-in to the vision of the collaborative is keeping a constant drumbeat so that members clearly understand their common purpose, especially if that common purpose shifts over time. Without frequent communication that is engaging – annoying or ineffective meetings, emails, and “audits” don’t count – members of a partnership can find themselves becoming less and less invested, or even disillusioned, with the mission. Every partnership is different, contractual agreements and bilateral partnerships usually require much less dedicated effort to maintain this alignment, but for larger partnerships and different agreement structures it may become the role of a dedicated backbone organization to create and share the vision in creative and appealing ways.

The question then is how can you determine what level of backbone support a partnership needs? Should you build a backbone from within your partners, or should you buy on by contracting with an organization that specializes in it? We address some of these questions in our piece on “Building or Buying a Backbone” here by Richard Crespin, CollaborateUp’s Founder and CEO.

What about a step further back? Are you looking to build a multi-sector partnership yourself? Do you have an idea, but aren't sure how to execute? CollaborateUp wants to hear about your work and help make your co-creation a reality. CollaborateUp Academy presents the opportunity for action-oriented social entrepreneurs & intrapreneurs like you to come together and develop the skills needed to tackle the world's most complex challenges. This summer, you or your colleagues can attend an Academy on July 25-26th to engage with other collaborators and build your network right here in Washington, D.C.! Visit our website and register today!

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