Increasing ConnectivityIncreasing connectivity in your environment: how do you create conditions that make more and deeper partnerships and networks more likely to take place?

In a world of increased interdependence and greater need for organizational learning, information flows faster, access to people and organizations is dramatically different, and the world we live in feels “flatter.” According to Chrislip (2002), “a collaborative process provides a structure for adaptive work…Adaptive work requires a conducive environment and appropriate tools to facilitate learning and discovery among diverse stakeholders" (p. 45). There are certain traits, mindsets, and skills, such as trust, persistence, and openness, which promote connectivity. The leader of an organization can help foster collaboration within, a network weaver may be utilized to uncover potential partnerships, and certain internal and external conditions can serve as catalysts. Each option can lead to different types of interactions, but the success of the network's increased connectivity is dependent on an organization's willingness to collaborate.

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Catalysts for Partnership Collaboration

  • Crisis: Occasionally a crisis situation will arise that requires collaboration in order to reach a resolution. This is more of a forced interaction and may not be the best foundation for a partnership. However, these types of situations may bring together organizations that would have never collaborated otherwise. The common goal in the partnership will be first and foremost to resolve the crisis. If the relationship lives on, the involved parties can continue to work together to prevent future crisis scenarios.
    • Since 1988 the ROCA organization has been helping troubled teens in Chelsea, MA. The entire Chelsea community could be viewed as a crisis situation filled with violent crime, drug trafficking and gang activity. For many years, ROCA and the Chelsea police department worked as separate entities. The police force tried to clean up the community by locking up young criminals, while ROCA attempted to reform these same individuals and give them a second chance. Significant tension developed between the two organizations, but ultimately, they realized that they shared a common goal of bettering the Chelsea community. Eventually a partnership was born admist the crisis and both organizations have benefited from the relationship.

  • Need: In some instances, building a collaborative network is a matter of one’s own survival. An organization may be struggling to stay afloat or looking for ways to improve internally. At times, this need may develop into a sense of urgency and force leaders within an organization to look beyond their walls.
    • In the case of Tom Del Prete, Director of the Hiatt Center at Clark University, the college needed to reach out to the community to improve the conditions surrounding the campus in order to attract students. However, the immediate need caused a snowballing affect that led Tom and his organization to form a deep and transformative network with many organizations in the community. There was a sense of urgency that brought the network together and forced the first person to reach out across the walls of their own silo-ed organization in search of help. The resulting partnerships led to improved K-12 school facilities, more local education opportunities and better community housing options.

  • Interdependencies: The most common partnerships develop around interdependencies. Organizations quickly realize that they cannot move forward or achieve certain objectives without the assistance others. Once an interdependent relationship is recognized, the organizations involved can also develop new goals that otherwise would not have been possible.
    • At the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the community's technology department is divided into several subgroups (database, A/V, IT, etc.). In the past, these groups operated in a siloed environment, but recently, a sense of interdependence has led to a much more collaborative unit. The department as a whole realized the importance of understanding the roles and responsibilities of the the various subgroups, and focus is now placed on working together towards a common goal (supporting the mission of the college). The newfound emphasis on internal collaboration has been contagious, and the organization has started to look externally as well. Our organization has begun working closely with outside departments (Library, Admissions, Career Services, Deans Office, etc.) to form partnerships that are clearly transactional and approaching transformative. In each young partnership, both sides are able to share unique levels of expertise and develop solutions that have the best interest of the community in mind.

Organizational Traits that Promote Connectivity

  • Trust: All relationships require trust. It is necessary to trust that the people you are partnering with may have different intentions, but that both organizations will work collectively on a common goal. Within the organization the new CIO at the Learning Technology Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education asked to meet one on one with every employee in the organization. Very candid conversation that started to build a sense of trust took place from day one. Trust can take the form of allowing new ideas to come into the organization. According to Molly Baldwin at ROCA, in positions of transformative relationships, people have to build trust in order to “get over the fact that you may not be right and that is okay because it is not about being right and wrong.” Transformative partnerships are about working together towards a common goal to achieve something “new” that neither group could do individually which is the beauty of transformative relationships.

  • Openness to new relationships: As a leader of an organization the first necessary condition to ensure partnerships and networks is to know your purpose as an organization. Organizations that are more transparent and allow for the inflow and outflow of information find it easier to form partnerships (Teitel, 2003). According to Carl Sussman (personal communication, February 27, 2009) an organization should constantly be looking out (for partnerships) and allowing other influences to come in; the person and organization must be porous.In order to create deep partnerships you need to be open to new relationships with others.Furthermore, Sussman stated that organizations need to be porous to allow the inflow and outflow of information, ideas, influence, ideas, expertise, knowledge, and innovation that allow organizations to influence their environment.

  • Internal Partnerships: In order for an organization to start building successful partnerships, it must first learn to partner with itself . Watch a great video about Group Decision Making that Works. The Learning Technology Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education is divided into several sub-groups that ultimately serve the technology needs of the HGSE community (common goal). A school-wide to survey was undertaken aimed at uncovering strengths and weaknesses in service. The results helped to shape the overall mission and goals of the organization moving forward. This was pivotal in creating buy-in because the information was coming from the customer (the community at large) and not a hierarchical mandate/policy change. The new CIO asked to meet one on one with every employee in the organization. Very candid conversation that started to build a sense of trust from day one. Weekly manager meetings and monthly full-staff meetings are also held. The goal of these gatherings is to inform one another of what is going on in each team's area of expertise. Staff members and managers are asked to present their latest accomplishments in monthly meetings to emphasize the idea of shared power and responsibility. Sometimes just hearing about what others are doing helps to generate new ideas for collaboration). Also highlighted in monthly meetings are some of the more recent collaborative efforts (e.g. IT team helping various sub-groups with internal training materials, Help-desk and Desktop support developing a system to inventory campus equipment, Database partnering with Admissions to develop a more user friendly online application process for prospective students, etc.). These meetings are a far cry from Roca's "Peacemaking Circles", but they are an important step in keeping internal lines of communication open. In each young partnership, both sides are able to share unique levels of expertise and develop solutions that have the best interest of the community in mind.

Connectivity in a Capitalist Democracy

  • Democracy's Mandate: In a neoliberal Unites States, it is very easy to lose track of the importance of collaboration as most individuals and organizations clamor to be the “best” in whatever sector they are in. However, as Rubin (2002) states, “collaboration is democracy’s mandate”. The reality is that there are a limited number of resources in the world, in time, materials, money, and human capital. In a socialist society, these resources would ideally be divided evenly among the citizenry. In a democracy, especially a capitalist democracy, everyone is constantly competing for those resources. Contrastingly, a democracy also calls for each individual citizen (or collective groups of citizens in the form of organizations) to contribute to the common good. The only way to do that is by self-regulating the disbursement of resources. Collaboration is one way to rectify the dichotomy between competition and common good because by sharing resources each individual gets what they need and is able to fulfill there personal goals as a citizen. Additionally, in transformative partnerships or networks, the resulting product is greater than the sum of the resources that are put into it.

  • Online Connectivity: Volunteer opportunity search engines, such as, are one way in which democracy allows for greater connectivity and connectivity increases the incidence of democracy. For example, if a potential citizen volunteer searches the site and finds multiple organizations that work on issues of animals rights in Boston. By collaborating with a volunteer search engine, each of those organizations may get the benefit of the citizen's volunteer time at different points and may be able to cross pollinate ideas and resources. If working in isolation, or worse in competition, these organizations would not get these benefits.

  • Strengths: Examine the strengths of your organization and define your precise point of impact on the world. Then find organizations that have different strengths and have a slightly different point of impact. Instead of competing for the same volunteers, grants, etc., reach out to this organization to see if there is a way to collaborate in order to impact a greater number of constituencies.

  • Competition: The American culture is indoctrinated with the spirit of individualism and competition among peers. In order to increase connectivity, a leader must embrace competition not as them vs. other organizations that are working on the same problem. Rather they should see the competition as the organization vs. the problem that it is addressing.

Lingering Questions

  • Is it ok for a leader to "create" crisis situations when trying to promote partnerships across organizations?
    • This sounds sneaky, but sometimes all parties involved don't see the value in collaboration until its too late or a true crisis has developed. A smart leader will often recognize collaborative opportunities, but will occasionally have to get creative to generate the necessary buy-in to build a successful partnership.
  • Have you been able to expand your organization into new territories?
  • Has your partnership brought something new into the world?