Remember when we were children? Our mothers worried about how to get us to play well together, to share toys and to cooperate. There seems to be some natural inclination among humans to compete. But even as children we found ways to overcome the tendency and collaborate. We built sand castles on the beach together, snow forts in winter and leaf forts in the fall. We played team sports and joined Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts who emphasize working together.
So why is it so hard as adults to do this? There are great buzzwords for the dysfunction we often see and experience. “Silo Syndrome” or “Stovepipe Syndrome” describes a tendency to communicate up and down the organization or department but not outside of it. Some corporations and businesses have it internally and certainly we see it in large government agencies and communities. Individuals or organizations may belong to collaborative groups like the Chamber of Commerce or Convention & Visitors Bureau, but when it’s really time to do things together, they become guarded and proprietary. They often don’t show up at the meeting places and opportunities provided for collaborative thinking.
And yet there are many great reasons to collaborate internally and externally in communities, parks, zoos, agencies and organizations. Here are just a few to think about:
- The public sees our communities and organizations holistically. If one volunteer, partner or neighbor offends or mistreats a tourist or client, they might all get the blame. People don’t often notice when they cross boundaries or see a new type of nametag. They just know they are in Yellowstone or Sedona and organizational lines are blurred. Meeting regularly with logical partners and collaborators will help create new and expanded opportunities for guests/tourists with positive benefits for everyone. Training together helps to build a stronger sense of community among organizations that makes it easier to meet and discuss the potential for collaboration.
- Tourists seek interesting, quality experiences and usually that includes attractions like parks, zoos and museums, food providers, lodging and specialized transportation. When those are thoughtfully packaged and planning is collaborative, the experiences are better, more memorable and likely to make a lasting connection with the guest.
- Most organizations have a brand or image with a message that must be consistently delivered to connect and resonate with guests. If marketing folks, interpretive guides and public relation specialists are not working in concert, they step on each other’s messages and create dissonance for guests. Planning those messages, strategies and tactics should include the varied communicators working collaboratively.
- Partners can share costs as well as benefits. Whether buying transportation systems, advertising, market research or training, it is all less expensive with more partners paying the total cost. When partners invest in plans together, they are more likely to support the common vision for success that is developed. When partners/collaborators apply for grants together, the funder pays more attention.
- Collaboration builds a sense of community. Meeting regularly with partners and other stakeholders builds stronger personal relationships that make compromise and collaboration work. Staying in “silos” talking to those of a like mind may be easier, but it keeps an organization and individual from learning and growing. It also makes it harder to dismiss others as being wrong or misguided when there is a shared understanding of motives and the desire to collaborate.
Collaboration should be easier, but it requires commitment, planning and thoughtful communication. We wrote about Greensburg, Kansas, in our book, Put the HEART Back In Your Community, to share their amazing story of collaboration. In 2007 the small city in the plains was smashed by a tornado and through collaborative strategic planning, they grew back greener than their name. They proudly state they are an “authentic sustainable community.”
Many communities and organizations know they work in “silos,” but may find it difficult to employ the tools needed to collaborate. We recognize that it may not always be easy, but it’s well worth the effort. We’ll be sharing some recommended tools in future blogs. Maybe some will work for you.
– Tim Merriman