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Collaboration and parochialism

“Transcend parochialism” caught my eye before I read the first sentence of Ben Hecht’s recent blog ‘Collaboration is the New Competition’ in the Harvard Business Review. His argument is simple and makes amazing sense: collaboration – whatever sector you work in – has collective impact that individual competitors cannot match.

The idea might be simple, but the practice appears immensely complicated by a range of barriers, perceptions and human nature, as well as entrenched organisational cultures that do it ‘their way’ and regard everyone else as an opponent or even on the wrong track all together.

The article points to US-based examples where long-time rivals have come together to harness their collective millions to “buy, hire and research in order to reshape the economic future of their regions” and deliver better quality services “against all local custom and odds”. Hecht states, “a diverse group of leaders – private, public, philanthropic, and non-profit – fed up with the dysfunction around them, came together to challenge conventional wisdom and fix problems long written off as unsolvable, such as poverty, unemployment and a failing education system”.

Part of the dysfunction identified is organisational parochialism – where individual organisations focus clearly on their own agenda and their ‘competitive advantage’. What appears to be missing however is the ability to move beyond this to a sense of collective competitive advantage – which to my mind makes sense when you consider the work of individual and sometimes isolated not-for-profits working to deal with big structural problems. Deeply entrenched dysfunctional systems require more than individual, parochial and isolated activity to change them. However it seems so much organisational culture in so many not-for-profits reflects a boundary mentality that inhibits collective action.

As we have noted on our website, we believe (and have first-hand experience to back up the belief) that many organisations suffer from a disease that combines conformity with blandness to produce mediocre outcomes for customers. Conformity and blandness also combine in several ways to produce indifference to visible and invisible poverty, social exclusion and injustice in a land of plenty. Many organisational cultures appear to require acceptance of ‘the way things are done around here’, producing just enough for the organisation to crank out its business and remain financially sustainable. Ordinary, adequate, neither outstanding nor terrible – these are enemies of transformational behaviour that can unleash collective energy and the power to co-create change for a more just world.

Social innovation, social change and addressing the big picture issues that so many good people want to challenge, may require a change to the ‘way we do things around here’. A scary concept for those who are invested in the status quo for their own personal reasons.

So where are the forums for collaboration? Not the ‘peak bodies’ – the real grassroots forums that enable collaboration for innovations and movements that achieve practical outcomes that have clear social impact?

We value collaboration at The Dragonfly Collective, and have had direct involvement in coordinating new collaborative movements amongst traditional ‘competitors’ from the ground up. When this happens, the results are quite astonishing – those who have traditionally been competitors are open, engaged and have worked together to create outcomes that would never have been possible when the individual groups were acting on their own.

We would love to hear more stories of this type of collaborative activity. It is through collaboration that we can put aside self-interests and find collective solutions to some of the entrenched social challenges – poverty, unemployment and climate change for example – that lead to injustice for so many people.

Together we can make an impact. There is a saying that comes to mind here – if you want to go somewhere fast, go alone, if you want to go somewhere far, go together.


Peter McLean

Hi Andrew,
Good post!
From a business perspective we are heavily involved in encouraging and fostering collaboration as a way of doing business.
Off to Queensland this week to conduct two alliance building sessions in the steel industry supply chain.
Australian companies can compete globally by working together to provide goods and services that deliver total solutions for example in the resources sector. Keep up the good work.
Kind regards

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