Thursday, 17 May 2012

Article: Collaborative pitfalls

It seems appropriate after my ‘Connecting you’ blog to choose this as a follow up topic to add one or two notes of caution. 

I find it is not only interesting but vital to be aware of how different industry sectors work when it comes to collaboration and projects of a mutual back-scratching nature as I was only recently reminded. One of the reasons why I love companies with a social ethic so much is that this is less of a cause for problems than it, quite necessarily, is for the private sector.

In the private sector businesses have to be extremely careful about what ideas they share, who they team up with and to what level. It becomes extremely risky to share a project if the businesses involved have any crossover services or products because they are both competing for the same client base. All too easy for others to pinch ideas, impress your competitor’s customers to steal them despite all the confidentiality clauses, terms and conditions you may put in place. Sadly there are usually ways round them for the determined (and to my mind), unethical rogues out there.

This highlights not only a huge difference when it comes to organisations in the boarder community sector (which includes the Arts, Sports, Health care, Community Services, Recycling, Transport and all manner of social enterprises), but also a vulnerability when they try to engage with the private sector.

The private sector is better placed to pinch your ideas and try to duplicate the services you offer which can jeopardise your own activities and business – and that is not the least of them of the dangers. Such is private industry’s cut throat nature. Even within the community sector it is wise to show caution and be extremely wary.

My own philosophy is that if we are ethical there can be room for us all, thereby increasing the services we offer in a myriad of different forms to the community and to businesses alike. (Hence the overall nature of my tweets recently). That way there is a choice of service for the community and that way too we collectively stand a better chance of fulfilling the needs and demands of that community or business. This is only becomes more important during a recession such as we are currently in. Some may argue that we’re no longer in a recession, but if not things remain at best exceedingly precarious.

Problems can arise even when two the community sector try to compete for the same customers. For example, imagine two sports centres in the same town. If they offer the exact same facilities at exactly the same standard even down to the equipment and are on the same street, it then becomes a case of who is more successful at marketing and customer service as to which sports centre will survive especially in such times as these. If, however, they offer different services and are distinct in how they deliver them then the community has more choice and both enterprises enhance their chances of survival because both have unique identities through their products, services and delivery.

The same in theory and principle is true of all industry sectors, but as we have an ethic in the UK that  ‘only the fittest should survive’, good examples are comparatively rare when it comes to collaboration.

One of the reasons I’ve always adored working in the community sector in its broadest sense is that it largely gets away from this. Organisations are more willing to pool ideas, brainstorm for solutions that can help the sector as a whole and collaborate on projects because most people within it have a clear sense of their own unique purpose. We share a passion and sense of responsibility for and focus on doing our best for the community we serve and are in business for. The community sector strives to utilise these elements to their maximum advantage and effectiveness so that organisations end up being supportive of each other.

A good example of this is the recent Transforming Local Infrastructures bid where a variety of organisations came together to thrash out their best ideas for securing funding for a common purpose. Admittedly a condition of the bid was that no one organisation could apply, but it illustrates how good we are at collaborating when we need to.

Such is my attitude of ‘the more the merrier’ that if there are other individuals and companies out there wanting to deliver the same kinds of services that WildeHeads offers, my attitude is ‘great’ because the community needs as much support as it can get and one person and company alone can’t do it all. In the future I hope to secure enough work through WildeHeads to take on apprentice entrepreneurs so they can learn to set one up for themselves.

A note of caution with the community sector
This is not to say though that the community sector is entirely free from having to be competitive. As outlined already too much of how you operate can be risky and ideas need to be guarded and protected extremely carefully if you want to avoid having to get into the realms of law suits over things like intellectual copyright. Then too there is of course competition for grant funding and subsidies, but overall the community sector is respectful, collaborative, friendly and supportive – a sector that I’m proud to be part of because it really does capitalise on the positive aspects of the infinite number of ways it has of delivering it’s services which enables it to adopt the ‘room for all’ attitude. Long may it continue to do so and I hope the private sector can learn from this in these difficult times.

Finally a reminder that the best way out of a recession is to keep whatever money there is moving as much as possible and that teamwork is the best way to do it. More on that anon though. Stay positive and keep connecting as that way we will always increase our chances of new possibilities. 

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