Collaboration and Leadership

One of the key factors of success in developing an effective labour force strategy is the degree to which the partners are able to work collaboratively. Closely related, is the presence of strong leadership throughout the process.

A network with a history of collaboration will be able to build on prior relationships of trust and reciprocity. Communication channels and protocols will be well established and norms of shared leadership will be supported and sustainable. Networks that are coming together for the first time, or that are early in the collaborative relationship, will have to dedicate more time early in the process to determine the nature of their collaboration and understand their leadership dynamics.

The following sections provide some general information about collaboration and leadership that will be important as you consider your labour force strategy.


Much has been written about collaborative processes and what makes them successful. It is beyond the scope of this guide to address collaborative capacity in great detail; however there are a number of principles about working collaboratively together that should be kept in mind.

The Amherst H. Wilder Foundation defines collaboration as "a mutually beneficial and well-defined relationship entered into by two or more organizations to achieve common goals. The relationship includes a commitment to mutual relationships and goals; a jointly developed structure and shared responsibility; mutual authority and accountability for success; and a sharing of resources and rewards."

The Wilder Foundation has been conducting research on the successful elements of collaboration since 1992. Their research has indicated there are twenty factors of successful collaboration grouped into six categories, as summarized in the following chart:


  1. 1. A history of collaboration
  2. 2. Collaborative group is seen as a legitimate leader
  3. 3. Favourable political and social climate


  1. 4. A history of collaboration
  2. 5. Collaborative group is seen as a legitimate leader
  3. 6. Favourable political and social climate
  4. 7. Ability to compromise

Process and Structure

  1. 8. Sharing a stake in process and outcome
  2. 9. Multiple layers of participation
  3. 10. Flexibility
  4. 11. Clear roles and policy guidelines
  5. 12. Adaptability
  6. 13. Appropriate pace of development


  1. 14. Open and frequent
  2. 15. Established informal relationships and communication


  1. 16. Concrete, attainable goals and objectives
  2. 17. Shared vision
  3. 18. Unique purpose


  1. 19. Sufficient funds, staff materials and time
  2. 20. Skilled leadership

The greater capacity the collaboration has in each of these twenty factors, the greater the likelihood of a successful and productive collaboration.

The group may also need to have a conversation about stewardship of the initiative, in other words, which organization has the primary leadership role in terms of facilitating, convening and generally taking responsibility for moving the process forward. It is important that all partners understand that stewardship is undertaken with a sense of commitment to the greater good, and not as power-based ploy for control.

Links and Resources

Other resources to guide collaborative processes can be found at:
Tamarack — An Institute for Community Engagement develops and supports collaborative strategies that engage citizens and institutions to solve major community challenges, and to learn from and share these experiences.

The Aspen Institute is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue.

The Annie. E. Casey Foundation has worked to build better futures for disadvantaged children and their families in the United States. It has a treasure trove of resources and tools for collaborative efforts.

Kansas University has created a Community Toolbox that is very helpful to collaborative processes.


Leadership Style

As noted in the Getting Started section, leadership for the development of a labour force strategy usually comes from a handful of people who are excited about the potential of working together on something that they cannot do alone. The initial leaders are usually self-identified and act as stewards in the early days.

As planning for the strategy progresses, it is helpful to have some form of secretariat support for the leadership group. This will often be housed in one of the leadership group's home organizations or through one individual. In either case, convening support will include tasks such as agenda-setting, distributing meeting notes, report writing and work planning. If funding can be secured, it is helpful to hire a project manager.

It is important in a collaborative effort to have people who have strength in both collaborative and catalytic leadership skills.

Collaborative leadership puts aside authority, expertise, position and influence in order to convene, energize, facilitate and sustain a process. Turning Point: Collaborative Leadership Development provides learning modules and a self-assessment guide.

Catalytic leadership encompasses collaborative leadership, but also supports and encourages people to find solutions by galvanizing communities and systems. More information on catalytic leadership can be found at the Collaboratory for Community Support.

Elements of collaborative and catalytic leadership are also found in an approach known as authentic leadership. The Alia Institute provides seminars and resources for authentic leadership in action.

Next section: The Awareness-Collaboration Framework