At the beginning of a new year, we often focus on new beginnings. And yet, new things sometimes cannot start if some other things do not come to an end.
So, let us talk about endings. Specifically, when is it time to end a collaborative effort?
Collaborative efforts, by their nature, are temporary. In a collaboration, individuals and groups come together to meet a specific need. Collaborators come together to share information, coordinate so that the work adds up, create something new that no partner can do alone, or join forces to leverage a big change. When the work is done, the collaboration can end.
However, when sputtering collaborative work continues unexamined the experience isn’t very fun. We know in our gut that things are not right, but it’s scary to say the thing aloud. You may have lived experiences when a collaboration should end but does not. Leaders invested in the vision of the collaborative are not always ready to let go, see reality, or pivot as needed.
The question that persists for leaders is how to tell when it is time for a collaboration to come to an end. To help leaders determine the ongoing health and viability of a collaborative effort, ICL offers the following indicators and questions to assess and ask of your group.
Signs and symptoms of a collaborative effort reaching the end of its purpose:
- Sinking ship — members leave one at a time, and a single member is left holding the bag
- Abandonment — a lead group pulls out and no one else can fill the hole
- Implosion — members turn on each other and in-fighting breaks out
- Swan song — the need is great, but time, money, or capacity is not
- Fade-away — over a prolonged period, collaborative members spend less and less time at work (who is really coming to the meetings?)
- Friends and foes forever — leaders duke it out in public fights and the press has a field day
- Limping Phoenix — leaders repeatedly try to resurrect the collaborative from the ashes despite the lack of purpose or enough members
Questions to help determine if a collaboration should continue:
- Are we still really needed?
- Did we accomplish what we could, and it is time to celebrate?
- Do we have enough energy and resources to keep going?
- Do we have the right players and people involved, and would they even join us?
- Is something brand new, led by different or more appropriate leaders, better for the work?
Having the courage to ask these tough questions can sometimes actually re-ignite the fire. We have seen it happen — a re-imagined focus, a bit more fuel, a little more oxygen — and voila! the fire of the collaborative effort burns bright again.
The brave act of asking the questions will help the group move toward a needed end. It can allow you and the other members in your collaboration to avoid painful interactions, wasted time, hard feelings, and the frustration of feeling alone. You might start by asking questions to someone outside of your collaboration, or informally with another leader. That can lead to putting a discussion on a leadership meeting agenda, phone calls to check in with members, or a survey of the members. Then, listen with your “reality ears” rather than your “wishful ears” to what people have to say.
In the new year, may we all have the leadership courage to ask questions and keep our collaborative efforts productive, fun, and operating with elevated levels of energy. Or, to say the things that might lead to a healthy end to a collaboration that had its day and served its purpose.
For more tools to help manage, wind down, and/or close your collaboration we offer the following resources:
- ICL’s Working Together Toolkit – Chapter 5: Time for a Change–Transform, Merge or Close It Down
- ICL’s Collaboration Resource Hub
- Ecocycle Planning – check out this exercise from Liberating Structures that encourages the consideration of “creative destruction.”
—- Dianne J. Russell, ICL President