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Collaborating for (better) impact

One of the key principles of the Balance is Better philosophy states: Aotearoa’s sport sector must work collaboratively to encourage the widest possible change for wellbeing and sport participation for young New Zealanders.

What does the sector working collaboratively look like?; and why do we think it is so important for supporting the purpose of Balance is Better? In this article, we outline the importance of the sector working together and discuss all things collaboration: what it is (and the different scales it comes in); tips for successful collaboration; what makes collaboration successful; and what are examples of collaboration by sports. 

Collaboration: ‘The act of working with another or others on a joint project; something created by working jointly with another or others; the action of working with someone.’ 

On the surface, when you look across sports, it’s easy to identify broad differences. For example, team vs individual, indoor vs outdoor, water-based vs land-based, and so on. 

These differences might, quite understandably, lead you to think that some sports have little in common with each other. For example, what’s Badminton got in common with Hockey? Or Touch with Swimming? 

However, when you look below the surface you realise almost all sports have competition structures, officials, facilities, coach development systems, membership databases, parents, health & safety considerations, committees, development pathways, websites, etc. 

One might even argue that sports are alike in more ways than they are different. And it’s the ‘alikes’ that may provide opportunities for collaboration. 

Why work together?

Simply, it’s about collective benefit.

Sport NZ believes that organisations that lead and deliver youth sport can collectively benefit from collaborating through a common goal of improving young people’s experiences in sport. 

After all, if nothing else, one thing all youth sports have in common is young people participating. Of course, there are also non-sport organisations and groups which have an interest in youth (e.g. schools, councils, Girl Guides). There may be opportunities to collaborate with those kinds of groups also. 

Connect, Understand, and Act 

At the heart of collaboration is working with others. So, who could those ‘others’ be for you? 

At a local level, main contenders might include other same-sport clubs or clubs who are close to you geographically. Or sports that share the same grounds or facilities or have participants in common across different seasons. 

There might also be opportunities for a club and an RSO or an NSO to collaborate. 

Once you have made the initial connection, you will start to better understand how you might work together to achieve mutual outcomes. 

Of course, you might find out the ‘fit’ isn’t what you hoped, and that’s okay too. 

Turning ideas into impact 

Let’s face it, it’s hard to argue with the idea of ‘collaboration’. But like any good idea, it needs some mahi to turn it into impact. 

But before we look at what it takes to make a successful collaboration, let’s talk briefly about scale. 

Successful collaboration will almost certainly take extra time and work. But the scale of the project may mean the ‘extra time and work is very manageable – a successful collaboration doesn’t have to be a huge project or involve a multi-year commitment. 

Arthur Himmelman’s ‘Matrix of Strategies for working together’ table outlines some of the key dimensions that should be considered for differing scales of collaboration. 

Be realistic and scale the collaboration in line with the resources available (e.g. people, time, energy, funding) and perhaps aim for some ‘little victories’ first – a successful small collaboration will generate learning, aspiration, and momentum; a failed big collaboration … won’t.  

Okay, what will help make a successful collaboration? 

If you are thinking about a project, partnership, or action that could be positioned in the coordinating or collaboration boxes in Himmelman’s Strategies for working together matrix, here are a few questions to consider. Even if you’ve seen these before, it’s probably worth a reminder: 

  • Are you clear about the need to collaborate? It may be you want a new perspective on something or expertise/experience your organisation doesn’t have. Or perhaps circumstances have forced a collaboration on you? Whatever the reason, be clear about why others are needed. 
  • How will you keep your organisation up-to-date on progress? What’s the best way to report back regularly and get feedback? Tip: Allow for consultation windows, and bring people of influence on board early (e.g. Life Members).  
  • Are you able to commit to the extra time and mahi collaboration will involve? Collaboration usually happens on top of other work. Participants are already busy with their “day job” and the new project may simply add more stress, and perhaps feel overwhelming. Also, collaboration can sometimes make new demands on people, and that in itself adds to the load. 
  • How and how long will it take to identify the potential benefits of working together? Doing this may help with everybody’s buy-in. 
  • What are the perceived risks and concerns (there will be some!) about working together? (Don’t take these personally!).  
  • When you connect with others, how will you begin to create a safe environment where people can be open, honest, heard and respected?  You may be there for slightly different reasons and you will likely bring different skillsets to the table. It takes time to build relationships and develop trust (success depends on the people involved). 
  • Can you see some quick wins to build momentum? 

As well as the above, it’s worth considering three ‘big rocks’ that can trip up collaboration. 

  1. No plan. A ‘collaboration plan’ should help prevent ambiguity, e.g. What are the expected outcomes? How are we going to work together? What are the roles and responsibilities? What’s the timeframe? Who’s accountable for what? 
  2. Information overload. For collaboration to work, information needs to be shared and often combined in unexpected ways. For some people, this sharing can create feelings of information overload. ‘Check in’ with people about this … and check how they prefer to receive information. 
  3. Too much talking, not enough doing. Collaboration means a shift from thinking through big ideas alone, to the messiness of problem solving with others. Shifting to a “We think together” approach may feel like you’ve moved to the land of yak, yak, yak. But thinking and talking together creates the understanding needed for people to act without checking back in all the time. Having to ‘relitigate’ outcomes or responsibilities is frustrating and dampens enthusiasm. As someone once said, ‘measure twice, cut once.’ 

So, what are some collaborative projects you could lead or support? 

  • Developing season transition charters (i.e. a charter to help participants transition from one season or sport to the next)  
  • Developing regional competition calendars 
  • Establish school-club memorandum of understandings (MoUs) 
  • Establishing local shared service models, e.g. is one sport running coach development opportunities that other sports could also send coaches to? (i.e. a ‘sprinting’ workshop could be of interest to coaches of many sports) 

What are some examples of sports collaborating? 

Below are some practical examples of collaboration between codes or between different organisations that work across the sport and youth sectors. We encourage you to connect with these organisations to better understand how the collaboration worked for them. 

An example of a collaborative life 

Ken Blanchard has published over 60 books on leadership, empowerment, learning, and change, but the book he is probably best known for is The One Minute Manager. In the video linked below – 

Collaboration: Affect/Possibility – Blanchard talks about the critical role collaboration has played in his professional and personal lives. If you watch nothing else this year, watch this. 

Read more: 

Utilizing collaboration theory to evaluate strategic alliances (2015), by Rebecca Gajda (2015) 

COLLABORATION FOR A CHANGE (revised January 2002); Definitions, Decision-making models, Roles, and Collaboration Process Guide, by Arthur T. Himmelman 

Have a community-based programme or project in mind that will help young people get active? Consider applying for funding through Tū Manawa Active Aotearoa.  

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