Collaboration Probably is Not What You Think It Is

All collaboration opportunities present challenges and risks. College student groups can learn to harness the challenges and meet the risks to develop new and innovative ideas. Learn more about how to collaborate better and expect great things from partners!

How many of you have signed up to do a campus program with another campus organization, calling it a collaboration but really only one or two people worked on it? And the work was divided into who could do it the easiest, rather than who could do it the best? And if you asked other members of your organization, they wouldn’t know who was doing what?

Time and again, I have seen organizations miss the opportunity to create truly collaborative relationships. What are the risks associated with collaboration? How do you overcome these risks? What are the real and tangible benefits?

In short, what would it take for your organization to collaborate, the real kind, with other fraternities or sororities in your community?

The Social Change Model

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The Social Change Model of Leadership defines Collaboration as doing “work with others in a common effort. It constitutes the cornerstone value of the group leadership effort because it empowers self and others through trust.

“Collaboration multiplies group effectiveness by capitalizing on the multiple talents and perspectives of each group member and on the power of that diversity to generate creative solutions and actions. Collaboration empowers each individual best when there is a clear-cut “division of labor.”

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So chapters need to do two things: They need to identify a true common effort. They also need to identify the talents and perspectives of their members. When they do this, the diversity of ideas is more powerful than the singular idea that another group is going to support.

If Only It Were That Easy

Now, this definition and explanation seem really simple. Identify a common effort and then create an entirely new idea!

One of the issues that chapters face within a community is the competing behaviors to perform as if they need zero help from their fellow Greeks and their avoidance of conflict as a strategy to develop consensus. First, chapters want to look as though they have all the answers, even if their ideas are stale and uninteresting. Second, if they do work together, they may want to pass the buck of responsibility to the most average idea. They do this without challenging how it could or would be received by the community.

Above all, I am bored with these answers. Like, it doesn’t surprise me that unaffiliated students look at the chapters and can’t tell their programs apart. Or identify their philanthropy projects. Or only see unnecessary competition as defining the community.

We can do better if we took the risks.

The First Risk: Create That Common Effort

The first risk of collaborating is finding common effort. In an earlier post, I asked when and how men’s organizations can begin to use their collective power to address gender equity and sexual assault on their college campuses. This is a great example of an opportunity for organizations to collaborate on campus-based solutions.

This type of event is risky because it would require organizations to identify how they perpetuate issues among their peers. The organizations would need to be vulnerable to scrutiny. Everyone on campus would look at and evaluate their past behavior. It would require all organizations to look at the link between sexism and homophobia. Plus they would look at the pressures put on fraternity men to live up to implicit and explicit negative behaviors.

That’s some risky personal behavior.

But collaboration requires that we look at what we can change in the community and within the culture. It’s not enough to host a dodgeball tournament, raising money for community organizations. Creating change requires looking at what behavior would actually change the community.

Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

Idea: Plan a men’s forum. Planned with college men’s sports teams, where the men can talk about unhealthy expectations placed on other men to continue these implicit and explicit negative behaviors. Inviting men to talk to men about these issues is a great start to changing culture. Learning vulnerability helps college men to express their feelings and thoughts about the pressures they face. Men’s organizations have a vested interest in members learning how to face these challenges.

By taking the lead to involve other men, the personal and organizational risk is shared among all involved and more people get involved. Plus more people involved means that different ideas can be shared to solve campus problems. And more people involved means that more energy can be put into solutions that impact the college campus.

The Second Risk: Creating A Brand New Idea

The second part of the collaboration definition “multiplies group effectiveness by capitalizing on the multiple talents and perspectives of each group member and on the power of that diversity to generate creative solutions and actions.” So the goal is to generate creative solutions and actions. Collaborating to just do the same thing over, year after year is boring.

There I said it. So many collaborations just re-hash the same idea year after year.

Let’s say that your sisterhood wants to bring awareness to your national philanthropy. I have seen competition-based programs that require a buy-in to raise funds. So many silent auctions and dinners. Perhaps an interesting speaker on the topic. But all with the same audience attending.

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One of the challenges we face in Greek Life is engaging the entire college community in our service and philanthropy programs. Why not collaborate with ANY other student organization, like residence hall association? Not all collaborations require us to stay with our Greek peers.

I think that in order to bring changes to any new program, you need to start with a new and innovative idea from the outside. What do people unfamiliar with Greek life know about your philanthropy? Why would they want to give to the organization you support? What changes to behavior do you want them to do?

Don’t Forget to Engage in Conflict

Start with a new, innovative approach. And then keep going. How do you keep people aware of your issues more than one day a year? In what way can you use existing methods to highlight your issues once a month? This is where conflict is necessary to really consider all the ideas that might work.

Your innovation could even be rewarded.

For example, if your chapter is located within the Northeast Greek Leadership Association (NGLA) programming area, you could apply for an Innovation Grant. From the NGLA website: “The purpose of the Innovation Grant is to provide campuses or organizations the opportunity to implement creative new approaches to solve problems or enact solutions that may also be of benefit to other communities in the Northeast. The committee is looking for applications to meet the eligibility criteria and ultimately make an impact on those who participate.”

Learn to Expect More from Partners

When you collaborate, remember to start with realistic expectations. Then hold each other accountable! I believe that mediocre programming happens because we don’t expect greatness. Look for future blog topics to explore this expectation. But for now, when you start collaborating, just know you can do more than ask a group to provide a flyer. Make sure that the collaboration you do engage in helps grow the group.

Want to learn more about the Social Change Model? Invite me to your campus for a presentation on this topic and other related leadership topics! Email me at



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