There’s no simple formula for merger success because so many influences can have an impact

There’s no simple formula for merger success because so many influences can have an impact: local politics, geography, funding, leadership and culture, to name a few. However, with all the challenges that arise when attempting a merger, exploring collaboration/partnership could be the right formula in the early stages.
At the heart of the community organizations (Chamber of Commerce, WCDI and WCC;VB) and the work, the community, members and funders would welcome the strategic collaboration among these organizations.
In reality community organizations are short on time and resources to do collective work. Each community organization must pound the pavement and search for funding, develop plans, create own niche and brand, and essentially compete with each other for recognition and funding. In addition, remaining focused on meeting their organizations’ day-to-day and year-to-year needs, can prevent them from thinking more strategically about opportunities to collaborate/partner with each other for greater impact.
Considering teaming up requires new ways of thinking and behaving. It requires developing trust, which takes time, and additional organizational capacity. Time and capacity are as scarce as capital.
Therefore, collaboration/partnership and strong working relationships between these organizations, may spark a desire to go down the merger path.

Benefits of Collaboration

The benefits of effective collaboration do not appear overnight. Establishing effective and inclusive partnerships takes time, and it is important to create the right framework from the start and review the structure and process of the collaboration/partnership on an ongoing basis to measure its success or failure.
Although the three community organizations are competing for access to funds and members’ collaboration between the three can provide important benefits to not only their organization, but to their members, and the wider community. Working together through formal collaboration/partnerships can provide:

• increased efficiency
• broader geographic coverage
• reduced costs
• access to additional resources
• improved coordination
• better referral systems
• a holistic approach to meeting needs,
• improved quality and consistency of service
• greater responsiveness to needs
• greater innovation
• flexibility to respond to changing, emerging or more complex client needs
• access to new ideas and strategic thinking
• improved capacity
• political and lobbying strength
• increased capacity to successfully to deliver on specific projects.

Over time, the combined benefits of collaboration can create new opportunities and a sustainable future together.

Below are a few key questions for you to work through:
1. Why is effective collaboration/partnership important?
2. What are the different forms that collaboration can take?
3. What are key steps to establishing effective collaboration?
4. What are key steps to managing effective collaboration in order to achieve mutually agreed-upon outcomes?
5. We are a good collaboration partner, because?

• open to new ideas and ways of working
• comfortable with joint decision-making
• Our Board and staff understand that we will need to arrive at shared goals
• ready to partner in the community, even if we compete for funding or clients
• recognize, the fact that collaborations take time to work, to build trust and negotiate shared directions
• we can learn and benefit from the experience and perspective of other organizations
• we are able to be transparent about expectations, needs and challenges
• we place a high value on team work internally
• We are comfortable managing conflict effectively

Collaboration Checklist

The first step in evaluating a potential collaboration is to recognize and agree upon the need. Assess the degree to which your community organization is ready to collaborate. Consider if you can be a good collaborative partner, determine the value of collaborating, and clarify your organization’s ability to commit to collaboration.

1. The steering committee and Management, should reflect individually, on the organization’s readiness to collaborate
2. Initiate discussions regarding themes emerging from the individual reflection exercise
3. Identify the degree to which your organization is ready to effectively collaborate, and discuss where you most need to focus to get ready
4. Consider what tools you require to help you get ready to collaborate
5. Identify principal desired collaboration achievements
6. Identify the factors associated with successful collaboration development
7. Identify any principal barriers
8. Acknowledge and recognize the extent of dependency upon individuals to achieve goals
9. Focus on added value (Ask yourself, “How can we achieve more or better results through collaboration?”)
Once you have determined the need to exists, you will want to consider the following fundamental principles for collaboration development:

Leadership clarity
Whoever is chosen to lead the development of collaboration needs to be mandated and empowered by the boards.
Provide understanding
The need to be clear in understanding the roles ; responsibilities and defining who does what.
Recognize the differences in culture that exist
Purpose
• share a common vision, and mutually agreeable service principles
• ensure everyone involved understands and agree on the purpose and outcome of collaboration
• develop a shared decision-making process
• define clear collaboration aims and objectives
• ensure that the aims and objectives are realistic
• acknowledge the existence of separate organizational aims and objectives.

Ownership and management commitment
Commitment is required from the board and management and ensure the commitments are expressed and supported for the collaboration in terms of resources and cost implications.
Develop and maintain trust
Applying fairness and affording equal status regarding the distribution of collaboration benefits or gains. You will also want to:
• be able to maintain a level of trust when faced with problems
• have the right people in the right place at the right time
• ensure the trust that is built up is protected
• ensure open and honest, and communicative collaboration
Develop collaboration working arrangements
You will want to:
• develop transparency and awareness in the financial resources
• distinguish between single and joint responsibilities and accountabilities
• Ensure the focus is on process and outcomes, not structure and inputs
• Have purpose, role, responsibility of staff, main aims, objectives, and outcomes, e.g., business plan, terms of reference, or constitution.
Performance management
Opportunity for learning experiences and sharing good practices

With the above points, it is essential that you examine your motivations for collaboration and ensure you aren’t driven solely by financial expectations. This will give you the opportunity to discuss the degree to which your organizational culture and values are aligned with collaboration.
Collaboration is a work in progress and this means that you will want to agree to a range of success criteria.

Strategic Thinking & Assessment

• Working in collaboration will help you to advance strategic priorities.
• Be clear about the needs, issues, or opportunities that collaboration will help to address or advance.
• Identify tangible and intangible strengths and assets that your organization can bring to collaboration.

Here you want to ensure that your organizational purpose and strategic directions are clearly articulated and understood. To do this discuss current service gaps or opportunities to innovate within the community/sector. Also identify your core organizational competencies and capacities which you could bring to a collaboration (i.e. How are we unique? Where can we add value? What skills and resources do we have to contribute?).

Strengths
Honest and well informed answers to the following questions will help to build a picture of the likely future directions of the organization:

• What is the organization really good at?
• On what basis do we assess we are good at it?
• What are our current services – will they be relevant in the new environment?
• Are there any ways of reducing costs?
• Could our “back office” services remain competitive with services expansion?
• Are there any technologies that could reduce costs?
• Can we significantly improve our performance of these activities?
• Which of the other community organizations do these things better than us?

Weaknesses or threats
The following questions are designed to have the community organizations address those aspects of their activities that likely to be weaknesses or threats in the new environment:

Area of operations
• What is the economically sustainable area of coverage of our services? Is our area of operations too large on our own?
• Which organization provides the same service types in the areas?

Access to capital
• How sustainable is our organization?
• Who are the “big donors” in the county?
• What is known of the intentions of the “big donors”?
• Relationships with the county & city leaders?

Opportunities
The following questions may assist to identify those characteristics that are likely to improve the competitiveness
• What is it about our collaboration that would make it attractive to members, funders?
• Does collaboration give us the capacity and expertise to delivery on the range of services in the Winneshiek County?
• Is our leadership team ready to explore all options for collaboration with a view to finding new ways of providing integrated services?
• How would we work together in the event of winning a tender/contract?
• What quality systems need to be in place?
• What suitable risk management processes need to be in place?
The answers to these question and other similar questions are likely to assist the boards and management team to make realistic assessments of the courses of action open to them in order to make a successful decision to collaboration and merge opportunities further down the track.

Commitment to Collaboration

• Our Board and Management have declared a commitment to invest in collaboration.
• We have carefully considered the potential risks, costs, benefits and implications of our involvement in collaboration.
• We are prepared to support our staff to be good collaborative partners (e.g. giving them the mandate and empowering them to make decisions at the collaborative table; providing them the time to build and nurture relationships; supporting their contributions so they can add real value).

Next Steps

Now that you hopefully have a better understanding of the key components, categories and a checklist to assist you all, how should you begin the process of collaboration development?
If you all agree that is the way forward, there are three essential steps to making sure you get off to a successful start:
1. Defining the need for collaboration
2. Starting the process
3. Setting up and maintaining the collaboration/partnership