Collaboration. Everyone probably wants to do it in order to provide excellent services to teens. You might have the chance to collaborate regularly with teachers, parents, teens, colleagues, bookstore owners, authors, police and fire personnel, and others who work in community agencies and departments. These are people it's probably fairly easy to connect with and whom you may have fairly easy access to. But, are they the right people to work with in order to be innovative in services?
I'd like to suggest that they may not be. In order to be innovative the collaborations we pursue and get involved in have go be as innovative as the programs and services we want to sponsor. It becomes comfortable to collaborate with people you know and have a history with. But that means it also becomes easy to miss opportunities for doing something new, reaching teens you might not regularly interact with, and gaining new insights and ideas.
What stops someone from pursuing collaboration opportunities with someone new? A few things.
- A fear of making a "cold call" and talking to someone new. If you have a project in the works and realize there is someone in the community that would be a perfect collaborator, but have never worked with that person, it could be difficult to get in touch and say "let's work together." If that's the case then do a little research. Is there someone you know who has a relationship already with that person? If so, have him or her make the first connection for you. Make sure that this intermediary knows a bit about the project you are working on and how you think this new potential collaborator can be involved. That means you need to be very clear yourself about the role of this new collaborator. Know how his or her expertise can fit in to what you are planning and highlight that to your "connector" and to your potential collaborator when you have your own conversation with him or her. If you don't have someone who can connect you, don't let that stop you. Still get in touch with the person and sell your idea and their value to it.
- A lack of history which can mean a lack of trust. One of the key things that makes a collaboration work is trust amongst those involved. Without that trust you can't be sure everyone is working towards the same goal and that the work will be done in the way that's required. If you are thinking about collaborating with someone new give yourself time to get to know that person. Work on a smallish project to start so you can get to know each other. Don't make rash judgements. Give the process of getting to know one other and gaining trust a little time. That way you can build a history which can lead to bigger and better collaborations.
- A limited knowledge of the community. Maybe you are new to your library community. Or maybe you haven't had the opportunity to meet a lot of people from outside the library and education world where you work. Well then, make sure you do just that. Go to meetings and events sponsored by other agencies, organizations, and businesses. Get to know others and let them get to know you. Talk up what you do for and with teens and why you do what you do. Scope people out, get business cards, and keep notes about the work others do so you can make the right collaborative connections at the right time.
Expanding your collaborative world can take time and energy. It might require that you think outside your comfort zone and outside your traditional collaborative box. However, If you are innovative in your collaboration you will open up opportunities that you might never have known were possible and those opportunities will lead to innovations that you might never have thought of. It will be worth it, I promise.
Who do you collaborate with that is a little, or a lot, out of the box? Let us know in the comments.
Image courtesy of Flickr user IvanWalsh.com