The Human Factor People Getting Along is the Key to Grantee Collaborations

Commitment to the collaboration.
Trust is not something that you whip up at short notice. The people involved must go beyond the content, engaging in personal working relationships. This requires a great deal of investment. “If I think about venturing in a possible new transnational project, first of all I would not underestimate, as I did at the beginning, the energy, time and effort required to be an active partner.” Presence and active participation in discussions and decision making is part of the trust-building process: “For it to work properly, you have to actually make the investment not only in contributing, but actually being present, so I think [our initiative] has worked and grown because the steering committee meets twice a year, and we all attend, and so we’ve got to know each other and trust each other.”

Group dynamics.
“Collectively as a group you need to have good process skills, being able to negotiate difficulties and coach others when needed.” This is particularly important within the European context of different identities and cultures. For example, the pioneers who were interviewed learnt through trial and error that awareness of cultural differences is fundamental and that stereotypes inevitably exist, whether unfounded or not. As one foundation professional reflected: “It’s always interesting to see how groups deal with conflict. In my country we are very direct, and I expected the colleagues from England to be more like the House of Lords but they were also very direct. Sometimes people behaved in a completely different way but as it turned out we found a common way of dealing with things.”

In groups where diversity is prevalent, it’s important to continually develop individual competencies to work together in a context of diversity. Even cultivating the skills needed to manage diverse groups can be a multi-cultural challenge. According to one respondent, a German organisation “had an approach of doing something consciously in favour of group dynamics. They made plays and games and not everybody felt comfortable. I wouldn’t say that helps in the European context.” Whereas a UK philanthropist admitted that only after having been exposed to both effective and ineffective collaboration among European funders, did he understand the absolute need for skills that favour constructive group dynamics.

Common language and shared vocabulary.
English has fast become the ‘lingua franca’ of business but its fluency, both spoken and written, varies greatly across the European foundation community. When working across borders, the fact that you have to speak about sensitive things either in a foreign language or in ‘international English’ can be a genuine barrier. And in a context where trust is needed, barriers may pile up one on the other: “It takes a lot longer. So maybe it is that you’ve got to have more face-to-face at the start, build up the trust, and the language barrier does not make it easier to communicate.”

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Foundations in Europe Working Together.