Collaboration Toolbox

This site offers a general introduction to the principles and models for successful collaborations and advice on overcoming barriers. The site also includes an assessment of your readiness to begin a collaboration opportunity and a library of resources and contacts for creating all types of collaboration in Minnesota State.

Collaboration is defined as a process to reach goals that cannot be achieved by one single agent. It is a mutually beneficial and well-defined relationship entered into by two or more organizations to achieve common goals. It includes the following components:

  • Jointly developing and agreeing on a set of common goals and directions;
  • Sharing responsibility for obtaining those goals;
  • Working together to achieve those goals, using the expertise and resources of each collaborator.

Collaboration stresses sharing risks and responsibilities towards a jointly defined goal such as providing support services for students. It increases the likelihood that the goal can be met. Collaboration is not always effective. It is not always appropriate. Sometimes it might even result in greater costs than independent efforts. It does offer a strategic tool of value in many situations.

A Continuum of Opportunities - Collaboration Continuum (Strategies)


(Click on each circle to go into the definitions of each and examples.)

(Definitions of the Collaboration Continuum are adapted from A.T. Himmelman "Collaboration for a Change", 2002. Used with permission.)

Many current collaborations are somewhere along the continuum of collaboration presenting a multitude of opportunities and development for institutions to work together to reach common goals. The following continuum and corresopnding definitions are intended to provide a common terminology and to reach agreement with partners on where you want to be on the continuum.

It is important to understand that each of these strategies along the continuum can be appropriate for particular circumstances. It can be sufficient for some institutions to network and consequently provide students and their families with correct and updated information on available programs or services. In other circumstances, institutions might work on developing more complex linkages to be able to meet needs more effectively.

These definitions will allow appropriate choices about the working relationships to be developed or to strive towards. Keep in mind that these definitions are developmental and therefore, when moving to the next strategy, the previous strategy is included within.

Collaborative efforts are only successful in facilitating change if they are supported from the top down and the bottom up. Administrative support is needed to allow front line staff to make decisions about institutional resources shared in a collaborative effort. Both, front line and administrative staff must be open and willing to go beyond "business as usual."

Networking: Exchanging information for mutual benefit. This is easy to do; it requires low initial level of trust, limited time availability and no sharing of turf. Networking is the most informal of the linkages and no mutual sharing of resources is necessary.

Example: Sharing documents and ideas between institutions.

Coordinating: Exchanging information and altering program activities for mutual benefit and to achieve a common purpose. Requires more organizational involvement than networking, higher level of trust and some access to one’s turf. Coordinated services are "user-friendly" and eliminate or reduce barriers for those seeking access to them. Compared to networking, coordinating involves more time, higher levels of trust yet little or no access to each other's turf. This is a more formal relationship. No or minimal sharing of resources is necessary. Example: Joint marketing on websites or sharing information and altering services so they can provide their combined support in a more-user friendly manner.

Cooperating:Exchanging information, altering activities and sharing resources for mutual benefit and to achieve a common purpose. Increased organizational commitment, may involve written agreements, shared resources can involve human, financial and technical contributions. Requires a substantial amount of time, high level of trust and significant sharing of turf. This is a formal relationship. There is moderate to extensive mutual sharing of resources and some sharing of risks, responsibilities, and rewards.

Example: Perkins Consortiums; NHCC/HTC Continuing Education Customized Training (CECT)

Collaborating: Exchanging information, altering activities, sharing resources and enhancing each other’s capacity for mutual benefit and to achieve a common goal. The qualitative difference to cooperating is that organizations and individuals are willing to learn from each other to become better at what they do. Collaborating means that organizations share risks, responsibilities and rewards. It requires a substantial time commitment, very high level of trust, and sharing turf. This is a formal relationship with full sharing of resources, and full sharing of risks, responsibilities and rewards.

Example: Minnesota Alliance for Nursing Education (MANE), Nursing ADN/BSN

Integrating/Merging: Completely merging two organizations in regards to client operations as well as administrative structure. Extensive time commitments, very high level of trust and extensive areas of common turf, up to complete sharing of each other’s turf; enhancing each other’s capacity to achieve a common purpose is the primary focus, merging into a single entity. No longer separate identities, have merged into a new identity to better serve others. This is a formal relationship and requires extensive legal agreements and changes.

Example: Century College, MCTC


Before you get started, know your partners/collaborators. A partnership/collaboration is defined as a relationship where two or more parties, having common and compatible goals, agree to work together for a particular purpose and/or for some period of time. Before you enter a partnership/collaboration the following should be addressed...

vision and purpose: The institutions need a clear sense of why they are entering the collaboration. What can they each contribute to it?

Mutual benefit: What will each get out of it? Why should this be done? Identify what value there is in the partnership and how each will benefit. It has to be a clear value-added and win-win for each institution.

Commitment: There has to be a strong desire within the institutions and at all levels for the institutions. They have to be willing to learn and to share.

Time: Both institutions have to be willing and prepared to take the time necessary to make the partnership work. There is no quick and easy way to successful partnering.

Capacity: The institutions need to have the capacity to enter a partnership. If you are stretched to the limit now, you need to figure out how you can incorporate the additional work.

Culture: Your institution's culture has to be able to welcome new people and new ideas. The institutional culture is best defined as the beliefs, values, norms, and philosophies that guide how the organization operates. The different cultural backgrounds of the individuals and groups within the institution bring different languages, customs, beliefs and ways of doing things.

Goals: Are there clear and concise goals, both short and long term that are compatible with who the institutions are?

Funding: Partnerships may create some additional expenses for the institutions. Are you prepared for these costs?

Membership: Who are the people who should be part of the collaboration? Members should be selected based upon their “stake” or role in achieving the goals of the collaboration. The power of collaboration comes from inclusion not exclusion. They should include those who have the formal power to make a decision, those who have the power to block a decision, those affected by the decision, and those with relevant information or expertise to meet the goals.

Roles and responsibilities: Is there a recognition of the importance of each member’s role and delineated responsibilities so the load is equally shared?

As you move into a collaboration there should be an understanding of the different levels or rings of involvement that the institutions may need to utilize to be successful. (How to Make Collaboration Work, David Straus, 2002)

Ring Circles

The Wilder Research group and Morten Hansen have two different assessment tools that may be used in determining the readiness to collaborate. The Wilder Collaboration Factors Inventory (Mattessich, P., Murray-Close, M., & Monsey, B. (2001). Wilder Collaboration Factors Inventory. St. Paul, MN: Wilder Research) is available for use with permission at: This is the free online version which includes scoring.

The Internal Barriers Survey (adapted from Collaboration, Morten T. Hansen Figure 3-5, pg.64)

Step 1. Take a brief subjective poll. Question: which barriers to collaboration are present in you institutional unit? Assess your unit from 1 (not at all) to 100 (to a large extent)


Survey Questions



Not Invented Here

1. Even when they need help, our employees are not willing to seek input from outside their department.

2. When faced with problems, employees in our unit strive to solve them by themselves without asking for help from outsiders.

3. There is a prevailing attitude in our department that people ought to fix their own problems and not rely on help from outside the department.

Total of responses to questions 1 to 3:


4. Our people keep their expertise and information to themselves and do not want to share it across departments.

5. People in our department are often reluctant to help colleagues in other parts of the institution.

6. Our employees seldom return phone calls and emails when asked for help from people outside our department.

Total of responses to questions 4 to 6:

Search Problems

7. Our employees often complain about the difficulty they have locating colleagues in other departments who possess information and expertise they need.

8. Experts in our institution are difficult to find.

9. Our employees have great difficulty finding the documents and information they need in the institution's databases and knowledge-management systems.

Total of responses to questions 7 to 9:

Transfer Problems

10. Our employees have not learned to work together effectively across departments to transfer tacit knowledge.

11. Employees from different departments are not used to working together and find it hard to do so.

12. Our employees find it difficult to work across departments to transfer complex technologies and best practices.

Total of responses to questions 10 to 12:

Step 2. Benchmark your score against a sample of 107 institutions.

Lowest quartile

Second lowest quartile


Second highest quartile

Highest quartile













Search problems






Transfer problems







Barrier not a problem

Barrier might cause some problems

Barrier might cause problems

Barrier a problem

Barrier a big problem

Collaboration in Minnesota State Page

  • K-12
  • Business
  • Colleges & Universities
  • Career
  • Workforce
  • CECT

Many colleges and universities are currently participating in a variety of different types of collaborations. To access the library of resources and contacts, go to: (Add link to SharePoint here) In order to access the resource area, you will be asked to enter your star id and password. In order to access the resource area, you will be asked to enter your star id and password.

Successful Collaborations

Successful collaborations have common characteristics that can be found in the six primary key factors identified by research from the Wilder Research Center (Collaboration: What Makes It Work, 2nd Edition, Wilder Research Center, 2001) The factors for success-environmental, membership characteristics, processes and structures, communication, purposes, and resources available-should be honestly reflected upon before embarking on any type of collaboration and should be incorporated into a pre-collaboration assessment as well as a long term assessment of the health and vitality of the collaboration.

The ENVIRONMENT in which the collaboration is developed will be a key indicator of future success. If there is a history of collaboration or cooperation and the groups are able to get around competing with each other, they will more likely be successful. When the institutions involved are seen as legitimate leaders in the community and there is a favorable political and social climate to collaborate, the collaboration will be favored for success.

The MEMBERSHIP CHARACTERISTICS are crucial elements of a successful collaboration. Mutual respect, understanding and trust between the institutions lays the foundation. The membership includes an appropriate cross section of the members and they see the collaboration as in their self-interest. They demonstrate the ability to compromise.

The PROCESS AND STRUCTURE under which the collaboration will function and develop plays a key role in success. All members share a stake in both the process and the outcomes of the collaboration and there are multiple layers of participation available. There is the development of clear roles and policy guidelines. But at the same time, there is flexibility and adaptability. There is an appropriate pace of development. All members are in compliance with legal requirements and there is planning for implementation and evaluation.

The COMMUNICATION pathways will make or break a collaboration. There should be open and frequent communication reflected and there are established informal relationships and communication links.

The PURPOSEof the collaboration should be unique and reflect concrete and attainable goals and objectives. The shared vision stirs passion amongst the members and the community it serves.

The RESOURCES are sufficient to see the collaboration through to fruition including sufficient funds, staff, materials, and time. There is skilled leadership at all levels to see the development of the collaboration through the entire process and to create stability once developed.

In addition to the above factors, there must be a balance between the collaboration team and the individuals involved in the collaboration. The unification of the team needs to be balanced with the individual accountability of each member. The unifying goals of the team should be supported by each individual’s goals. The values of teamwork should be balanced with the individual responsibility of each member and the language of collaboration should be aligned with the individual’s language of accountability.

Culture plays a key role in the success of collaborations. Evan Rosen describes the ten top cultural elements necessary for successful collaboration in his book, The Bounty Effect: Seven Steps to the Culture of Collaboration.

  1. Trust is imperative to develop comfort with colleagues so that the other elements can easily flow.
  2. Sharing allows ideas to flow and grow as discussions continue.
  3. Common goals ensure everyone is reading from the same script.
  4. Innovative spirit and the ability to embrace new approaches to solving problems or reaching the goals
  5. Environment that supports group interaction in both the physical and virtual realms and not result in confusion.
  6. Function in collaborative chaos to make room for the unexpected and to rolling with the punches.
  7. Constructive confrontation to respectfully take a stand and work through issues that may arise.
  8. Communication which is crucial to the shared creation of something new. 
  9. Community for sharing interests and goals.
  10. Value that is created as a culmination of collaborative activity.

Are you or is your institution ready and able to be part of these elements?

Rosen also describes and refutes the eight common myths about collaboration and their effect on the culture of collaboration.

Myth #1: Collaboration is tools and technologies. Tools and technologies extend and enhance collaboration, but it takes more than tools for collaboration to happen. Technology alone will not make the shift to a culture of collaboration.

Myth #2: Collaboration is relinquishing individual thought. Collaboration inspires people to think clearly and independently, share their thoughts, constructively confront one another, and through synergy create greater value. Cultures that encourage “groupthink” and discourage individual thought compromise value by reinforcing mediocrity.

Myth #3: Collaboration is consensus. Consensus can happen as a result of collaboration, but it is not Collaboration. Collaboration requires constructive confrontation. Constructive confrontation is the antithesis of blind agreement.

Myth #4: Collaboration is discussion without decision. Collaboration produces better, faster decisions because all stakeholders can come together in real time and hash out issues. Collaboration lets people constructively confront one another to resolve issues and determine a course of action.

Myth #5: Collaboration is strategic alliances. Strategic alliances are often more about words than actions and are not necessarily collaborative. Collaboration between institutions involves joint creation of value.

Myth # 6: Collaboration is negotiation. Negotiation involves self-interest rather than mutual interest. Collaboration involves mutual creation of value so that all parties benefit.

Myth #7: Collaboration is social networking. Social networking brings people together, but what we do when we come together may or may not be collaboration. Social networking is collaboration only if we’re creating value.

Myth #8: Collaboration is relinquishing intellectual property. Collaboration among partners may involve agreements to share intellectual property. Protecting intellectual property is key to collaboration among institutions.

Are you and your institution ready to address these elements and myths?

Employees can access the Collaboration Toolbox on ASA SharePoint/Connect using your and password.