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Collaboration: What Makes It Work by Paul Mattessich and Kirsten Johnson of the Wilder Foundation

Wilder Collaboration Resources

Online companion to the third edition of our book Collaboration: What Makes It Work


Welcome to the online companion to the third edition of our book Collaboration: What Makes It Work. Below you will find a variety of resources, tools, and ideas to support you in your collaborative efforts. We hope that you obtain valuable and useful insight from these resources – insight that you can apply as you collaborate with others to make certain that you build your work on a solid foundation. 

You can also find more information about the Collaboration Factors Inventory, a free tool to assess how your collaboration is doing on 22 research-tested success factors.

  • Listen to the Collaborating Across Difference episode of the Talking Through the Numbers podcast. Guests Kirsten Johnson and Vanne Owens Hayes discuss collaborating across difference, understanding culture, and navigating power dynamics with host Paul Mattessich, based on their contributions to the book Collaboration: What Makes it Work.

Contact Wilder Research for more information or questions about the book: | 651-280-2790


Buy the Book - Collaboration: What Makes It Work

Get your copy of Collaboration: What Makes It Work, 3rd Edition

By Paul W. Mattessich and Kirsten M. Johnson

A practical reference built upon credible, research-based information that will ground you in the factors that support successful collaboration and assist you in incorporating those factors into your work.

Chapter 4: Putting the Factors to Work

Monsters of Influence

When helping to lead a collaboration – we rarely have the power to compel others to act. Instead, our collective progress relies on our ability to skillfully use our influence. So what enables a person to influence others? A combination of qualities, like passion, focus, positivity and the power of persuasion. Learn more about the qualities you can cultivate to increase your influence.

Intentional Listening

Effective collaboration requires strong listening skills. We must be willing to take the time to listen and to do so in a way that results in our gaining understanding. Often the most important resource to aid us to become good listeners is being listened to ourselves. As collaborators, we need to dedicate time and space where we can process our thoughts, ideas, biases and perspectives. When others listen to us in a supportive, non-judgmental environment structured not to give us advice but to provide us space, we clarify our own thinking and become better prepared to listen with an uncluttered mind to the thinking of others.

Listening Partnerships

Check out the How to Begin section for an overview of setting up a listening partnership.

Additional resources on skillful listening for collaboration:

Frame-Shifting Tool

The capacity to shift the cultural lens through which one views a situation, decision, or idea is a crucial skill for collaborators. As we practice bringing into our awareness the lenses through which we see a situation, we become more nimble. Awareness of our own lenses enables us to acknowledge cultural differences and adapt our behavior to be effective and inclusive.

Frame-Shifting Model

Stakeholder Engagement

Communicating with clarity is essential when engaging stakeholders. Often, the activities designed to engage stakeholders – community conversations, surveys, planning meetings – are an add-on to people’s already busy schedules. For this reason, being cognizant up front about who you should engage, the level of engagement you seek and the investment of time required – and then openly communicating this to stakeholders is essential.

Below are three tools – one that can help you think about which stakeholders to engage and two that will help answer questions about the level of engagement your project can achieve. Reviewing one or more of these tools before you begin your stakeholder engagement will help you to craft an invitation and structure that will best suit your needs and will allow you to be honest and transparent with stakeholders from the outset.

Art of Powerful Questions

The right question can challenge us to reflect on things at a deeper level. It surfaces assumptions and invites creativity. It can focus our attention and move us towards action. We work in a culture that puts too much focus on trying to arrive at the right answer and, as such, we often overlook the importance of asking the right question.

The Art of Powerful Questions was written by Eric E. Vogt, Juanita Brown and David Issacs to provide a resource for all of us to begin asking better questions. Below you will find links to the full article, as well as a summary guide that can help you craft a powerful question by reviewing the core elements that make up the construction of a powerful question. 

Chaordic Stepping Stones

The Chaordic Stepping Stones were developed based on the work of Dee Hock, who coined the term “chaordic” by combining the words “chaos” and “order.” The Chaordic Stepping Stones are a guide that can be valuable when we are working in spaces of complexity – like in collaboration. They provide some suggestions about the steps we might take, and the questions we might ask at each step in the process. The Chaordic Stepping Stones are not meant to advocate a linear journey. Instead, they serve as a set of lenses which can help new ideas, insights and innovations emerge.

Most widely shared by Art of Hosting practitioners, the Chaordic Stepping Stones have been used and adapted by many groups and individuals. Below are two versions that provide helpful visuals, reflection questions and context for how to use the tool:

Gantt Charts

If you are building a long-term collaboration, it can be helpful to break your work into phases, perhaps 12-18 months in length. Consider creating a Gantt chart of the phases to offer a quick visual of all the activities that must be carried out and aligned over time.

Try this tutorial on creating a Gantt chart, that contains a free downloadable Excel template.

Online Communication Platforms

Open and frequent communication can be aided greatly by the having the right tools in place. Many collaborations benefit from setting up a simple communication strategy that is easy to maintain and prioritizes transparency and efficiency. Utilizing an online platform can enable you to give everyone access to all the information your collaboration creates.

There are many online platforms designed to help teams and collaborations work together. Below are two platforms that are free – cost is often a barrier for collaborations – and we want you to know there are highly effective tools that won’t cost anything.


Slack is an interactive communications platform that allows for group messaging, private messaging, file sharing, and much more. Slack offers both free services as well as inexpensive packages with enhanced features.

Google Drive

Google Drive provides a powerful tool for storing and sharing the documents created by your collaboration. Options exist to share documents publicly or with certain collaborative members. In addition, members can collaboratively draft and edit documents using Google Docs.


Zoom is a video and web conferencing application. It can make remote meetings possible with people who can only join by phone, as well as providing the option for people to join with both voice and video. Zoom offers both free services as well as inexpensive packages with enhanced features.


Trust is built over time, in the context of culture and relationship. People with whom we feel a quick and easy sense of trust are often those most like us. Trust with people “like us” builds upon past shared experience, even if that experience derives from a common cultural background rather than from direct interaction. When we develop relationships across cultural, organizational or ideological differences, building trust takes more time and attention.

Moving at the Speed of Trust

The concept of “moving at the speed of trust” can help us to slow down and invest time in trust-building behaviors. We’d recommend two great books that delve into this concept:

Trust Building Articles


Mutual respect, understanding and trust are all identified by our research as factors that support the success of collaboration. Transparency involves openness and communication, and by making information accessible transparency also promotes accountability. All of these elements are essential to building trust. The more transparent you are, the more differences will be acknowledged and conflict will be kept out in the open where it can be addressed. Trust is built when you openly share your commitments and then follow-through to do what you said you would. Transparency is the antidote to impulses of ownership and control which often lead to inequitable power dynamics that erode trust.

The Center for Food Integrity conducted research on what helps consumers to trust those who produce their food. The model they developed is applicable in many contexts. Below is their research based model describing the seven elements of transparency:

Seven elements of transparency

In our work in building collaborations, we might want to replace the term “stakeholder” for “collaborative member” in the model above – or sometimes we might want to include both terms. These seven elements help us to see transparency as an active and participatory process that goes beyond just sharing information to ensuring that information is useful and accessible.

Chapter 5: Collaborating Across Difference

Online Resources

As you set out to collaborate across difference, here are two online resources with a wealth of information, tools and tips:

Community Tool Box provides help taking action, teaching and training others in organization for change.

Racial Equity Tools is designed to support individuals and groups working to achieve racial equity. The site offers tools, research, tips, curricula and ideas for people who want to increase their own understanding and to help others do the same.

Cultural Dynamics that Impact Collaboration

As we enter into collaboration, we must equally value the different cultural practices that comprise our collective effort. There is strength and wisdom in all cultures. When we can integrate and leverage the strengths in each culture present in our collaboration we more deeply engage the individuals from that culture, and we create more meaningful solutions to the challenges we face.

Below are two models that share the common dimensions of culture that impact our working relationships. While both of these models are based on national cultures, our experience shows that these cultural dynamics show up within national cultures as well. These models show that how we communicate, lead, disagree and make decisions are all deeply impacted by our culture. Awareness of the diversity of cultural norms and practices that likely exist in our collaborations is the first step in welcoming and leveraging all of the cultures present.

Tools for Building Cultural Self-Awareness in Groups

Tools for Facilitating Conversations about Power Dynamics, Culture and Race

Having conversations about power differences across race, class and gender is not something that comes easily in our society. Using clear and tested strategies can often aid in a group’s ability to navigate these conversations. Introduce concrete tools or strategies for having open and honest conversations. Below is a selection of resource to help you facilitate productive conversations:

Facilitation Guides for Conversations on Power, Privilege, Culture and Race

Helpful Approaches to Conversations on Power, Privilege, Culture and Race

Racial Equity Assessment and Decision Making Tools

Facilitation Tools that Support Engagement, Inclusivity and Trust

Who Gets to Represent Community?

As you seek to build collaborations that authentically represent the diverse communities your collaborative work will impact, avoiding tokenism and brownwashing is essential. Below is a resource that includes a series of reflection questions that can help you approach your outreach to community members in an inclusive and effective way.

Who Gets to Represent Community?

Values Inventory

As we set out to collaborate with other organizations one of the elements that will enable us to work together successfully is a good match of our values. Discussing our values at the outset of a collaborative relationship can ensure that as we work together we will encounter fewer surprises, and will better understand the differences in perspective we experience. The resource below outlines a process your collaborative group can take to reflect on and share your organizational core values.

Values Inventory

Related Collaboration Content

Contact us for more information or questions about "Collaboration: What Makes It Work?" | 651-280-2790

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