The Urge to Merge

There’s no simple formula for merger success because so many influences can have an influence: local politics, geography, funding streams, leadership and corporate culture, to name a few. However, with all the challenges that arise when attempting a merger, there is the right formula to be found.
At the heart of the community organizations (Chamber of Commerce, WCDI and WC; T) and the work, the community, members and funders would welcome strategic collaboration among these organizations.
Reality is these community organizations are short on time or resources to do collective work. Each community organization must pound the pavement and search for funding, develop plans for sustainability, create its own niche and brand, and essentially compete with each other for funding and recognition. In addition, to stay focused on meeting their community 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.

Consider 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, strong working relationships, collaboration/partnership 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:

Why is effective collaboration/partnership important?
What are the different forms that collaboration can take?
What are key steps to establishing effective collaboration?
What are key steps to managing effective collaboration in order to achieve mutually agreed-upon outcomes?
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.

The steering committee and Management, should reflect individually, on the organization’s readiness to collaborate
Initiate discussions regarding themes emerging from the individual reflection exercise
Identify the degree to which your organization is ready to effectively collaborate, and discuss where you most need to focus to get ready
Consider what tools you require to help you get ready to collaborate
Identify principal desired collaboration achievements
Identify the factors associated with successful collaboration development
Identify any principal barriers
Acknowledge and recognize the extent of dependency upon individuals to achieve goals
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:

Emphasize clarity of leadership
Whoever leads the development of collaboration needs to be mandated and empowered by the boards.
Provide clarity in understanding
The need to clear and understand the roles ; responsibilities defining who does what.
Recognize and allow the differences in culture/practice that exist among partners
Ensure clarity of purpose

Ensure the partnership is built on a shared and common vision, and mutually agreeable service principles
Ensure that all partners understand and agree on the purpose and outcome of the partnership
Develop a shared decision-making process in which partners have equal power. Decisions should not be the result of consensus based on the lowest common denominator
Define clear partnership aims and objectives, with objectives expressed as outcomes for users
Ensure that partnership aims and objectives are realistic
Publicize agreed-upon and understood common aims and priorities
Acknowledge the existence of separate organizational aims and objectives and their connection to jointly agreed aims and objectives.

Ensure a level of ownership and management commitment
This commitment is required from the senior level in all community organizations (e.g., Board, directors, and members). Make sure the commitments are expressed through practical support for the partnership in terms of resources and cost implications. Do this as soon as the partnership is operational.
You will also want to:

Secure widespread ownership within and outside of partner organizations
Recognize and nurture individuals with networking skills
Cascade decisions and encourage contacts/networks across partner organizations at intermediate and front-line staff levels

Develop and maintain trust
Fairness and affording equal status among the partners regarding the distribution of partnership benefits or gains. You will also want to:

Ensure that the partnership is able to sustain a level of trust when faced with external problems
Ensure that the right people are in the right place at the right time
Ensure that the trust that is built up is protected
Finally, be open and honest, and communicative.

Develop clear partnership working arrangements
The partnership must emphasize clarity of roles and responsibilities while valuing the separate roles and the different experience and skill levels required. You will also want to:

Ensure transparency and awareness in the financial and non-monetary resources each partner brings to the partnership
Distinguish between single and joint responsibilities and accountabilities
Ensure that the prime focus is on process and outcomes, not structure and inputs

Finally, ensure that the purpose, role, responsibility of staff, main aims, objectives, and outcomes for the partnership are documented within whatever medium the partnership requires, e.g., business plan, terms of reference, or constitution.
Account for performance management
Recognize the 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.
Remember, collaboration can be considered a work in progress. This means that you will want to agree to a range of success criteria regarding your partnership.
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?).
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?

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).

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 and a great step to a merger? Well, there are three essential steps to making sure you get your collaboration off to a successful start:

Defining the need for collaboration
Starting the process
Setting up and maintaining the collaboration/partnership

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