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Tips for Collaboration: hammer out the details up-front

Do you remember in school when teachers made us come up with group rules before starting a group project? It was an important lesson.

Collaboration is a great tool to help us grow our businesses. Like all great tools, it’s important to pre-establish operational guidelines to ensure a common understanding and safe implementation.

It is easy to forge ahead without thinking through and discussing the details of how the collaboration will work. However, experience has shown me that investing the time up front to ironing out the details is IMPORTANT before we start a project.

Spending the time up front discussing how costs / profits will be shared, what happens if a disagreement arises, who will be paid what, and who is responsible for what (such as activities, time, money) is vital to a positive, strong, long-term relationship. And it helps us navigate any misunderstandings that may arise.

There are tons of examples of Memorandums of Understanding (MOU’s) online that cover a wide range of collaborative projects. Your quest is to find the right MOU for your specific situation with your collaborative partners.

A good MOU outlines:

  • Who is involved (Name, Legal Address, etc.)

  • Timeline for collaboration

  • Purpose of the collaboration

  • Expected actions & desired outcomes

  • Contributions: strengths, assets and constraints of participants

  • Roles & responsibilities (financial, administrative, marketing, communication, etc.)

  • Cautionary clauses: conflict of interest, conflict resolution, confidentiality, intellectual property (if applicable)

  • Measuring success (project evaluation criteria)

  • Termination of MOU (drop out clause)

  • Potential Appendices (work plan, marketing plan, budget, etc.)

Working through these discussion points will take time. Plan on several 1-2 hour meetings to hammer out all the details. The conversation will help you understand better how each of you thinks, fine-tune how you communicate best with each other, and learn about each individual’s unique way of processing information and thinking things through.

In the process you will have explored some important operational discussion points that can have significant impact on the success of the project. Investing time upfront in the MOU process provides an opportunity to assess the commitment of everyone involved and to openly explore any concerns.

Be honest with yourself and with the others in the collaborative discussion. It’s much better to figure out where you might get stuck as a “team” early on and how you will work together to resolve issues than when you are in the midst of a crisis, stressed and tense.

If you encounter a problem during the project, having a MOU with predefined terms and a preset conflict resolution process will provide a clear framework for discussion and resolution. If worst comes to worst, you’ll also have a clear termination clause.

The clarity gained during the MOU conversation ensures fewer misunderstandings and increases your chances of success. Who wouldn’t want that?

In your experience, what are the key items for discussion when approaching an MOU conversation process? What benefits do you see in developing a strong MOU for your next collaborative project? Where have you found the most common ‘sticky’ points when working collaboratively? Please share your thoughts below.

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