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Staff Leadership and Management

The Dynamic of Partnership in Out of School Time Work


The interesting part of the morning was less the food than the discussion.

If you have ever tried to talk with two little kids at the same time you understand how conversations can spin rapidly to amazingly unique subjects. As my Jonah and Sydney left for camp, I reflected that the OST field often feels just like the conversation I just finished with them.

collaboration pic Dialogue in the OST field is fast, ever-changing and based in collaborations.

In fact, our field is driven by collaborations. School districts collaborate with providers who collaborate with Community Based Organizations, foundations, and private sector funders. Schools collaborate with summer learning groups and, often, two after school providers collaborate on one school campus. That is just the tip of the iceberg. We collaborate with teachers, parents, government officials, youth sports. The list goes on. Whether the collaborative work is intentional or situational, it is hard.

Collaborations sound great, and are great when done well. Regardless, they are hard and they are complicated because of communications. There is a simple math formula that demonstrates this concept; n squared minus n over n. Draw it out. Two people have one conversation. In our formula, the people are ‘n’. Add a third person and there are three potential conversations. Here is where it takes a twist. Four people have 6 potential conversations. Five people have 10. Make ‘n’ 6 and the potential conversations are 15. 7 people = 21 communication lines…and so on. If you are a visual learner, draw a dot for each ‘n’ and then start connecting them and you see how complicated collaborative conversations become through a multiplier effect.

I am not saying we should avoid collaboration.

I am saying we need to recognize the increased potential for blurred visions, values, outcomes analysis, and failure as we add more people and cross-conversations to a group approach in OST. We need to walk into group efforts aware of the difficulties and the potential for struggles due to significant cross-communications and we need to be deliberate and efficient in our word choice.messy collaboration pic

Let me be clear. I believe in and support collaborative work. In fact, I have worked on many state initiatives to align OST efforts and my organization won an award from the CA After School Network for collaboration and was runner up for the National Loadstone Collaboration Prize. The conversation with Jonah and Sydney this morning just reminded me of what a wise mentor once taught me…

99.9% of the time that an issue exists in a business or between people, it is a communications issue.

Sorry. I have to go. My phone is ringing, email is pinging, iPad is tweeting, colleagues are interrupting, and…

For breakfast today I ate my kid’s leftovers; half a piece of bacon, a cold egg and a well-chewed English muffin.

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