Working in the voluntary sector, we are more familiar with competition than collaboration. The passion that leads to the start-up of charities also fuels battles, usually for funds. This can lead to navel, rather than star, gazing with charities identifying their unique selling points rather than searching for common ground.
How short-sighted can we be? We are in danger of losing touch with our overall vision (the bigger picture of how we want the world to be) and getting bogged down in our individual missions (what we are going to do about it.)
Take the visual-impairment sector as an example: when I joined it, I was struck by how competitive - even antagonistic - it was, which led to fragmentation and duplication of services.
When reviewing our values at Guide Dogs, we vowed that, wherever possible, we would work in partnership to achieve our goals. We adopted the acronym TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More), as a reminder not to revert to isolated ways of working. We also adopted the RNIB's Vision statement rather than adopt a new one. After all it made sense: we too wanted "a world where visually impaired people have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else".
In the last two years, the visual-impairment sector has changed significantly.
Fuelled by research on the growing sight problems of the British population and recognition that joint applications for funding are more powerful, there have been some significant movements of strategic tectonic plates.
The two umbrella organisations in the sector, the Visual Handicap Group representing not-for-profit organisations and the UKCPVI for the professions, met to identify common ground. With the Nuffield Trust as facilitators, they established a single body, Vision 20/20 UK, united around a national agenda for visual impairment. Start-up funding has been secured and a development director, trustees and chair appointed to carry it forward.
If the sector can put away its microscope and apply telescopic vision to identifying and delivering what clients really need, then skills and knowledge can be shared, infrastructures strengthened and capacity enhanced.
Think bigger picture - the route to collaboration.