Three Circles of Collaboration
In Skills for Success, Adele Scheele writes that successful individuals have three circles of people around them. In observing and participating in successful collaborations, these circles can be slightly adapted to help understand collaboration.
The smallest is the tender circle, made up of four to seven people with strong ties. They are dependable without question and carry the greatest responsibility to form the collaboration and keep it moving. They make early decisions that set the course, and see one another frequently and communicate by phone and e-mail. Their commitment--often in writing--means they are readily available with time, energy, and resources. Phone calls are returned within hours, if not minutes. They provide emotional support for one another when the project faces challenges. If a change of people or organizations takes place within this circle, there is a resounding impact upon the entire collaboration.
While Scheele's second circle is called congenial comrades, we believe it's better to think of this circle as congenial colleagues. This group is made up of 20 to 40 people who enrich the collaboration and infuse variety and wisdom. Their opinions inform decisions and directions. They make verbal commitments to meet regularly, share knowledge, and help carry out the goals of the collaboration in their own spheres of influence. Relationships develop within this circle among people who would not have had interface in other circumstances. With time the congenial colleagues begin to identify ways of involving others.
The outer rim is comprised of 50 or more individuals who come and go; their involvement serves a specific purpose. Their alliances with the collaboration may be informal, and contact is usually infrequent or irregular. They share resources and provide stimulation for the collaboration. Some are called upon to conduct training, and they are asked for feedback, criticisms, or suggestions that help ground the collaborative work in reality. Their own work may not be directly related to the collaboration's mission, but they have something to offer to its success.
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