By Mary T. O’Neill
My black Lab, Tara, perfectly illustrates the difference between cooperation and collaboration. When we take a walk, I put a chest harness on her to take the strain off her neck — but first there is an elaborate dance in which she dips and bows, comes close then backs away, stretches, and does some goofy jumping from side to side. Finally, it seems to click that without the harness there will be no walk. Ah! “Yes, please put on the harness: Here I am. Let’s go!”
“Cooperation is accomplished by a division of labor among participants where each is responsible for solving a portion of the problem,” according to The Construction of Shared Knowledge in Collaborative Problem Solving by Jeremy Roschelle and Stephanie D. Teasley. Tara does her part and finally sits still for me, and I do my part in putting on the harness and taking her for the promised walk. Cooperation! But while this clever and eager-to-please Lab is usually willing to cooperate, she is not able to collaborate. That is up to us two-legged types, according to Roschelle and Teasley: “Collaboration is a coordinated, synchronous activity that is the result of a continued attempt to construct and maintain a shared conception of a problem or of a vision for the future.”
This is nothing new to the Foundation Center of New York, which works predominantly with nonprofits. Their June 2011 newsletter reports that nonprofits in collaboration with each other craft a better response to complex issues. Reducing costs and acquiring access to more resources are other pluses of collaboration. Perhaps even more noteworthy is that collaboration gives muscle to advocacy work. A group of like-minded organizations can band together in a way that greatly increases the perception of legitimacy and clout to lawmakers and other authorities.
The economic crises that began hitting the fan in 2008 forced companies and organizations to become more efficient and less wasteful. However, not all efforts at collaboration worked. An April 2014 article in the Harvard Business Review (“The Collaboration Imperative”) acknowledged that countless efforts by companies and organizations to work together “failed because of competitive self-interest, a lack of a fully shared purpose, and a shortage of trust.”
Faith-based organizations are not exempt from such experiences. In The Social Conquest of Earth, Edwin O. Wilson extrapolates the patterns of ant and bee colonies onto human productivity. While selfish individuals may defeat altruistic individuals, groups of collaborators are victorious over groups with selfish intent. The human condition, he contends, “is largely a product of the tension between these two impulses. Organizations that encourage the altruistic ‘gene’ through a collaborative culture will, on balance, tend to prevail over organizations where the selfish gene is dominant.”
Today, building strong collaborative cultures is paramount, and the NACC is pursuing collaboration among individual members and other professional organizations. After all, when groups collaborate, the understanding of diverse perspectives increases, and a higher level of thinking usually evolves. So yes, it still is true: Two heads are better than one!
To that end, NACC has been collaborating with other groups such as the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education, the Association of Professional Chaplains, and Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains. We joined ACPE, APC, and NAJC in developing joint marketing materials, with each group contributing financially. We participated in revising the Common Standards and are working on an updating of the 2001 white paper in order to delineate a current and more expansive description of professional chaplaincy. Four workgroups were formed with APC and ACPE to explore common challenges and identify strategies to enhance and sustain our ministries. We now hold a joint cognate leaders meeting at each group’s annual conference, with complimentary registration for each group’s representatives.
Also, based on member requests, the NACC Board has committed to a joint NACC/APC conference in 2018 and a conference with our cognate partners in 2020. More information for these events will be available in the coming months. These collaborative efforts help to improve the public’s understanding of the chaplain’s role, and serve to promote the value of chaplaincy to other healthcare professionals, fostering and improving collaborations between other disciplines and departments.
I hope that this issue of Vision will stimulate personal reflection on the necessities and benefits of collaboration for excellence in ministry to the beneficiaries of our care, and encourage energizing exchange with colleagues, interdisciplinary partners in care, and all of us on the Board. Together, NACC will continue to address issues that are larger than any one person or group, and achieve a broader purpose than we could ever accomplish alone.
Mary T. O’Neill, BCC-S, is board chair of the NACC and vice president for Spiritual Care and Pastoral Education for Catholic Health Services of Long Island.