Blog: Britany Affolter-Caine

Talk is easy. Putting weight behind your words is another matter. Take it from Dr. Britany Affolter-Caine, a half-marathoner and director of Intern In Michigan, an initiative to attract and retain college graduates through internship opportunities. Britany discusses how Michigan's educational, economic, and business stakeholders have moved past the chatting stage to actively join together in collaboration.

Post 1: Talking Collaboration, Singing Kum-Ba-Yah... And Now the Work Begins

Recently I was asked what was my biggest lesson learned over the past
year, and I responded that it was my surprise at how much closer we in
Michigan are to truly collaborating. In past blogs, (writers) were
calling for leaders and organizations to consider collaboration, to
seriously talk about regionalism, and to align and leverage the many
assets across independent organizations for a common goal – to
transform southeast Michigan and the state as a whole. And then this
dialogue took root and our esteemed organizations and their leaders
began to initiate collaborative ventures to address the problems of
economic development, research, education, and talent retention.

Intern In Michigan falls into the latter category and involves a large
and ever-expanding network of collaborators across Detroit and Michigan.
Everywhere our team goes, we hear people's excitement and willingness
to participate. It gives us all a tangible satisfaction to have a
program to address a common problem, and an opportunity to work outside
the lines of our individual organizations for a greater good – for the
possibility that we could collectively make a difference.

We realize that we cannot work in isolation, and we recognize the
contributions of other efforts to launch internship tools to serve
students and Michigan. We operate with the understanding that so many
organizations and individuals have been working towards the same
objective – to retain and attract talent – all of whom should be
welcomed into a collective effort. In the development of a smart
resource for connecting talent and employers through internships and an
interest for ease of use for users, we are actively seeking engagement
of organizations across the state to utilize a single database and
matching tool. The win-win is that each participating organization will
receive recognition as an individual organization promoting internships
and talent. As one might imagine, much of our time and effort is devoted
to developing relationships and building collaboration across the

The bottom line is that never before have leading organizations been
willing to consider, discuss and initiate collaboration as a means of
transforming Detroit and the state – a critical first step in doing
collaboration and realizing transformational change. The implication,
however, is that there is much hard work to come in doing collaboration.
In other words, saying it ain't doing it.

For example, earlier this year I decided to run a half-marathon. It
would be my first, and it took much time and lots of thinking to
determine whether or not this should be something I invested time and
effort into doing. Once the decision was made, my friends congratulated
me, I got excited, and I wrote up a lofty training plan. Weeks went by
and I did not execute that plan, but felt confident that given my background as an athlete and coach, I could skate through it. My husband, an
experienced marathoner, challenged me (okay, bugged me) about not being
serious about achieving my goal. Finally, I started seriously running.
Some of these runs were euphoric while others were humbling (to say the

I found that regularly I had to recommit myself to my goal –
it wasn't enough to have made the commitment when I registered for the
race, but to make the decision to run a half-marathon every time I got
out of my comfort zone or it interfered with my other plans. I found out
that saying it ain't doing it.

This is true of all inter-organizational collaborations, including
Intern In Michigan, where we struggle nearly daily to recommit ourselves
to the collaborative process that challenges our identity, leadership,
expertise, and purpose.

It is true that people would not engage in collaboration unless they have
no other options. The reasons for this barrier relate to the incredible
investments of limited resources (e.g., time, money, autonomy) and the
relative risk incurred. Inter-organizational collaborations are high risk
joint ventures where the failure rate is estimated to be between 30 and
60 percent.

There is an entire body of research out there that looks at why
organizations collaborate and what the positive and negative impacts are
of collaboration. There is less known about the how to collaborate – a
process-based inquiry that is challenging to track and study; but it is
the how that can provide organizations with a road map through an
uncomfortable, challenging, and anxiety-laden process for which most
organizations have no prior experience.

Utilizing the blogs of others (e.g., Kurt Metzger, Roger Gullickson,
Kyle Caldwell) who laid the foundation for a collective dialogue about
collaboration as a regional strategy for addressing the challenges that
we face, I will lay out five basic ingredients to the collaborative
process that are common across successful inter-organizational
collaborations: engagement and participation; development of common
purposes, mission, and vision; leadership; linking mechanisms; and
dispute resolution mechanisms.

In the next blog, we will look at these ingredients. The third blog will
look at fitting it all together and developing a takeaway. It is my intention to illuminate the difficulties and challenges inherent in actually doing inter-organizational collaboration and provide greater understanding of the five
basic elementsthat are common across successful collaborations. These
are certainly not the only five, but provide a start to our immersion in