It’s Not Rocket Science: Ten Guidelines to Successfully Work Across Sectors

By Abigail Faylor, Vice President, Panorama  

We all nod in agreement when we hear someone say we need to collaborate more. But turning this aspiration into action isn’t as easy as it sounds. This is especially true if you’re trying to get people from different disciplines or sectors – who don’t think or operate in the same ways – to work together.

But progress can be made.

One great example I’ve seen recently is the Bridge Collaborative. This unique partnership between The Nature Conservancy, PATH, Duke University, and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) consists of people who are determined to find common ground across health, environment, and development. And their ethos resonates with many other like-minded communities, such as Planetary Health and One Health.

I deeply believe that cross-sector collaboration is the only way we are going to overcome the global challenges we face today.

This is common knowledge – hence the SDGs – but the practical application of this can be stymied by the everyday routine. For example, I have heard again and again from people who are passionate about change and have influence and resources within their organizations, but still can’t seem to make significant progress internally due to deeply entrenched silos and norms.

So, how can we change this?

I recently joined the Bridge Collaborative partners and other leaders of health, environment, and development organizations to discuss this very question. What we came away with wasn’t rocket science. Instead it’s more about determination and common sense.

Here are ten guidelines to help motivate holistic thinking and action within an organization and beyond:

  1. Change starts with yourself. Be willing to be transparent with your colleagues and leaders. Share and learn from mistakes.
  2. Be creative and industrious. Find ways to take action now. Then seek out the people or parts of your organization that may have more flexibility to adopt new ways of thinking or acting.
  3. Take time to understand your internal stakeholders. What motivates them? What is behind their resistance to change? How can you leverage these factors to make progress?
  4. Find common ground. Acknowledging links between sectors and appreciating each other’s expertise is vital, even if doesn’t result in complete buy-in.
  5. Mission and vision statements matter. Refine or refresh your organizational or programmatic ‘north star’ to recognize that cross-sector action is critical to affecting change.
  6. Build the case for cross-sector action. Leverage all successes, small and large. Tailor evidence to influence decision makers, internally and externally.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Constructively challenge each other to increase efficiencies and effectiveness.
  8. Identify and understand barriers to cross-sector collaboration. Established norms, scarce and siloed resources, and power imbalances are all significant challenges to overcome.
  9. Cultivate diverse, unlikely partnerships. These strengthen the cause and send a powerful signal to decision makers.
  10. Stay committed. Keep chipping away at silos. Every bit counts.

Solving the huge, complex global problems we face today demands a holistic approach. To continue making socioeconomic gains, building on the successes seen over the last two decades, we must break down silos and act together.