Jack Eisenhauer
Collaborative Planning Dos and Don’ts
Jack EisenhauerApril 8, 2014

Collaborative planning typically cuts across organizations, disciplines, and geographies and can be very challenging. If no single organization is in charge, chaos may prevail; when one is, the organization may be viewed with suspicion, or worse resentment. Different organizations and disciplines often use different terminology, which hinders communication and understanding during discussions. Differences in cultural norms, levels of knowledge, and even time zone may present difficulties that can slow or derail the planning process.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is recognizing that partners have different value propositions that bring them to the table. This is particularly true in public-private partnerships where each partner’s motivation for collaboration may be different—even if there is a commitment to shared goals and outcomes. Understanding partner value propositions is the key to a successful collaboration.

Despite these challenges, effective collaboration can produce great plans that turn powerful ideas into practical actions. Capturing the collective insight and wisdom of experts from different fields allows a group to tackle complex problems and offer sound solutions, especially where individual efforts have failed. Careful preparation and skillful facilitation are what separates a true collaborative session from a disorganized meeting. The following dos and don’ts will help keep your collaborative planning on track.


  • Clearly state the purpose, scope, and desired outcomes of the planning process and make sure they are understood by all.
  • Define key terms and develop a common lexicon that can be refined throughout the process.
  • Try to discern the value proposition of the partners and look for any hidden agendas that could derail the process.
  • Be explicit about how priorities will be set and decisions made throughout the planning process and watch for anyone trying to game the process.
  • Separate brainstorming (idea generation) from critical analysis for efficient time management.


  • Never solicit input or conduct a consensus process if you are not willing to live with the results.
  • Don’t allow one person or partner to dominate discussions. The facilitator must take charge to make sure every voice is heard – even the silent ones.
  • Don’t ignore the importance of cultural norms in designing and conducting meetings, especially with international collaborations. Learn about the protocols used by your partners.
  • Don’t seek advice on topics that are ill-suited for the participants in the meeting. If needed, use separate meetings or breakout groups to match the right expertise with the topic at hand.
  • Don’t let someone hijack the meeting by withholding information and then revealing it near the meeting’s end. Check in periodically with participants to confirm that all relevant information has been presented.