The 18th Camel
Collaboration is never easy – especially when the challenges before us are large, complex, or costly.
The reality is that people are not born knowing how to tie their own shoes, much less how to work together effectively through networks and partnerships. Facilitating a collaborative partnership requires a different set of skills than most of us acquire in the normal course of our experience.
Most of the members of your mission network or partnership have probably gained all their working experience and training within individualistic organizations. It should be no surprise that people sometimes struggle to figure out how to engage in large-scale collaboration across organizational boundaries.
This is why it is so critical that each mission network or partnership be led by a facilitator (or facilitation team) who can serve as an honest and neutral broker.
The Role of the Facilitator
What does a network facilitator or partnership facilitator actually do?
They are not “bosses” in the traditional sense. Nor are they mere administrators. No, a facilitator helps the entire group stay focused on their commonly shared goals and find productive ways to work together.
Many times, groups get “stuck” in the “desert of creativity” – going around in circles without any clear path toward fruitful collaboration. It is the job of the neutral facilitator to help their groups find common ground and move forward together. This is sometimes difficult, but other times it is simply a matter of helping people see things from a different perspective.
Here is a story that illustrates this well.
It is a story about a camel.
The Camel Story
Once upon a time, there was man who had 17 camels. When the man died, he wanted the 17 camels to be divided among his 3 children.
To the oldest child, he wanted to leave one half (1/2) of the camels. To the middle child, he wanted to leave one third (1/3) of the camels. And to the youngest child, he wanted to leave one ninth (1/9) of the camels.
The three siblings realized they had a problem.
17 camels cannot be divided by 2, or by 3, or by 9.
They began to argue amongst themselves.
Finally, they decided to ask an old wise woman for help. The wise woman listened to their situation. Then she brought her own camel and added it to the herd of 17 camels.
The three siblings looked at the wise woman’s camel. It was an old and very ugly camel. None of them wanted that camel.
“Now try again,” the old woman said.
The oldest child took one half (1/2) of the 18 camels – 9 camels.
The middle child took one third (1/3) of the 18 camels – 6 camels.
The youngest child took one ninth (1/9) of the 18 camels – 2 camels.
9 camels + 6 camels + 2 camels = 17 camels!
One camel was left – the old and very ugly camel that belonged to the wise woman. They gave the camel back to the wise woman and thanked her.
Finding Their Own Solution
As you can see from the story, 17 camels cannot be easily divided by 2, or 3, or 9. The three siblings could have solved their own problem, but it would have required each one to be generous to the others.
The oldest sibling should get 1/2 of the camels. But 17 camels divided by 2 is 8 and 1/2 of a camel. So, they could decide to round up and give the oldest sibling NINE camels!
The middle sibling should get 1/3 of the camels. But 17 camels divided by 3 is 5 and 2/3rds of a camel. So, they could decide to round up and give the middle sibling SIX camels!
The youngest sibling should get 1/9 of the camels. But 17 camels divided by 9 is 1 and 8/9ths of a camel. So, they could decide to round up and give the youngest sibling TWO camels!
9 camels + 6 camels + 2 camels = 17 camels!
If the siblings had been generous to each other – each rounding up to the next camel – they could have worked out their problem easily. By adding the 18th camel, the old wise woman simply made it easier for them to find their own solution.
The “Rounding Up” Mentality
A partnership facilitator is like the old wise woman in the story. And the 18th camel simply represents a new perspective on a vexing problem. In reality, the solution was simple, but getting to that solution required a “rounding up” mentality of generosity which can be difficult when everyone does not initially share the same point of view.
You may feel that your network or partnership looks a little bit like that old and very ugly camel. But take heart. The true value of facilitators and the networks or partnerships they serve is the catalytic ability to help the whole group see the greater opportunity and greater reward that comes by “rounding up.” In the end, everyone gains and nothing is lost.
When the members of networks and partnerships begin “rounding up” in generosity together is when real breakthroughs start to happen.