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Radical collaboration: Addressing complex challenges for systemic change

Reos Partners
May, 2024


The world faces increasingly pressing global challenges, and collaborative action is more important than ever. To effectively solve these issues, we need a paradigm shift that goes beyond traditional boundaries to bring together diverse perspectives, resources, and expertise for tackling systemic problems. One pragmatic and proven approach to addressing complex challenges is radical collaboration, working together across differences with speed, scale, and justice.

The need to implement radical collaboration is evident when considering the complexity of climate change, pandemics, socio-economic inequality, and technological disruption. These are not isolated problems but interconnected manifestations of a deeply intertwined world. No single sector or organisation has all the necessary resources, expertise, or perspectives to address these issues alone. Progress can only be achieved through the collaboration of diverse sectors.

At Reos Partners, we partner with organisations and communities to address complex challenges and drive sustainable progress through radical collaboration. 

This blog explores the benefits of radical collaboration, its importance, and why we believe it is the key to achieving sustainable progress and systemic change.

Let’s get started: 

What is radical collaboration?

“Radical collaboration is a way of working together with diverse others from across a given system that fundamentally transforms—rather than only superficially reforms—that system, and does so with the requisite speed, scale, and justice. Radical collaboration differs from conventional collaboration in that it involves not only focusing on the good and harmony of the whole but also embracing conflict; not only on agreeing on the problem, the solution, and the plan to implement the solution, but also on experimenting with a way forward; and not only on getting other people to implement the plan but also on recognising and stepping into one’s own role in the system…This approach is “radical” in that it attends to the root of how we are and act as we work together.” - Adam Kahane - Radical Collaboration to Transform Social Systems: Moving Forward Together with Love, Power, and Justice

Why is radical collaboration so important? 

To understand its significance, we must first recognise the magnitude of the challenges we face. Climate change threatens the environment and our economies, societies, and way of life. As outlined in the Radical Collaboration to Accelerate Climate Action—Working Together with Speed, Scale, and Justice guidebook and echoed in Adam Kahane's insights, addressing such challenges requires more than just piecemeal solutions; it demands a fundamental reimagining of how we interact with one another and with the world around us.

The complexity of our global challenges is deeply interconnected, with root causes that extend far beyond any single sector or organisation. To make meaningful progress, we must adopt a systems perspective—one that acknowledges the interdependencies and feedback loops that shape our world. At the heart of this perspective lies radical collaboration.

In a world where climate change, inequality, and global health crises require urgent attention, radical collaboration offers a pathway to harness collective intelligence and resources to help create a more equitable, resilient, and sustainable future.



What does radical collaboration entail?

Radical collaboration is a form of cooperation or partnership where individuals or organisations work together in an open, transparent, and inclusive manner. It involves breaking down traditional barriers and hierarchies to foster an environment of trust, creativity, and innovation. 

The Radical Collaboration guidebook explores seven core practices for radical collaboration. You can actively participate in radical collaboration by intentionally adhering to these interrelated do’s and steering clear of the seven don'ts. 

Here’s what they look like: 




Play your role

Ignore interdependencies

Find necessary allies

Stay comfortable

Build collective power

Force your way

Work your differences

Demand agreement

Discover ways forward

Drive straightforward

Share hopeful stories

Assume common language

Care for yourselves

Keep pushing

Download the guide: Radical Collaboration to Accelerate Climate Action - Working Together with Speed, Scale, and Justice

Key aspects include cultivating trust among stakeholders, encouraging diverse perspectives and contributions, and aligning efforts towards shared goals. Radical collaboration also emphasises continuous learning, adaptability, and focusing on long-term systemic change rather than short-term fixes. 

Ultimately, it requires a shift in mindset towards cooperation, openness, and a recognition that true innovation and progress often emerge from the intersection of diverse ideas and experiences.

What is the difference between conventional and radical collaboration? 

Conventional collaboration operates within hierarchical structures, emphasising incremental innovation and risk aversion. Decision-making often follows a top-down approach, and formal processes guide interactions. 

Radical collaboration, on the other hand, adopts flatter structures, encouraging disruptive innovation and risk tolerance. It challenges existing norms, often leading to significant changes. Informal networks facilitate collaboration, prioritising flexibility and adaptability over rigid procedures. 

While conventional collaboration maintains stability, radical collaboration drives transformative change by challenging norms and embracing risk.

Approaches to radical collaboration

A graphic illustrating the difference between conventional and radical collaboration. Source: Reos Partners 

Why radical collaboration is the key to sustainable progress

To understand why radical collaboration offers a sustainable solution to overcoming systemic problems, we need to understand why operating in silos is not an effective method for problem-solving. 

Research highlights that silos are known for “disastrous outcomes, such as delays in decision-making, duplication of resources, poor service delivery, failure to resolve cross-cutting “wicked problems” and difficulties in collaborating with non-governmental actors.” - Scott, I., Gong, T. Coordinating government silos: challenges and opportunities

Whether it's climate change, poverty, or healthcare disparities, these issues transcend the boundaries of any one sector. Therefore, attempting to resolve them through isolated efforts often results in fragmented solutions that fail to address the root causes or achieve lasting impact. 

For instance, addressing climate change solely through environmental policies neglects its interconnectedness with economic systems, social dynamics, and technological advancements. 

Moreover, single-sector approaches can inadvertently perpetuate or exacerbate existing disparities. Without considering the broader context and engaging diverse stakeholders, interventions may unintentionally marginalise certain communities or neglect crucial aspects of the problem. 

This narrow focus not only undermines the effectiveness of interventions but also hampers progress towards sustainability and equity. “Recognising these drawbacks, there have been increasing demands to dismantle siloes.” - Scott, I., Gong, T. Coordinating government silos: challenges and opportunities

In contrast, radical collaboration harnesses the power of diverse perspectives and fosters a rich exchange of ideas, expertise, and resources. This cross-pollination of knowledge and skills enables a more comprehensive understanding of complex issues and opens up new possibilities for action. 

Diverse perspectives serve as a catalyst for creativity and innovation, challenging conventional wisdom and sparking novel approaches to longstanding problems. For example, addressing urban poverty requires not only housing solutions but also considerations of education, healthcare, employment, and social support systems.

In essence, radical collaboration offers a transformative approach to addressing systemic challenges. It transcends the limitations of single-sector efforts and harnesses the power of diversity to drive sustainable progress. 

As we confront the complex and interconnected issues of the 21st century, embracing collaboration across boundaries becomes not just desirable but imperative for building a more equitable, resilient, and sustainable future.

Common barriers to radical collaboration and how to transform them into opportunities

There are a few common barriers we often face when engaging in collaborations; the key is transforming these challenges into opportunities for meaningful conversation and change. 

Let’s take a look: 

  • Lack of trust: Trust is fundamental to collaboration. Without it, individuals and organisations may hesitate to share resources, information, or ideas openly. 

    • How can you foster trust? You must establish transparent communication channels, facilitate open dialogue, and honour diverse perspectives.

  • Communication: Effective collaboration relies on clear and open communication. Misunderstandings, language barriers, or communication breakdowns can hinder collaboration efforts.

    • How can you create open and clear communication? Prioritise active listening, encourage questions and provide language support where needed. Establish clear communication protocols, such as regular meetings and shared documentation.

  • Cultural differences: Cultural diversity can enrich collaboration by bringing different perspectives and approaches to the table. However, it can also lead to misunderstandings, clashes in values, and difficulties in finding common ground.

    • How can you make sure diversity is achieved? Ensure diversity in radical collaboration by actively seeking out participants from various cultural backgrounds. Foster an inclusive environment where all voices are heard and valued and establish ground rules for respectful interaction.

  • Unclear goals and roles: Ambiguity regarding the collaboration's objectives and the participants' roles and responsibilities can lead to confusion, duplication of efforts, and inefficiency.

    • How do you set clear goals and roles? Define clear, measurable goals aligned with the primary objective and visit these regularly. Hold collaborative sessions to clarify roles, responsibilities, and expectations. 

  • Differing perspectives: Nikhil Dugal of Reos Partners, says this: "One primary challenge that most collaborations face is understanding how to work their differences. There is often a different set of perspectives and experiences that different stakeholders bring to each challenge, and they often fail to be able to leverage this difference as an asset for their collaboration.”

    • How can you navigate differences? It's essential to pay attention to how we participate in discussions and listen to others as they share their experiences and viewpoints. Engaging in reflective and generative dialogue, and being aware of the communication mode we're in, can significantly improve the quality of our conversations.

How to listen effectively

A graphic illustrating the four ways of talking and listening. Source: Flip the Clinic 

Key takeaways 

Radical collaboration offers a transformative approach that goes beyond organisational boundaries, nurturing trust and embracing diversity to confront intricate issues head-on. By dismantling silos and embracing collective wisdom, organisations can drive sustainable progress and instigate profound systemic change. When approached with humility and compassion, radical collaboration becomes a potent force for driving meaningful transformation.

How can you engage with Reos Partners to help initiate radical collaboration? 

To learn more about our approach and how we can support your project or organisation, contact us directly to discuss potential collaboration opportunities. Together, we can make progress on complex challenges. 


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