Recently I read a blog post that posited that in order for entities to truly work as partners, they needed to be devoid of any conflicts of interest. To that notion I say hooey! If that were the case no one would ever collaborate. In fact, it's crucial to the process that areas of conflict (perceived, potential or actual) are clearly identified and attended to if collaborative efforts are to succeed. If conflict areas are denied or neglected they are much more likely to sabotage the group's or institution's efforts.
I was reminded of this idea of conflict among collaborators again today in a conversation about how organizations develop an identity, and how they carry out their missions in accordance with that identity. The real challenge for any group of collaborators lies in finding that sweet spot where conflicts of interest can take a back seat to the greater good of the whole. As groups begin working within that safe zone, and trust builds among the parties, some conflicts may evaporate and new opportunities for joint action may open. It's through the practice and habit of collaboration that a culture of collaboration emerges, in spite of any areas of conflict.