Posted in Collaboration

December 10, 2009

To Love Is To See

In the abyss I saw how love held bound

Into one volume all the lives whose flight

Is scattered through the universe around.

Dante Alighieri, from The Divine Comedy

“What’s love got to do with it?”  This is a question that gets raised with increasing frequency in our work at IISC.  Recently, while training a group of health care reformers from around the state of Maine, I presented what we call our “Profile of a Collaborative Change Agent,” which outlines the core attributes of those who, in our experience, are able to maintain a win-win outlook even in the most trying of circumstances.  Sitting conspicuously at the heart of the Profile (see below) is “the L word.”  Nodding heads and knowing smiles, in Maine and elsewhere, are an indication of the growing willingness to seriously consider the role of love in social change work. Profile Read More

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December 1, 2009

Three Lenses for Collaboration

The Interaction Institute for Social Change is a vibrant place, a real learning community; we are always seeking to be on our learning edge.  Our internal strategic process has led us to wonder how to define ourselves for this new era without necessarily losing our 16 years of experience and the power of our proven collaborative methodology.  A couple of things have become even more clear through this process.  It is clear to us, to our clients and partners in the work of social transformation that collaboration is what we do.

We might be working with a single organization or a group of organizations, we may be designing a learning event, a high level facilitation or a citywide change process, but whatever it is that we are doing – collaboration is at its core.  We help people come together and work together.

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November 23, 2009

Collaboration and Merger are Not Synonymous

There is a dangerous and ultimately very confusing trend emerging in our sector. In the wake of the financial meltdown and its impact on funding, foundations and others are proposing organizational mergers and strategic alliances as a solution to the problem. The danger is that they are calling this “collaboration” and giving collaboration a really, really bad name!

For many years at IISC we have been trying to overcome what is often the very bad taste left in people’s mouths after some horrendous experience that they have had in a poorly executed and therefore failed collaboration. In many cases these were marriages forced by foundation funding or coalitions of individual organizations coming together but unable to detach from their own identities and agendas.

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November 18, 2009

Art for Social Change

I’ve been hearing a lot about collaborative art projects, including some that are happening right now in Boston (the location of one of IISC’s two offices). So wanted to write about one amazing project happening right now. Thanks to my neighbor Judith Leemann, I heard about a collaborative art project Mel Chin and Operation Paydirt have been creating to make safe lead-contaminated soil in the US.

Upon hearing that 86,000 properties in New Orleans are estimated to have unsafe lead contamination – and at least 30% of inner city children are affected with lead poisoning, Mel Chin started working. He learned that it would take $300 million to remediate the soil in New Orleans. Thinking he couldn’t raise that kind of money, he decided to make $300 million through a collaborative art project called Fundred, take it to the US Congress and ask for funding to remediate the soil. And so he has created Fundred, through which Operation Paydirt created blank templates for Fundred dollar bills. People are designing their own Fundred Dollar Bills, mailing them to Collection Centers to be counted and securely held – and they are then being taken by a special armored car to Congress, who is being asked to do an even exchange for funding to remediate the soil in New Orleans.

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November 16, 2009

Collaboration R Us

Recently I was asked for a quote about the messiness of collaboration. In response to the request, I noted that because at IISC we are “Collaboration R Us” we tend not to think about the messiness of collaboration (though we do view messiness as part of any emergent and creative process).  Rather we focus on the elegant design and facilitation that will ensure success. The quote that I submitted is the following:

“Collaboration takes more than well-meaning people with good intentions coming together to determine a set of outcomes. Successful collaboration requires solid process design and skillful facilitation. This is what builds the scaffolding for multiple and diverse stakeholders to create a shared vision of impact, agreement on goals and strategies for achieving that impact and a plan for collective action. The process itself is what catalyzes the critical shift of mind and heart from believing that the right answers and expertise are held by a few to an understanding that it is the collective wisdom of the group that determines right action and greater impact.”

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November 5, 2009

Means and Ends

One of the core models of IISC’s practice (for both our training and consulting work) is something we call the R-P-R Triangle, which basically makes the case that success in collaborative efforts is a multi-dimensional affair, not solely defined by “results” (goal or task accomplished), but also by “process” (the way or spirit in which work is carried out) and “relationship” (the quality of the connections between the people engaged in the work).  Our Executive Director, Marianne Hughes, has called this “the spine of collaboration,” suggesting that if we are not thinking in terms of all dimensions, we are not really serious about seeking win-win solutions with others.  And indeed experience really proves that these dimensions are intimately linked and dependent upon one another when diverse stakeholders come together to realize a shared vision.

RPR chart

A twist was given to this triangle the other day when a Facilitative Leadership workshop participant said he was struggling, not because he did not find value in this notion of “multiple dimensions of success,” but because of his concern that even in this model, process and relationships might appear to be subservient, or the “so that,” to results.  He went on to say that he is part of an organization/community in which relationships are really paramount.  They are an end in and of themselves and in a way synonymous with results.  How then, do we account for this in this model he wondered. Read More

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October 29, 2009

The Design of Experience: Fun

Thanks first of all to Margaret Benefiel of Executive Soul for turning me on to this video.  It times beautifully with a lot of thinking, writing, and experimenting we’ve been doing here at IISC about/with the power of design, and specifically the design of experiences that can change behavior and bring out the best in individuals and groups.  Check out this clip from The Fun Theory, an initiative of Volkswagen, that aims to show that fun is one of the best ways to change behavior for the better.

In the collaborative leadership trainings we do, inevitably we get to a point where people talk about the dry, frustrating, “deadening” and even pointless meetings and gatherings they often attend.  Many are at a loss for what to do.  One response on my part is to ask, “What has brought you to life at meetings that have been particularly engaging?”  And when the answer comes, to say, “Do that!”  If it brings us to life, there is a good chance it will do the same for others.  To paraphrase innovation guru Marty Neumeier, in order to “focus minds and intoxicate hearts” many more of us will need to think and act like (process and experience) designers.  So what are you doing to throw a little fun into the mix?

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October 22, 2009

Accentuate the Positivity

Been looking for the answer to unlocking your group’s/team’s potential?  Look no further than a complex chaotic attractor!  According to researcher Marcial Losada, this is what underlies the dynamics of high performing groups and produces novel and outstanding results.  Integral to chaos theory, a complex chaotic attractor, when it emerges in a group, is what leads to innovation, bringing a system to new levels of insight and possibility.  The question is how can we create the conditions for the attractor to emerge?

Losada has an answer, based on intense observation and statistical analysis of high and low functioning groups.  What he has to say has an interesting parallel to what we at IISC have been pointing to as essential elements of the facilitative leader or collaborative change agent who is able to effectively tap into the participation of others.  The core elements we have listed in our “Profile of a Facilitative Leader” include being:

  • collaborative (interested in working with others, seeking win-win solutions)
  • strategic (keeping one’s eyes on the big picture and different possible paths of action)
  • receptive and flexible (actively soliciting others’ ideas, changing course when necessary)

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October 20, 2009

The Unconference

I’m writing from the Opportunity Collaboration, and anti-poverty convening in Ixtapa, Mexico.  It has been quite an experience and while we are working with powerful content, I want to write about process.  This has not been a conference!  About 260 delegates have been convened in a beautiful resort to tackle the problem of poverty from a relatively diverse set of approaches and outlooks, ranging from philanthropy to micro-finance, nonprofits and other social ventures.

Groups of 20 delegates come together 2 hours each morning in what has been titled the Colloquium for the Common Good.  This is the common conversation we are having throughout the convening as we are invited to reflect on our values and why we do this work.  I have been honored to serve as facilitator for one of these groups and I am quite impressed by the depth of our conversations.

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September 24, 2009

Putting “The People” in Philanthropy

Shadows

We had an interesting conversation during last week’s Engage for Results session at the Donors Forum in Chicago.  IISC has been partnering with Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) to offer this two day skill-building session to foundations interested in strategies for engaging stakeholders in their grantmaking.  This offering grew out of GEO’s Change Agent Project, which revealed the strong interest on the part of nonprofits to be in deeper relationship with funders in order to achieve greater impact.

On the first morning, I shared some striking results from a 2008 GEO survey of attitudes and practices of foundations in the United States.  Specifically, less than half (49%) of those foundations surveyed indicated that it was important for their organization to seek external input.  Among GEO membership the number was higher, coming in at 78%.  However, the survey also showed that overall only 36% of respondents actively solicited feedback from their grantees.  That strikes as quite a discrepancy between stated beliefs and actual practice.  So I turned to the workshop participants for reactions.

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September 24, 2009

Putting "The People" in Philanthropy

Shadows

We had an interesting conversation during last week’s Engage for Results session at the Donors Forum in Chicago.  IISC has been partnering with Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) to offer this two day skill-building session to foundations interested in strategies for engaging stakeholders in their grantmaking.  This offering grew out of GEO’s Change Agent Project, which revealed the strong interest on the part of nonprofits to be in deeper relationship with funders in order to achieve greater impact.

On the first morning, I shared some striking results from a 2008 GEO survey of attitudes and practices of foundations in the United States.  Specifically, less than half (49%) of those foundations surveyed indicated that it was important for their organization to seek external input.  Among GEO membership the number was higher, coming in at 78%.  However, the survey also showed that overall only 36% of respondents actively solicited feedback from their grantees.  That strikes as quite a discrepancy between stated beliefs and actual practice.  So I turned to the workshop participants for reactions.

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September 18, 2009

The Rat Trap in the Farm House

A few months ago, while attending the 95th session of the Hampton University Minister’s Conference, I heard my most favorite preacher of all times, the Rev. Dr. Claudette Copeland use a brilliant illustration that got me thinking about systems thinking, networks and collaboration. I will surely integrate this illustration into my consulting and training practice, and recount it herewith for your enjoyment and cogitation: Read More

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