Lessons from a Collaborative Partnership

September 16, 2010 Leave a comment

|Photo by DownTown Pictures|http://www.flickr.com/photos/raylopez/485753391|

Last month I was asked to present to the Children and Nature Network’s Grassroots Gathering in Princeton, New Jersey, along with Ginny McGinn of the Center for Whole Communities.  We were invited by a common acquaintance who knows both our respective organizational work and our recent collaborative endeavor in developing and offering a training entitled Whole Measures: Transforming Communities by Measuring What Matters Most (the next public workshop will be in Boston from November 16-18).  Both IISC and CWC work to build the collaborative capacity of social change endeavors, albeit in slightly different and complementary ways.  The topic of our presentation was “Collaborative Leadership,” and what became core to our joint plenary address was the story of our own partnership.

From my first visit to CWC over two years ago and a rich conversation with Peter Forbes while overlooking the Mad River Valley, it seemed certain that we would work together at some point.  Now I have a tendency to want to make things happen, at times forcing the issue and getting frustrated when progress is not immediate.  In this case, this was not the case.  I knew something would happen when the moment was right.  That was my first take away from the success of this collaborative partnership, and it is one of the lessons Ginny and I shared with the audience in Princeton.

So from our experience, what contributes to a strong collaborative partnership?

  • Make it easy, take your time. Making initial investment (of money, time, or other resources) too heavy can be daunting and also lead to action that is ill informed.  It took three low pressure meetings over the course of a year to get to the point where we really felt ready to explore more actively how we might work together.
  • Create opportunities to learn from one another. Ginny came and took a Facilitative Leadership workshop at IISC.  Ginny and Peter have shared the content of their Whole Thinking workshop with IISC.  By doing so, we came to a shared understanding of what we each do best and how we might complement and connect with one another (and others) to create more value.
  • Enable distributed leadership (or let your people network and create!). Though we are not the formal titular head honchos, Ginny and I have carried this project forward with the blessing of our respective organizational founders and been honored for the passion we each have for this partnership.
  • Be willing to allow yourself to be changed. Ginny and I have each talked about how we have learned from one another’s practice and adjusted our own practice as a result.  In particular, I have incorporated elements of CWC’s strong emphasis on storytelling and dialogue into my training and consulting practice.  This willingness to be permeable surely is what contributed to the creation of a novel presentation (including co-designed content) in Princeton.
  • Build a foundation of trust as a platform for taking risks. I think we would both acknowledge that there are potential perceived organizational risks associated with engaging in this partnership.  Will one benefit more from the other in terms of follow-up requests for consulting?  Will the marketplace find it difficult to differentiate our approaches and/or see us as competitors?  Speaking personally, the deep trustful relationship we have developed to date makes those risks pale in comparison to the greater value we know we stand poised to offer the social change field together.

And as always, interested in your thoughts and experiences on this front.

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