The Balancing Acts of Collaboration

February 9, 2011 Leave a comment

|Photo by Vvillamon||

In a recent article in Administration and Society, Sonia M. Ospina and Angel Saz-Carranza consider how it is that leadership in multi-organizational networks carries out vital balancing acts.  On the one hand, they consider ways to navigate the internal tension between creating unity and honoring diversity among stakeholders.  On the other hand, they look at how the balance is struck between confrontation and dialogue when doing outward-facing work. The source of their insights are the experiences of two urban immigration coalitions in the United States.

By way of summary, to successfully address paradox in the context of balancing unity and diversity inside the network, Ospina and Saz-Carranza observed leadership doing the following:

  • nurturing and facilitating member interaction
  • paying attention to personal relationships
  • fostering openness and participatory processes

With respect to the external balancing act between confrontation and dialogue, Ospina and Saz-Carranza highlight these behaviors:

  • maintaining credibility by representing the voices and needs of those most directly impacted
  • working at multiple levels – local, state, national
  • cultivating multiple relationships

While the paper lifts up some of the core behaviors for successful collaboration, I am also interested in pulling out the key underlying skills (or “handrails” as we like to sometimes call them), which seem to align with much of what we teach at IISC, including the ability to:

  • Listen as an ally to the needs and desires of stakeholders core and peripheral to the network
  • Facilitate shared visions, new thinking, alignment, and agreement building
  • Balance multiple dimensions of success, including relationships, process, and results
  • Seek maximum appropriate involvement in decision-making
  • Design pathways to action and processes that fully engage diverse stakeholders
  • Recognize others’ contributions and accomplishments

Just as Ospina and Saz-Carranza have found, there is a balancing act inherent to each of these practice areas, including managing the tensions between structure and openness, deliberation and decisiveness, listening and advocating, etc.  It is exciting to see how these research findings reinforce the timeliness of the collaborative capacity-building that IISC does day in and day out with our partners in social change.  If you are interested in learning more, please consider these upcoming opportunities to do so:

Pathway to Change workshop in Boston, March 22-24

Facilitative Leadership workshop in New York City, March 31-April 1

And happy balancing to all!

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