Yes to Collaboration, But How?

Like a broken record, progressives have repeated for years that we need to work together and coordinate beyond our traditional divides and “silos.” It is common knowledge. Yet after all these years, effective collaboration, where the whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts, is the exception rather than the rule.

Meanwhile, the stakes have increased. More now than ever, the complex and interconnected challenges we face require us to work together in new ways. People and the planet urgently need concerted action from every corner of our society.

An artifact from a recent convening about how to start effective networks, summarizing what the participants learned together. The video at the bottom of this post describes this product in more detail.

An artifact from a recent convening about how to start effective networks, summarizing what the participants learned together. The video below describes this product in more detail.

Last month we shared some inspiring examples of unusual allies working in greater collaboration and alignment across progressive movements. While promising, these collaborations present real challenges for leaders who often need to learn new ways to build relationships, alignment, shared strategy, and organizational and campaign structures with diverse constituencies.

We are not taught these skills and practices in school or in most jobs, or even in most traditional leadership development efforts. Mainstream North American culture values competition over cooperation, and that shows up even in the progressive sector.

The great news is that there are some very smart people working to figure this out and they’re sharing their learning. One of our roles in this space is to partner with willing leaders and connect them with tools, methodologies and practitioners to accelerate their practice towards ever more effective collaboration.

Here are just a few of the folks who are moving the ball forward:

Eugene Kim is uncovering the muscles and mindsets for collaboration and is convening network leaders and consultants to unpack and share their learning.

STP advisor and consultant Idelisse Malavé recently introduced a group of cross-movement leaders to Emergent Learning maps; a technique that supports groups to reflect on their experiences and test strategic assumptions together.

Curtis Ogden at IISC is facilitating multi-year network projects while consolidating and sharing his learning through IISC’s blog.

Joe Hsueh uses systems mapping to help groups answer questions like “How is my success depending on your success?” and “Might there be a deeper shared aspiration that can bring us together?”

Beth Tener is a network facilitator and organizational consultant sharing her learning through her blog.

Facilitator and writer Adrienne Maree Brown has developed a handbook on emergent strategy, much of which was developed in and through the Allied Media Conference.

Rick Reed and Ruth Rominger of the Garfield Foundation are demonstrating ways that funder-grantee networks can work together better and increase their impact.

Beth Kanter is a prolific blogger and thought leader focused on digital networks, and author of The Networked Nonprofit.

Madeleine Taylor, Peter Plastrik, and John Cleveland wrote an important book, Connecting to Change the World, with an accompanying blog. Their site has a great list of network resources.

The Garfield foundation, with Eugene Kim as facilitator, recently convened their second workshop for network practitioners, where people from across the social change sector shared best practices and swapped tools. This gathering was part of my inspiration for this post. The focus of the convening was “the art of the start”: the scoping, trust-building, shared analysis-building phases of creating collaborative networks.

Here is a snapshot of the learning from that convening:

We’ll continue to share our insights and learning as we go, and would love to hear from you. Tell us in the comments, what are you learning about networks and collaboration? Who are you working with? What resources are you finding useful?