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Early Lessons on Collaboration Experiment
Partner Engagement, Value Proposition, Self-organizing, Use of Technology and Content Strategy
“You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.” – Michael Jordan
I recently came across that quote and it really had an impact on me. To learn, you have to be willing to take risks, experiment, and take shots, even when the odds are against you. For the last couple of months, I have been part of a collaborative research initiative that is focused on experimentation and learning. Launched in 2009, Leadership for a New Era (LNE) is a three-year initiative focused on promoting leadership approaches that are inclusive, networked and collective. Through LNE we are partnering with key innovators in a variety of fields to produce short publications, assessment tools, and resource directories in four focal areas. While we still have much ground to cover – and many more lessons to learn – this has been a fascinating journey for me and one that has taught me a lot about working collaboratively and modeling the type of collective leadership that we want to promote. The lessons span from content to technical and process areas, and I want to share some of them here to help shed some light on the topic of collaboration.
- Know your audience and engage your collaboration partners early in the process
We worked closely with the partners to produce a much more targeted and powerful piece that will help leadership programs address issues of leadership and race. We didn’t make the first shot but that first draft was a start, and it allowed us to identify gaps and challenges that we needed to address in order to move forward. In the end, the content was clearer and more compelling than it had been in the original synthesis. This early experiment taught us two things: 1) we should engage our partners early on in the process to collectively identify the focus and audience of the piece and 2) we should have a clear vision of our audience and tailor our message for that audience. We have started to apply these learnings to our work on the second focus area, “Leadership and Networks.”
- Define and communicate your value proposition
This became clear to me as I was sitting in a planning meeting for the next meeting on Leadership and Race. As I was listening to the team brainstorm ideas for the design and goal of the meeting, I suddenly had the feeling that I was not really connecting to the meeting, its goals or purpose. Then, one of the participants, in a moment of clarity, articulated the simplest yet powerful way of explaining why he, a grassroots organizer in the field of racial equity, was participating in LNE. He said (and I am paraphrasing) that he joined LNE and the planning team because he wants the research to come from a more grassroots perspective; from the actual issues and questions that emerge on a daily basis for people on the ground. He said that most of the current research is largely academic and not based on what it means to deal with issues of leadership and race on a practical level. This simple affirmation brought me back to the room, reconnected me with the issue and energized me to continue promoting LNE because yes, we do want the research to come from real people, real issues.
Having a clear value proposition for each stakeholder, and communicating it in simple terms, is a must in the collaborative process.
- Encourage and support members to self-organize
While collaboration may take longer to take off, I believe the product that comes out of the process is often much more powerful than what comes out of a more top-down, traditional approach.
- Use technology wisely and provide proper training
With this in mind, we launched a wiki-based website to support LNE where anyone can register, add ideas or discussion threads, and contribute resources to the directories. We use this website as an important tool for advancing the work and centralizing the knowledge and people involved, but we also host face-to-face events to engage people on a more personal level. We have learned that technology can significantly scale our efforts and reach a greater audience, so we continue to invest in improving the information on the site and encouraging members to participate and join the site. We now have over 100 members and many of them have shared resources and engaged in conversations with other members. We know that some people are more comfortable with technology than others, so we hold introductory webinars to explain the technical features and also try to give a short training during our face-to-face events.
We still have a long way to go, but providing people with guidance and training is one element of any collaboration strategy that cannot be overlooked.
- Identify and leverage messages that resonate
Here are some of the ideas and questions that have resonated with participants:
- Connection between racial equity and leadership:
- “One of the things I was really struck by is that my organization does racial justice work and that’s part of our mission, but we have a Leadership Academy which is separate from the other work that we do, and we never stopped to make racial equity part of the mission of our Leadership Academy and so that was big for me – to get that I needed to start there.” (Bay Area Learning Circle participant)
- Focus on collective leadership:
- “I was really excited to see the focus – and LLC typically has this focus – on the collective nature of leadership. I think recently we started to move from an individual focus to a collective focus and I think that is absolutely critical when we are talking about issues of race.” (Bay Area Learning Circle participant)
- “Leadership is about a process that is not limited to one individual.” (Seattle Learning Circle participant)
- Leadership and Networks (Boston Learning Circle participants):
- “Networked, inclusive, collective. Changing the face of leadership development.”
- “There are no leaders in a network – just opportunities for leadership [interesting perspective].”
- “The most productive networks operate at the edge between organization and emergence.”
What other things have you experimented with in collaborative projects? What have you learned from your successes and mistakes? We would love to hear your stories!
Author: Natalia Castañeda
Source: Leadership Learning Community Blog
Latest page update: made by nataliallc
, Aug 4 2010, 4:01 PM EDT
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