Sometimes life is contradictory. One could suggest that in stakeholder collaboration people work together, because they are not strong enough to achieve their goal alone. This surely is true. And yet, without suggesting that everyone in a collaboration has to compete in order to be the stronger, my experience is that the stronger the collaboration partners, the better the collaboration quality. What does this mean in practice?
- If weak parties work together the likelihood of a successful outcome is low
- If parties with severe power differences work together and one party dominates, the likelihood of achieving results is low.
- If all parties are equally strong – and mutually respectful of their differences – outcomes are much easier to achieve.
This insight may appear banal, but in multi-stakeholder collaboration it does present the following important challenge:
Nurturing the strength of each party becomes as important as driving the joint goal.
The moment when all parties realize that they benefit from each party being strong, a shift of mind takes place – they help each other to strengthen. Sometimes this shift reaches an even deeper level. People experience the potential which arises when they can jointly create a better future. This in turn awakens an insight that the strength of each individual is extrinsically linked with- through collaboration of a collective group of actors aiming at improving a situation – the building of the stronger linked eco-system we need for a more sustainable world. Mutual support is therefore a cornerstone for creating change collectively on a broad scale and enhancing a spirit of collective leadership.
When you move into your next stakeholder collaboration – be it simply a team of different actors or an initiative between different institutions – consider the following (and embrace the contradictions):
- Observe the strength and weaknesses of the parties involved
- Think about the source of power of the different parties
- Ponder on how you could strengthen a weaker party – even if you severely disagree in opinion or interest
- Get active – directly or indirectly – in order to: support them, organize support for them, or strengthen their source of power
- At the same time, invite others to challenge their comfort zone – encourage them to move away from utilizing convincing, influencing or compromising, in order to strengthen their positions, and move towards strengthening each other while respecting the differences between each party.
Creating a climate of mutual support, in situations where interests differ, is a powerful tool towards making stakeholder collaborations work.
This blog post looks at the dimension of ENGAGEMENT and zooms into the aspect of CONNECTIVITY and COLLECTIVE ACTION as defined in the Collective Leadership Compass at the level of multi-stakeholder initiatives. For more information on the Art of Leading Collectively, checkout the inside the book and reviews on amazon.com, or get inspired by an onsite course that takes the compass into the daily challenges of navigating complex change.