Shifting Focus: Moving from Events to Collaborative Change Processes


Good conversations change the way people think and act.

When people acknowledge each other as people it becomes easier for them to overcome their differences.

Yet many leaders are more focused on events and publicity than the slow and challenging task of consensus building. This is often because the complex environment of a collaboration process can feel threatening to many participants. And when threatened, the most normal human reaction is often to criticize the process or content (when one is not in charge) or to tighten control (when one is in charge).

It does not sound comfortable does it?

And the larger the project, the more abundant the conflicts, disagreements, vested interests and vast difference in skills, perspective and cultures can be. On the other hand, events and marketing often have more manageable linear planning processes and outcomes. As a result leaders often feel more comfortable with regards to their ability to control events and marketing than their ability to bring together groups of people who do not yet know or trust each other.

Containing the uncontainable

In fact, consensus building is sheer hard work especially when many different expectations need to be met.

A solid process architecture – the design of the overall preparation, implementation and review process for a collaboration initiative – is a way to contain spoken and unspoken expectations and includes a sequence of informal as much as formal communication events such as one-on-one engagement conversations, small workshop and larger events that bring stakeholders together into structured conversations designed to lead to a desired outcome.

Only well designed collaboration leads to the envisaged outcomes.

Building trust, keeping participants informed, showing appreciation for expertise all contribute to success. When people see what will happen when, who has which role and takes over which responsibility, they can relax enough to move forward in a consolidated way.

Each little step is therefore important.

A guiding structure helps to prevent chaos, but allows enough freedom for the different forms of communication that collaboration requires.

Envision the process architecture as a guiding structure, almost like a balustrade that keeps a complex set of actors relatively stable and within an action frame which everybody understands.

When people feel contained, yet free they are able to think together and work toward with increasing ease.

Engaging our differences

When we collaborate we can not ignore the differences between people.

Instead collaboration invites us to transform our differences into progress.

We are therefore better off getting the ‘hot spots’ on the table as soon as possible, understanding how a system of actors operates and seeing where the lines of conflict are as well as where alliances can be found.

Understanding our differences is a prerequisite for our next step – consensus-building. When we understand the why and the how of each other’s differences we are also able to see the story and the logic behind each other’s positions. At the same time, there is also always a common ground that we can access. Acknowledging our shared humanity allows us to meet our differences with more ease and openness.

Recognizing both our shared humanity and our differences open a pathway to at times compromise, and at times find a better and new solution.

Jointly we create our future

We build the future by living the future now.

Ghandi’s philosophy that “we need to be the change we want to see in the world” carries a deep truth. This means as leaders, we need to operate – right from the start – in exactly the way we would like each collaborating actor to operate.

In addition, every step in a collaboration process needs to reflect the future we want to create. Keep the agreed-on goal high on the agenda. When conflicts arise it is our emotional connection with a goal which brings us people back on track.


A compass to guide us

What can we do when we are in an environment where people focus on public events and don’t understand our talk about process, cohesiveness, dialogue or relationship building?

We can introduce the Collective Leadership Compass as a quality check for good process design. Using the dimensions and aspects of the Compass allows us to uncover and share design concepts which point to all the necessary elements of successful collaboration.

When we start designing roadmaps for high quality collaboration processes, we can use a compass to more consciously plan both the structure and open dialogue needed to take us further.

Here are some questions we could ask in order to engage with each dimension:

FUTURE POSSIBILITIES: Live the future now

  • Is the purpose of the participatory strategy development clear to everybody?
  • Do we sufficiently empower people to participate in creating a joined strategy?
  • Is the outcome clearly defined and are the implications transparent?

ENGAGEMENT: Creating a strong container and, engaged networks

  • Have we designed a solid process architecture that makes it clear to everybody how the strategy will emerge?
  • Have we built a cohesive system of actors with the necessary expertise and do they feel sufficiently acknowledged?
  • Have we created circles of engagement that allow people to work on concrete results – leading up to the final draft strategy?

INNOVATION: Creating Expertise as needed

  • Do we bring in new and creative ways of seeing or solving the current challenges, or overcoming differences?
  • Have we ensured that best practices and up-to date scientific and experiences based knowledge informs the strategy development?
  • Are we prepared to take the risk of not being able to control the outcome?

 HUMANITY: Building resonance

  • Do we understand the sensitivities of certain stakeholders?
  • Do we know what people are passionately about and do we take this into account?
  • Do we plan dialogue settings that allow different stakeholders to understand each other’s viewpoints?

COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE: Inviting collaborative conversations

  • Do we plan dialogue settings that allow stakeholders to move toward a culture of thinking together?
  • Are we aware of all differences and conflicts among stakeholders?
  • Have we built a structure of iterative learning into our process design?

WHOLENESS: Finding our common ground

  • Have we taken the wider national and international context into account that influences our strategy?
  • Do all participating stakeholders feel sufficiently supported to contribute?
  • Do we communicate how the strategy will contribute to our societal and the global development?

My next blog will focus oninvigorating the quality of collaborative change initiatives. Don’t miss it!

This blog post looks at the dimension of ENGAGEMENT in the Collective Leadership Compass and zooms into the aspect of PROCESS QUALITY, specifically at the level of collaboration systems – what helps to create a spirit of collective leadership. It shows how to zoom into one aspect and invigorate the entire compass.

Categories: Engaging stakeholders authentically and Living the six capacities of Collective Leadership.

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