Sometimes life suggests contradictions. On could suggest that in stakeholder collaboration people work together, because they can’t achieve the goal alone. This is surely right. And yet, without suggesting that competition in collaboration is helpful, my experience is that the stronger the collaboration partners, the better the quality of collaboration. 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 achieved.
This may come across like a banal insight, but it places a challenge in supporting multi-stakeholder collaboration.
Nurturing strength of each party becomes as important as driving the joint goal.
The moment the different parties realize that they benefit from all being strong, a shift of mind takes place – they help each other to become strong. Sometimes this shift reaches a deeper level. People experience the potential that arises when they can jointly drive a future for the better, for a world in which building the strength of the individual is inextrinsically linked with the building of collaboration eco-systems of a collective group of actors aiming at improving a situation. Mutual support is 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 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 – support them, organize support or strengthen their source of power
- Invite others to challenge their comfort zone – encourage them to move from convincing, influencing or compromising to strengthening each other with respect for difference
Creating a climate of mutual support in situations of differing interests is a powerful tool to make stakeholder collaboration work.
Find out more about leadership as the capacity of a collective in sustainable value chain.