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The Art of Collaboration
by Sandra Trice Gray

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Working together may require structural changes to how we lead.

In his paper, "National Renewal," John Gardner, Miriam and Peter Haas centennial professor of public service at Stanford University, California, and chairman of the National Civic League, Denver, writes: "The process of collaborative problem-solving may be set in motion by any influential individual or group within the community. But once initiated it is best kept in motion by leaders of a particular kind. They are facilitators who see themselves as guardians of a process ? a continuing conversation among disparate, sometimes hostile participants ? an interaction that builds trust and credibility. They bring all stakeholders to the table, teach them to work together, energize them, and then keep them motivated through the difficult periods. They do not seek to control the substantive outcomes of the discussion."

In my own mind, it should be relatively easy for association leaders to bring all stakeholders together. We are associations, after all, because we have decided to associate. But most of us would benefit from an occasional reminder about the basics of successful collaboration. What follows are several suggestions for establishing a framework for association executives to practice cooperative leadership in their organizations.

Reduce hierarchical boundaries. Begin by deploying functional staff teams within your association to break barriers created by hierarchical systems. Invite staff members from other affected departments or divisions as you facilitate a team process that secures input. While there still may need to be a bottom-line boss, creative teamwork is most effective when staff members are on equal footing for idea generation and problem solving. The value you place on all employees, regardless of compensation levels or status within the organization, will pay off in big contributory dividends.

Break staff-board barriers. Solutions will come less and less from individual leaders or from one domain of the organization. Purposely design cooperative activities among staff members and volunteer leaders. Embrace intra- and inter-association learning opportunities. Even individuals from organizations outside the association or those considered competitors are potential stakeholders and team players.

Motivate, motivate, motivate. Motivation occurs when people are praised and/or rewarded for their ideas and are shown that they are valued for their ideas and are shown that they are valued for who they are and for their input. You can ensure that this occurs through the group?s discussions and activities by employing motivational techniques as part and parcel of the group?s modus operandi.

Don?t seek control. If you follow the previous suggestions, your outcomes should be well thought out, carefully created, and maximally tested by the variety of stakeholders involved. While it may be tempting to steer things in the direction you think they should go, if the appropriate parameters are set, all things will be considered in the final outcome, including the concerns that you, as a member of the group, will need to address.

If we can deliberately share power with our co-workers and colleagues, if we can challenge and motivate them to join us in sincere collaboration, and if we can meet more of the needs and demands of a larger number and type of stakeholders, then our organizations will grow and change as the 21st century will unmercifully demand.


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