The goal of my focus project is: To co-create a vision with my grantees and a funder partner that takes our collective work together to the next level. Ultimately, I hope to develop a new investment strategy for my program based on that united field-funder vision.
So for homework, I asked three people the following questions:
What is the best experience you have had getting multiple organizations to work together on a common vision (or project)? What made it great?
I had some great diversity in my group of three outstanding women – one was an environmental activist, another a consultant running a broad multi-state reproductive justice initiative, and the last helped a large network of California schools develop common reform principles and a shared learning culture over a period of 6 years. The last person happens to be my accomplished mother-in-law : )
As I think about my own attempt to get my grantees to work more closely on a shared vision, several important reflections came up:
- People need to feel a sense of ownership over both the process to get to the vision and the content of the vision. They need to come in at a point where things aren’t already baked. One person said they didn’t invite partners to a “pre-determined outcome” but rather asked people to co-create something that everyone could get excited about.
- The impetus of all the groups coming together was a set of shared values – they all really cared about what they were doing and could align on values, even if not on exact policies or workplans right from the start. One person mentioned how critical this values alignment has been in the face of conflict or challenge to keep the group together.
- At the same time, collective planning processes only get you so far. One person noted how important it was to take the values, principles, and brainstorms of a broader group and have someone step up and lead by putting a plan on paper and getting people to react to it. Trying to write the plan collectively was frustrating and catered to the lowest common denominator.
- In the 6-year process, there was a LOT of evaluation, feedback loops, and learning opportunities and people were encouraged to take things out of weekend retreats, go back to their work environments and try things out, then return to the group and share what worked but also what didn’t. This created an important culture of learning critical to the project’s success. To encourage learning, group work was very well documented so that participants could keep building on progress, and keep tweaking their vision, goals, and practice.
Points 1-3 I have thought about before and it was great to be reminded of them right at the start of my own project. Point 4 is something I haven’t spent much time thinking about and I think it’s absolutely crucial to my success (it’s also very resonant with the principles of Bootcamp!). To accomplish my goal, people will have to change the way they work and change takes time and it takes practice. It made me realize just how long and involved this process will be and that a 2-day retreat could be a great kick-off, but to accomplish the goal, we will need a community of practice that is constantly experimenting, trying new things, and coming back to the group to process, learn from each other, and design the next experiment. This requires a lot of time, commitment, and passion for what we’re doing. We’ll have to see if that appetite really exists.
Last along these lines, I loved this quote: “the lightbulb doesn’t have to turn on for everybody at the same time”. The process has to allow space for people to “get the bug” for this work on their own timeline. And what better way to get people bought in than by seeing positive real-world results when they experiment with some of the principles the group is devising together.
Your insight around time for learning and your lightbulb quote (which I love as well) reminds me of a conversation I had with Diana Scearce a few months ago. We were commiserating about the hardest part about creating a learning organization, which is getting people to take the time to reflect and process with each other. We were talking about this in an organizational context. Your task is much harder, because you’re dealing with a network, where you have far less (traditional) control.
I think your lightbulb principle is critical in terms of setting expectations. If you’re goal is to get everyone to care equally about or to devote the same amount of time to this learning process, you’re going to fail.
My question for you is: How can you accelerate that lightbulb process? What lessons can we learn from in-the-moment learning?
One idea I’ve been playing with (and that I’m wanting to incorporate into bootcamp) is a learning dashboard, where you track people’s progress in an open way. It’s employing game mechanics to encourage people to share their insights and to take time to reflect. Not 100% sure yet what that might look like in practice; would love to hear other ideas!