We can do more together than alone.
It’s true, but hard enough when individuals want to work together. Those challenges multiply when organizations with different motivations want to collaborate. Even actions like identifying goals and determining how to share resources can be complex.
Organizations may agree that a partnership will lead to good outcomes and stronger relationships, but they also may be overwhelmed and uncertain about how to get there.
Rarely is there a one-size-fits-all approach to facilitating these partnerships. Yet there are two valuable elements to keep in mind when gathering people with different perspectives who want achieve a common vision: stability and communication.
Create a system of stability
It doesn’t sound sexy at all, but stability has the power to ensure that completed collaborative work doesn’t get undone.
It starts by building trust among group members. Trust is supported by guidelines of conduct (e.g. be respectful, show up on time, listen carefully, and participate) and guidelines for meetings and communications (e.g. limit discussion via email thread, keep to an agenda during face to face meetings, promptly distribute supporting materials).
Dale Carnegie once said that “people support the world they help create.” You want members to add their voices and share their expertise; it’s why they’re a partner. Building trust gives diverse members of a group ownership to keep specific details, items, and issues moving forward.
Stability also highlights the expertise of group members. It provides opportunities for multiple voices to be heard during meetings and supports a group when responsibilities and resources are shared.
A system of stability is built when a group defines the processes and structures for intra-organization and governance. Especially important is how the group decides to resolve differences. This task can become more difficult as the number of members exceed 6 to 8 organizations. At this size, a hierarchical governance structure and an outside firm (like Reach Partners) may be needed to keep the group and its mission stable.
Financial stability becomes important when resources are needed to advance a cause or policy, or required to create an object, event, or process. In these cases, partnerships can help to maximize resources including funds, expertise, and influence. Long-term financial planning is one challenge of nearly all partnerships. For these reason, groups typically look for short-term solutions, for instance leveraging funding sources like grants.
Communication. Communication. Communication.
Communication supports the momentum of the group and creates a case for collaboration.
What is the purpose of the partnership? What are the proposed outcomes? How does each member organization and participant’s actions move toward that purpose? How does that group’s participation move their own business needs? Questions such as these inform communications, align partners, and help to focus internal and external communication.
Communication techniques, such as storytelling, can bring the group back again to the narrative and goals that hold the group together. Taking time to highlight stakeholders’ motivations (a nonprofit’s mission, a business’s goals, an agency’s role) and the benefits they receive by participating can help to keep the group on task.
An experienced facilitator can understand how to navigate the differences between organizations while carefully pointing out the risks of pursuing the goal alone. An experienced facilitator will encourage collaboration, giving organizations both small and large an opportunity to contribute and share their expertise.
Yes, we can do better together than alone. It takes patience; it takes flexibility. In the end, it is well worth the effort.
Examples of how Reach Partners has facilitated partnerships:
Every great project and event starts with great strategy.
This is why we carefully guide our clients to identify their intent: What do they want to accomplish? How will success be defined? Once goals are determined, we identify constraints, such as time, financial resources, human resources. We think through possible risks and barriers.
We expect that good strategy will save time, money and mental energy. And, of course, everything will proceed smoothly.
Except sometimes it doesn’t.
Surprisingly, one of the biggest threats to a successful project isn’t poor strategy or poor planning: it’s the seemingly harmless fuzzy bunny.
Fuzzy bunnies are well-meaning distractions that keep you from focusing on what needs to be addressed.
Speaking of fuzzy bunnies, when I hear the phrase I picture a small rabbit that my dad found in a field nest and brought to our house one Easter. My cousin Maggie, at age 3 or 4, was visiting. She wore a red print dress with a white overlay and she carefully cuddled that little bunny in her tiny hands. So cute. So adorable.
And so off on a tangent.
The point is that fuzzy bunnies are cute and good and cuddly. The latest, new idea is pretty darn cute, too (or at least some individual or group you are working with will think so). That is a problem when the great idea derails a project or doesn’t align with the strategy.
Fuzzy bunnies come from anywhere. Sometimes it’s the visionary folks who thrive on the big picture who can’t help themselves. They enjoy coming up with lots and lots of ideas and they’re pretty good at it, too. Sometimes it’s the more detail-oriented members of a group who fixate on ideas that won’t actually move the project forward.
We’ve worked with clients who wanted to spend precious meeting time discussing menu items that were too expensive for the budget. We’ve guided teams who kept contributing “great ideas” for programs well beyond the time they could be implemented.
Yes, when managing a project you need to be flexible and nimble. But there’s a difference between changing plans because there isn’t a staff member available and changing plans because a new idea popped up.
Bad ideas, of course, are easy to dismiss. But the good ones?
That’s when we turn to the strategy document. If good strategy work has been done, it is relatively easy to determine whether an idea should be explored or set aside.
A strategy document can be simple or complex, but it can’t be placed on a shelf. Its true value appears when it is kept close at hand throughout the entire project. It can be used to review all new ideas, all new solutions to determine whether the idea is helpful or a fuzzy bunny.
Should you entertain the idea of serving lobster on the lunch buffet? Check the budget in your strategy document. Should you rent a billboard because it’s a good deal? Review your strategy document.
It’s powerful and rewarding to see real and tangible experiences rise up from strong strategy. Even more so, it’s exciting to see strategy used to combat the fuzzy bunnies that rear their crazy heads in midst of shaping a project or event.
Let’s keep the fuzzy bunnies where they belong.
Want help starting the strategy for your next event? Download our free Event Strategy Worksheet.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Blog adapted from 12/2/14 post.
In case you hadn’t noticed, we LOVE the color purple.
Since we began, our Reach Partners identity has been represented by shades of the color. We think purple perfectly represents our values of gratitude, integrity, beauty, possibility, and empathy. Plus, it makes a powerful, but accessible statement.
Which is why we were super excited when Pantone revealed its color of the year for 2018: Ultra Violet.
Each year color experts from the Pantone Color Institute comb the world looking for the color influences that best define our times. This year, those experts chose Ultra Violet because it “communicates originality, ingenuity, and visionary thinking that points us to the future.”
It joins previous Colors of the Year: Greenery, Serenity, Marsala, Tangerine Tango, and Radiant Orchid.
A color may not seem all that important, but it evokes emotions.
What sets Ultra Violet apart from its colorful peers is that it is simultaneously rebellious and calming (or so we hear).
Enigmatic purples have long been symbolic of counterculture, unconventionality, and artistic brilliance, Pantone says. (Think Prince, Claude Monet). The color also has been closely associated with royalty and spirituality (Think Queen Elizabeth II and meditation rooms).
Ultra Violet also symbolizes experimentation and non-conformity while it inspires connection.
Granted, those are deep messages to attach to one color. But at Reach Partners we’re thrilled to be associated with a color that seems so aptly descriptive of the work we strive to do every day.
We’re certainly no Prince or Queen Elizabeth II, but we make every effort to make sure the work we do is individualized and creative, that it opens paths of possibility for our clients. We believe in the power of connections, that together we’re stronger.
On lighter notes, we’re anticipating that there will be lots of ultra-violet-inspired items in stores this year. We suspect we’ll be adding to our décor and wardrobe.
In addition, as lifelong residents of the upper Midwest, we also have to wonder if Pantone was making predictions about our region’s purple-clad football team: the Vikings. Could it be their year?
Either way, go purple!
PHOTO CREDIT: Art by Dean Johnson, Fargo. His work can be found online at Fargo Stuff.
As organizations and businesses seek to market their brand, they often consider hosting events. Both On the Minds of Moms, a parenting magazine, and Onsharp, a digital marketing agency, asked Reach Partners to help them determine what resources they needed to successfully host an event and to help imagine what the event would look like.
The two organizations had different missions and goals, but Reach Partners used the same process to help each business determine the best route forward.
Reach began by asking each business to identify the stakeholders, the people who needed to be involved in the initial discussions. We then facilitated meetings with the stakeholders.
“It was about asking questions and a lot of listening,” Anita says.
Among other details, Reach Partners asked both businesses to consider five W’s and one H: Who would be involved? Who would attend? What did the event look like? When did they want the event held? Where might it be held? Why did they want an event? How would it look and feel?
Reach Partners then developed a strategic guide and preliminary budget for an event that matched the organization’s needs.
“We didn’t tell them what they should do, but helped them determine their goals and objectives,” Anita says.
After receiving recommendations from Reach Partners, Minds of Moms decided to move forward with the event plan and brought its magazine to life with a one-day gathering.
After Onsharp received its recommendations, it decided to not host a full-fledged event. That said, the process was a success.
“Choosing Reach Partners to help us plan our event strategy was a great decision. They guided us through a process that helped us define success, articulate goals, define a budget and identify a venue. It was exactly the information we needed to make a decision about our next steps. We completed the process much more quickly and effectively than we could have done on our own. And, we had fun along the way,” says Kirsten Jensen, who was Onsharp’s director of marketing at the time.
It’s no secret that gratitude is part of our DNA at Reach Partners. That said, the holidays bring new emphasis to something I feel strongly about even when it’s not the season of gifts: the thank you note.
The most important thing about a thank you note is that you send one. Did somebody go out of their way to help you? Send a thank you note. Was somebody a pleasure to work with? Send a thank you note. Did somebody bake you special treats? Send a thank you note.
Nobody can argue with the ease of sending a thank you note by email. And we believe there is value in quick shout-outs of gratitude via Twitter and Facebook.
Yet when it comes to saying thanks, email can’t replace the personal touch or lasting impression left by a handwritten note. It takes time to address an envelope, find a stamp, and deliver it to the mailbox. I believe that effort is noticed and appreciated by the recipient.
Here are some additional tips for writing a meaningful thank you note:
We are big believers in looking for ways to improve ourselves professionally and personally. It’s good for our work, and it’s good for our souls.
It also means we’re big fans of podcasts. And, apparently, we’re not alone.
Podcasts have seen an enormous surge in popularity this year. Each week 42 million Americans, about 15 percent of the population, listen to these digital audio programs. (In case you’re wondering, about 3 percent of Americans go to the movies weekly.)
We understand why podcasts have become so popular. They’re easy to listen to when you’re driving, working out, or even needing a short break from the work day. Depending on the program, you can learn something interesting or be inspired to do better.
As more and more podcasts get produced, it can be challenging to narrow down what programs to listen to. Below are some of our favorites. Some of these are more work-focused, while others expand our horizons in other ways. Either way, we’ve found these all worthy of our time and hope you will enjoy them, too.
What’s your favorite podcast?
The Kindness Podcast: I love to support friends who have delved into the world of podcasts. Nicole Phillips is a champion for kindness who has shared her message in a weekly newspaper column, as an author, and as a public speaker. She recently took her message to a new platform as she shares stories about how kindness has transformed individual lives. Every time I hear her, I am reminded that being kind is simple, yet not easy. – Anita
I find deep wisdom in the words of authors Brene Brown and Danielle LaPorte. Any podcast host who books these women as guests gets my full attention (and adoration!) – Anita
Personal Growth Podcasts
Good Life Project: This project (and its accompanying podcast) is the brainchild of Jonathan Fields, who wears numerous hats including those of author, entrepreneur, community-builder and teacher. In his own words, he sits down with some of the “wisest, most-accomplished teachers, creators and leaders, learning at their feet, then sharing their wisdom …” I have to agree. Every time I listen, I’m inspired to grow and do better. – Anita
Professional Development Podcasts
Zenger Folkman Leadership: I’m a fan of a produced show where there is little banter and opinion, and the topics are well-researched. This podcast fits that definition. Dr. Jack Zenger and Dr. Joseph Folkman created leadership training and development programs based on research for their best-selling book, “The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders.” I always learn something from them. – Rachel
Read to Lead: This podcast came highly recommended by members of the Chamber’s Business Training Committee that I volunteer with. Host Jeff Brown interviews successful and inspiring business book authors. He believes intentional and consistent reading can help to hone leadership skills and advance personal growth. I’m subscribing. – Anita
The Allusionist: This is a podcast about language, and it’s delightful. Expect to learn about topics as diverse as the role played by hyperbolic numerals (zillion and kajillion) and how we use terms that apply to humans on the move. This podcast always stretches my understanding. Bonus: the host has a cool British accent. – Rachel
99% Invisible: This podcast gives us a glimpse into all the thought that goes into the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world. It makes me think about things like “what would happen if we got rid of road signs?” and the role of the U.S. Postal Service. Fascinating listen. – Rachel
On Being with Krista Tippett: I’m new to podcasts, but have always loved examining new concepts and theories. “On Being” explores the big questions: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live? Nothing excites me more. – Sean
Wow in the World: I’m diving into this podcast for my math- and science-loving daughters. The team behind it strives to tell stories that inspire families to use their imagination and follow their curiosity. We love the podcast because it helps us look at the everyday world around us while reinforcing our daughters’ interests in STEAM concepts. – Sean
For us, Thanksgiving is more than a once-a-year celebration. It’s something we practice every single day.
Gratitude is an integral part of who we are at Reach Partners. Collectively and individually, we are thankful for the work we do, the clients we partner with, and the communities we serve.
The past year has been packed with new opportunities and new relationships. It’s been filled with occasions to deepen the partnerships we’ve already made. In the process, we have been blessed and have had a lot of fun along the way.
Here is a sampling of the things we are grateful for in 2017!
What are you grateful for?
One thing is certain when you work on any project: decisions need to be made.
Almost equally certain is that someone will mention the need to build consensus. After all, agreement from more people means better outcomes, right?
Thanks to collective points of view, experiences, and knowledge, a team may be better than any individual at providing different perspectives, brainstorming, and evaluating risks. Yet, group dynamics also can cause errors and indecision, which can affect a project’s schedule, budget, or even overall effectiveness.
Not all groups or decisions benefit from group decision-making. But when group decision-making is needed, consensus is one way to go.
Contrary to common belief, consensus does not mean that everyone agrees. It is not the same as unanimity. Consensus means that everyone in the group agrees that they can support and live with the final decision – even if (especially if!) it is not their first choice.
So, when should you seek consensus?
Your team members trust each other and are committed to the project. Consensus-building is possible among team members who share similar levels of expertise, maturity, and knowledge, especially if they assume equal amounts of risk in the project. The group doesn’t have to agree, but should share the attitude that “we’re all in this together.” If there’s a power imbalance within the group, or there are any number of new members, consensus may not be possible. (It may be more of a consensus arm twist.) You may need to consider different models for decision-making if your project team isn’t cohesive or represents varying levels of experience.
You have a skilled facilitator. Consensus-building does not happen on its own. It requires an experienced individual who manage the conversation and group participation to useful outcomes. It’s helpful if this person is a neutral party. Think of a facilitator as a referee (minus the running) who is guided by practice, reminds everyone of the ground rules and intervenes when someone breaks them. This individual holds the process accountable.
Your facilitator is prepared. Again, consensus-building doesn’t happen on its own. More often than not, the facilitator will need to prepare themselves and the group for consensus-building activities. Prepare a solid agenda, select activities appropriate for the time allowed and the make-up of the group, and get ready for work. Recognize that consensus-building means listening, discussing, and evaluating.
You’ve collected adequate information. Good decisions can’t be made without good information. And, let’s face it, sometimes there’s insufficient information. Consensus works best when the facilitator and/or project manager is able to collect and communicate options or alternatives. Consensus is more likely when data can be gathered so that the group can properly assess project needs, project scope and risks.
Your team has time. If you’re racing against the clock, this is not the time to build group cohesion and work toward consensus. Consensus-building requires time: time to prepare, time to facilitate, time to discuss, time to weigh and eliminate options.
Once you’ve decided that your situation is ideal for consensus-building, the process can still be challenging. Be willing to reach into your toolkit. Use a consensus-building tool to get a team to support a decision:
Building consensus is time-consuming and sometimes uncomfortable, but it’s worth the effort in the right situation.
In what kinds of projects will you try to gain consensus?
We all know that projects take time and effort. Whether planning an event, constructing a building, or installing public art, we expect to spend hours on the project timeline, project budget, and project deliverables.
What sometimes gets forgotten (or even lost!) in the discussion are the people involved or affected by the project, i.e. the stakeholders.
Stakeholders have a degree of buy-in, ownership, or influence over the final product. They’re the people who bring their own biases and expectations to the table. They’re the people who will sing the project’s praises or complain bitterly about the outcome.
In short, they’re the people who will determine the success of the project – and they might not even be involved in the daily work.
So how do you keep them engaged and pleased with the final outcome?
At Reach Partners, we spend a lot of energy connecting and communicating with the people whose opinions can make a project sink or soar. Also known as stakeholder management, this process takes a lot of effort. That hard work pays off as projects keep moving forward and succeed.
Here are some tips we’ve found helpful:
Frequent touch points and empathetic listening are key to building trust; trust leads to happier stakeholders.
Effort spent nurturing these relationships is energy well-spent.
We are big believers that good food, good drinks, and good conversations go hand-in-hand.
Imagine a gathering of friends without snacks or a decadent dessert. Picture the family gathering at Thanksgiving or Christmas without turkey, lefse or a fine wine and egg nog.
Can’t do it, can you?
Neither can we.
This is why a year ago we decided to be more intentional about having in-person conversations with prospective and current partners. We also wanted to insert some creativity into those connections.
Networking lunches and meetings are valuable, but we wanted to do more than meet people. We wanted to build relationships.
And so we began CCC – Coffee, Cheese Plates, and Cocktails.
The concept is straight forward. Every week we set aside time to connect with people – in person. Sometimes that means scheduling a coffee meeting during traditional working hours. Other times it may mean initiating an after-work gathering over a cheese plate and cocktails.
To be clear, we’re not against enjoying other beverages or appetizers (Note: Anita doesn’t even LIKE coffee), but CCC gives us a framework. An excuse to gather, if you will.
One of the great pleasures of doing project management work is that we get caught up in the excitement (and share in the apprehension) of our partners’ ventures. We are energized by the collaboration and connections that happen naturally when you work toward a common goal.
We believe in carrying those connections beyond project management work.
Conversations over coffee, cheese plates, or cocktails give us an opportunity to learn and empathize in a stress-free, safe setting. Relationships can develop and deepen over several coffee connections (and maybe a couple of cheese plates). Time spent together builds trust and true partnerships – those values that are important to us at Reach Partners.
In our world, a cup of coffee is more than a vessel for caffeine. It’s an invitation to get to know each other, and that is something valuable indeed.
So, get to know us. Schedule a get-together with one of us by clicking below. This will take you to our calendar where you can choose a time to meet us for coffee, cheese plates, or cocktails. We look forward to it!
Schedule a CCC with Anita: calendly.com/ahoffarth
Schedule a CCC with Rachel: calendly.com/rasleson
Schedule a CCC with Sean: calendly.com/reachseank/connect