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Do we all need to agree?

Working in coalitions can be both rewarding and exhausting, especially when it comes to deciding how we move forward together. Since we are focused on helping people work better together, it is easy to think that we need everyone to agree on everything in order to move forward. However, this can be particularly challenging and doesn’t always work well in practice.

Here are 3 reasons why I don’t think it’s necessary for us to all agree, particularly when it comes to priority setting.

  1. Limited resources. As a coalition or partnership, particularly focused on health, in order to build consensus and make everyone happy, we may fall into the danger of saying yes to everything.  This may temporarily make everyone happy and we can all agree but in practice, there are not enough staff, volunteers or other resources to devote to doing everything at once. Several years ago, we developed a lung cancer network.  When we tried to decide on our focus area, we had a lot of difficulty making a decision because there was a need in every area from prevention to early detection and survivorship. Rather than selecting one area, we decided to select four areas.  While this was agreed upon by everyone, in practice, it has been very difficult to simultaneously work on four areas at once so we have had to focus on one or two areas at once and then connect folks to resources in the other areas.
  2. Limited capacity.  Most people who are involved in specific coalitions either represent organizations that have an interest in the topic or they are personally passionate about the topic – or both. When a coalition focuses on too many things, both staff and volunteers grow weary and can easily become burned out. They find themselves always attending meetings, always responding to emails and struggling with whether they really have the time or energy to devote to this collective work. Although coalition members often have tremendous passion and energy, they are usually volunteers in their role in the coalition. When the work becomes more like a second or third job because we are trying to do everything at once and see everything as important, our best coalition members can become weary, tired and burned out.
  3. Limited impact. If you are trying to address many needs at once, you may not be able to address any of them well and your ability to make an impact is reduced. As a coalition, it is very difficult make a choice on one or two areas because there are often so many good options and passionate voices reminding you how important it is to focus on their priority area.  When I first starting working with cancer coalitions, we were trying to address all areas in some way. While this is noble and each area has value, we were not able to really make a measurable impact in any area.  We realized that as a coalition, if we were going to really do more together than we could on our own that we would have to focus.  When we focused (at the time it was colon cancer screening), we pooled our resources and efforts and were able to make a significant impact. More people than ever are being screened and fewer people are being diagnosed with colon cancer or dying from colon cancer.

So what about you?  Have you found it difficult to move forward in your coalition or team because you are trying to be sure that everyone agrees?

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