When leading coalitions and partnerships, sometimes getting groups of people to work together happens fairly easily and other times it seems impossible. Since our coalitions and partnerships involve passionate people with different perspectives and personalities working together, there are many potential barriers, obstacles or challenges that may prevent us successfully working together. As a coalition or partnership leader, I want to help you figure out ways to recognize and overcome your most common partnership pitfalls. Join me this week as we highlight 10 partnership pitfalls that may be preventing your coalition or team from working better together.
- Unclear purpose. You want to do a lot of different things and address many different needs; however, you are unclear about the specific purpose for your coalition, partnership or team. You may have a very broad mission but have not clarified your specific purpose.
- Overcommitted. If you are leading a coalition, there are likely many more needs than you, your staff and your coalition can meet. Part of the reason you are doing this work is because you want to help people and make a difference. You may be overcommitted if you are finding that you cannot follow-up on your existing commitments, if your staff and members are feeling overwhelmed and if you are trying to address multiple priorities at the same time.
- Unrealistic expectations for coalition members vs. staff. Most coalition members are serving as volunteers with the coalition. Although some members will be more involved than others, most of the work to keep the coalition progressing toward its purpose and priorities come from paid staff. If you are finding that only a few people are responding to your requests or your coalition members are not following through with their coalition commitments, you may have unrealistic expectations for coalition members.
- Unclear roles and responsibilities. If you are working in a coalition with like-minded organizations, it is easy to encounter competition among the organizations and confusion about roles in the coalition. If you are unsure what you want your coalition members to do or if you are experiencing competition among organizations in your coalition, you may need to clarify roles and responsibilities.
- Self interest vs. group interest. In order to attract organizations to be part of a coalition, there need to be clear benefits for each organization to participate. However, If specific organizations consistently focus on their own organizational interest above what is best for the entire coalition, then the coalition will be unable to effectively work together.
- Taking credit vs. sharing credit. In coalition work, it is particularly important to share credit. If specific organizations attempt to take credit for the coalition’s collective work, it creates conflict and competition within the organization. If you have specific organizations taking credit for collective success, it will be difficult for the coalition to keep working together effectively.
- Overselling and under delivering. Although this can be similar to #2, Overcommitted, there is a slight difference. As a coalition, we can be overcommitted, which leads us to overselling and under delivering; however, this pitfall focuses on what is communicated. When you are communicating that a toolkit or a resource will be available in one week but it takes four weeks, that is overselling and under delivering. When you agree to develop specific deliverables but you do not have the right staff or capacity to do it, that is overselling and under delivering. In coalition work, it can be tempting to try to please everyone and promise more than you can deliver; however, it can lead to trust issues and lack of engagement.
- Under Communicating. Communication in a coalition is critically important. Even though we can be easily overwhelmed by emails, if there is infrequent and only occasional communication, the coalition members will lose interest and engagement. It can be easy to communicate so frequently with a small group working on a specific project that you forget to communicate with the larger group. Even though you may be sending email updates to the larger group, if they are not part of small or large group conversations, they may not feel connected and engaged.
- Letting the loudest voice(s) get their way. In every coalition, you want passionate champions who can provide leadership, inspiration and energy to accomplish the collective goals and objectives. Sometimes, these passionate champions can be very loud and insistent on their way. If “their way” aligns well with the coalition interest overall, that works well; however, when “their way” diminishes other coalition members or is not aligned with the overall coalition’s perspective, this can be problematic.
- Unresolved conflict. Since coalition work involves working with people, there will always be conflict. 🙂 Conflict can be helpful, healthy and can help the coalition make better collective decisions. Unresolved conflict can be very destructive to a coalition and can erode trust and engagement. Conflict may be related to coalition decision-making, priority setting or among member relationships. If no one is willing to talk openly about the conflict, you likely have unresolved conflict.
After looking at this list, reflect on which partnership pitfalls your coalition may be encountering right now and join me for the next ten weeks as I provide ideas and action steps to help you address and overcome these partnership pitfalls.
So what about you? Which partnership pitfall have you experienced the most in your coalition or partnership work?
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