Building Bridges

wooden bridge

Late last week, I met with a group of nonprofit leaders to explore how we can best be of use to our communities in the aftermath of an intense, draining season. We asked, “How might your organization and community be impacted by civil unrest and intensified civic stress? What will your communities (clients, donors, neighbors) be looking for from you?”

This group has been meeting regularly under the leadership of the Montana Nonprofit Association since COVID-19 hit in the spring, and our trust has deepened as we’ve navigated uncertainty together. The conversation was a delicate conversation among colleagues who respect one another’s differences in experiences, political viewpoints and regions of the state.

We discussed our commitment to build bridges between people with unmet needs and those with resources to meet them; between our missions and new leadership in the state; between those who have no voice, and those who can elevate the voices of those with the deepest needs and most barriers.

Unspoken is a commitment that no matter who’s in the room, we can bring respect and we can anchor our work in community.

Continue reading “Building Bridges”

Illuminating Collaborative Leadership

On cultivating mindset and aligning intention for effective community change


This blog is based on a workshop I conducted at the Montana Nonprofit Association Resolve 2020 virtual conference.

What’s the “secret sauce” of effective collaborations? A great logic model or grant source doesn’t guarantee success. Too often initiatives fall short of their original aspirations. Collaborative work is at its essence a human endeavor, and underlying most success stories are people who intentionally cultivate the work.

What do we mean by mindset?

Our mindset is the collection of underlying assumptions, beliefs and habits of mind that influence how we think about our life and work. Picture the popular iceberg metaphor, in which all the things visible above the surface – our plans, goals and measurements – are being influenced by things that lie below the surface: our assumptions, fears of failure and fears of success, our beliefs about how things work, about other people and their motives and agendas, our sense of self-worth. These things form our mindset.

Being aware of our mindsets, and “mindful” of others’ is critical to growing our own collaborative practice. As a facilitative leader, I’ve found tools to help nurture the collaborative mindset within teams. Here are some of the ingredients in my “secret sauce.” Continue reading “Illuminating Collaborative Leadership”

Expanding Your Circle of Influence

Blue vector winter sunshine in mosaic glass window

Like many of you, I’m reaching out to friends and colleagues to help me better understand the scope, dangers and opportunities of COVID-19. A recurring worry that we share is, “Are we doing enough? How can we balance the need to get up every morning to do what we can, with a sense of the insignificance of our efforts within the enormity of this crisis?”  

It reminds me of circles of concern and of influence, popularized by Stephen Covey. I wrote about this idea a few years ago:

Circles of concern are things we care about, from global warming to the choices our grown children make and the upturn or downturn of the economy. It’s the “stuff” we read in the paper, or watch on the news. Circles of influence are the things we can actually impact or affect – how we respond to an impatient coworker, whether or not we participate in a volunteer project, how much time we take to dig deeper and connect more dots in our work.”

Continue reading “Expanding Your Circle of Influence”

To Be of Use

Deb’s kitchen sink

Last night, after the Governor of Montana declared a shelter in place for our state, I took a picture of my kitchen sink and posted it on Facebook with the caption:

“Hello beloveds. This is where I do my daily schmata*: washing dishes, worrying about our world, replenishing my family… How about you? Where do you tend to what needs to be done?”

It may seem odd to share a photo of something so mundane, and to invite a glimpse into others’ homes and hearths. Especially on social media – a platform that feeds on the brighter side of life – the family vacations, job promotions, kid awards and recent weight loss.

And yet, as COVID-19 upends our lives, it is to the rhythms of daily life I turn for solace. I’m reminded that when you take away all the self-induced busyness we’ve built into our lives, it’s the day-in-day-out acts of washing dishes, sweeping floors, feeding the dog and calling a neighbor that define our humanity, that give us purpose and use. Continue reading “To Be of Use”

Welcome to the Party! How to onboard new collaborative partners

Welcome neon sign on brick wall background

This blog was originally published by the Collective Impact Forum.

If collective impact efforts have any certainties, one surely is the ever-revolving (one might hope ever-evolving) door of community partners coming to the table. Our efforts for inclusivity, the reality that multisector coalitions invite instability as people leave jobs and new people come in: it’s inevitable that we will be regularly onboarding new partners.

How do we invite in new faces without disrupting the focus and momentum of the team? I’m often asked this as I coach collective impact efforts. Here are a few strategies that seem to work.

Build Context

If you know someone is joining the collaboration before they attend their first meeting, make every attempt to grab a cup coffee – in person, through Zoom – to talk through the history, the current work and where you’re heading as an initiative. Visuals can really help. One of the best visuals I’ve found is a journey map, which is developed by the team and can be used to orient incoming partners. Talking through the journey map gives new players critical context for the work. Invite the new partner to add their story to the map to continue to evolve the collaboration’s shared understanding of the work. If you can, invite another team member join you over coffee to help tell the story, build relationships across organizations, and position the backbone less as a gatekeeper and more as a weaver. Continue reading “Welcome to the Party! How to onboard new collaborative partners”

Helping build what we own

When working with groups, I like to begin with Margaret Wheatley’s observation, “People own that which they help to build.”  It neatly sums up the monumental shifts that can occur when we embrace a core truth of community building:

Engaging community in the process of change work is fundamental to design, impact and sustainability.

This is hardly new news. Practitioners of collective impact regularly strive to engage community in their work. We get the why of engagement – it’s the how of community engagement that presents challenges.

A few things first. I encourage teams to think of community as an ecosystem of people, organizations and patterns of interactions. I ask them to “get up on the balcony” to see the network of patterns and behaviors, ways that people, businesses and organizations navigate their community. This allows teams to see where they can leverage existing momentum, and where to anticipate roadblocks. Continue reading “Helping build what we own”

Planting Seeds of Change

Close-up of dandelion seeds on blue natural background.

This past winter was long, cold and hard. Weather compounded challenges with projects struggling for lift-off and slow starts to new endeavors.  Let’s just say springtime renewal is most welcome. Here’re a few things I’ve been learning along the way.

What Critical Shifts Do We Seek to Make?

Successful community change efforts need three things: a framework, principles and practices. (This is based on the good work of Tamarack Institute, which I blogged about recently.)  As a facilitative leader, I am always on the lookout for tools to help groups do their work deeply, efficiently and (hopefully) joyfully.

One of my favorite tools is CoCreative Consulting’s Critical Shifts, which helps a group prioritize actions to most powerfully move toward their goal.  I recently used Critical Shifts to help a newly forming civic engagement network design their year one workplan; a local early childhood coalition name missing partnerships; and a regional emergency preparedness team begin to identify a common agenda for a collective impact initiative. Continue reading “Planting Seeds of Change”

Pointers from Planet Earth

A wee structure sits atop my work desk, crafted out of clay. It’s two structures, actually: a lozenge-like disc depicting Planet Earth, and a nice, cushy blue couch with an overstuffed pillow. The outcome of a craft session with my daughters when they were young, Planet Earth lounges peaceably on the couch, taking a break from the hard work of being, well, a planet.

I keep Planet Earth on my desk for several reasons.

First off, she reminds me to spend each day doing my best.  Life is short, we only get so many runs around the sun, yet the needs of our planet and our peoples are tremendous. Seeing her provokes me to prioritize the high-leverage, impactful things on my daily list of To Dos.  To help me choose between tasks, I have long-relied on the Eisenhower Matrix, which Steven Covey popularized in his seminal time management book, First Things First. The matrix helps to organize tasks by urgency and importance. I’ve used it throughout my career to help me focus on important activities before they become urgent.

Seeing Planet Earth tucked into that cushy couch also reminds me to pace myself. Continue reading “Pointers from Planet Earth”

Building a Bigger Loom

weaving work

In a recent NYT column, David Brooks describes our current times as a war with two sides: those who sow division and discord in our communities, and those who nurture attachment and connectivity. “It’s as if we’re witnessing this vast showdown between the rippers and the weavers,” he writes.

Lest we feel too quickly our own superiority, Brooks observes that we are all part of the problem. We each struggle with overwork and a radical individualism that leaves us little time to know our neighbors. We are insulated from people who vote differently, dress differently, and use different words to express similar feelings of isolation, fear and concern for our future.

There are many more weavers than rippers, Brooks writes. There are more people who yearn to live in loving relationships and trusting communities, but they need strategies to strengthen their awareness and skills. Continue reading “Building a Bigger Loom”

A Jar Full of Jellybeans

close up of colorful jelly beans in a jar

I love walking into a room of people who want to make a difference in their community. Moms, doctors, elders, elected officials, teachers; people who are new to the work sitting with people at the height of their career. The range of experience and knowledge excites me. I’m confident that together they will yield new insights and approaches, and forge friendships that last beyond the project.

As a facilitator, I believe my best service to the work is to help draw out what I like to call the “wisdom in the room” – the inherent, sometimes dormant, intelligence that emerges when people feel safe, share freely, reflect on what they’re learning, and make choices on how to move forward.

It turns out that my belief that a group of people can be more insightful, more intelligent, than any one person, is more than just a belief. It’s also got some science behind it. Continue reading “A Jar Full of Jellybeans”