Collaborating With the Universe


I am lucky to live and work in Montana, which means I get a lot of drive time. Unlike my city-dweller friends, drives in Montana include mountain passes, buffalo herds, and irregular access to gas stations. Trips between towns can easily exceed three hours, and so podcasts are a welcome addition to the books-on-tape and agriculture talk shows that help pass the time.

One of my favorite podcasts is On Being with Krista Tippett– a show that explores the big questions of meaning in modern life: What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? And who will we be to each other? Two recent podcasts – one with Nobel physicist Frank Wilczek; the other with author Elizabeth Gilbert– tapped  my own ponderings about the work I do: What does it mean to be a “community builder,” a collaborator, someone who believes not only that good is possible, but that good is our natural state of being? Continue reading “Collaborating With the Universe”

Feeding the Light

My teen daughter is going through the anxieties and insecurities we all remember from those coming-of-age years. Adding to the stresses of her life are the much-noted amplifying effects of modern living: social media, 24-hour news cycles and the dehumanizing pace of an unbalanced world.

Modern culture has given my daughter and her friends heavy labels (bi-polar, ADHD, suicidal) to describe their teen tumult, and violent narratives to exacerbate their anxieties. All of this is very scary. I want kids to grow up grounded, resilient and strong.

It reminds me of discussions I have with colleagues around the country who are reeling from the daily onslaught – school shootings, “fake news,” a sense of loss in the promise of our collective endeavor. How, we wonder, can we stay grounded, resilient and strong when so much draws us into the chaos? Continue reading “Feeding the Light”

Community Narratives

This fall I logged over 1,000 miles traveling to towns in western Montana to talk about community, on behalf of the Headwaters Health Foundation, which sought to engage communities in the design of their strategic plan.

At each meeting, we asked participants – healthcare and mental health professionals, educators, local government and nonprofit organizations – to describe the strengths their community brings to tackling challenges.  These strengths included a history of working well together, having local organizations with the vision and capacity to lead change, and local projects that make a difference. Continue reading “Community Narratives”

Collaborative Frameworks

This blog was originally published by the Tamarack Institute.

Earlier this month I participated in a workshop on collaboration at a gathering of several hundred grantmakers, hosted by Philanthropy Northwest. During the session, Collaborative Exchange, I presented on Graduation Matters Montana, a public-private initiative that resulted in record-breaking high school graduation rates.

As I was preparing for the session, I was reminded of a Tamarack Institute talk in which Liz Weaver and Mark Cabaj described what effective change efforts have in common. There are three things, they posited: (1) a framework; (2) principles; and (3) practices. How, I wondered, could I describe our work raising graduation rates, based on Weaver and Cabaj’s insights? Continue reading “Collaborative Frameworks”

Build your team like Broadway

This blog was originally published by the Collective Impact Forum.

Building a steering committee or leadership team for a collective impact initiative can feel high stakes. When done well, it opens the door to innovation and impact; when done poorly it can dissipate precious time, commitment and enthusiasm for the endeavor.

Whenever I build a leadership team, I like to think about Broadway. Not because we all need a little razzle-dazzle once in a while, but because recent research on teams, networks, collaboration and creativity has learned a lot from show biz. Continue reading “Build your team like Broadway”

Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

Have you ever heard the maxim, “Work like you don’t need the money, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like nobody’s watching?”  You’ll see it on greeting cards, fridge magnets and Facebook memes.

I like the notion. It makes me think of having the freedom to be myself and to find joy in living. Friends of mine can attest that I’m often the first on the dance floor, and I have experienced great heartache yet now share a deep love with my husband.  It’s the first phrase, “Work like you don’t need the money” that’s been the hardest for me to grasp. Continue reading “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching”

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

clothes line laundry

This blog was originally posted by Tamarack Institute.

I recently attended an extraordinary conference hosted by the Tamarack Institute. I met wonderful, warm and interesting people, the workshops I gave were well-received, and to top it off, my mother came to see me present and she was very proud of me. Really: I couldn’t imagine a better work week.

As I was flying home, relishing my experience, I thought: “Uh oh… After the ecstasy, comes the laundry. Time to prepare for the crash.” And sure enough, the following week was one of the roughest since starting my own business, with self-doubts and obstacles blocking my way at every turn.  How predictable. Continue reading “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry”

Data is More Than Just a Four-Letter Word

This blog was originally published by Tamarack Institute.

I recently spoke with a very experienced, very frustrated community organizer. She had just come back from a meeting with a funder who repeatedly admonished her to provide measurable evidence that her project is making a difference.

“For me, data is a four-letter word,” she stated, only half-joking. “Some things we do aren’t easy to measure or prove, but I know they work, and I’m not going to stop doing them just because I can’t measure them!”

I can relate. Though a lifelong community builder, I have often avoided the data question. Continue reading “Data is More Than Just a Four-Letter Word”

Building Trust for Collaboration

This blog was originally published by Tamarack Institute.

“Do you trust me?” Jack asks Rose in the movie, Titanic.  Jack is holding Rose by the waist so she can lean over the bow of a massive ship to experience what it might feel like to fly. Had Rose replied “No,” or had Jack been untrustworthy, the movie would’ve ended there. Luckily, there was trust, and so we all experienced something beautiful.

If, as Stephen Covey said, “Progress moves at the speed of trust” – the practice of developing and fostering trust is essential to any complex endeavor.

I recently facilitated a discussion with child care providers who asked, “How can we build trust with kindergarten teachers?”  Too often, trust between child care providers and kindergarten teachers breaks down. “All you care about are the ABCs,” a child care provider might say. “All you do is babysit,” a kindergarten teacher may respond. Who suffers most in this Continue reading “Building Trust for Collaboration”

100 Cups of Coffee

This blog was originally published by Tamarack Institute.

Before launching a new initiative, I often advise groups to have “100 Cups of Coffee.” Not to be confused with the popular Futurama Frye video clip, 100 Cups of Coffee is a way to understand the complexity of an issue, build relationships with key people and organizations, and discover opportunities for synergy.

For instance, I was recently asked to design a statewide collective impact initiative to advance early childhood learning. Even though I have over 20 years’ experience launching complex initiatives, I approached the project with a “beginners mind” – resisting set assumptions about what is needed, or what will advance the cause. Continue reading “100 Cups of Coffee”