The care and feeding of coalitions

Too often, the resources invested in assembling and engaging a group of stakeholders is wasted when the coalition ultimately withers from neglect or the accretion of miscommunications. Here are five simple steps for maintaining such groups as focused, energized partners in achieving your goals:

  1. Define – and maintain – a win-win outcome.  Having a mutually acceptable goal or outcome at the start helps ensure that everyone understands and sees progress when it’s being made – or to raise a flag when things stall. The outcome doesn’t have to be whether or not a project is built, for example. It can be as simple as agreement on the decision-making process or outputs. 
  2. Respect – the rules.  Coalitions only work well and consistently when there is mutual respect. Since that doesn’t always exist naturally, it helps to create formal rules for how members will interact with one another. Think of it as another form of etiquette. As such, the value of such rules (regarding how we talk to one another, when we talk, etc.) goes beyond the impact of individual guidelines.  Collectively, they built a habit of mind in which we first think of others as valued equals rather than obstructive others.
  3. Celebrate progress and success.  People want to know that what they’re doing has value and meaning.  Even small acknowledgements of progress can be powerful fuel for a coalition’s continued work.
  4. Seek out constant feedback. Informal check-ins and formal feedback can help you take the pulse of a coalition, monitor its vital signs and diagnose symptoms of emerging problems. Always ask a lot of questions of a coalition’s members, collectively and individually. Never refuse an opportunity for constructive criticism and, when you do, be fast about addressing issues or problems brought to your attention.
  5. Deliver solutions.  Ultimately, the surest way to maintain your coalition as an effective forum for achieving your goals is to continually deliver fully on each and every commitment you make to it.  Service builds trust.  Success builds momentum – and continued success.

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