Raise your hand if you hated group work in school. Go on, raise it. Did the mention of a group assignment have you sliding down your chair, dreading the forced get-togethers with random classmates, the canned presentations, the uninspired project display? In most cases, these weren’t people’s best efforts -- usually, one person, unwilling to cede control, would do the bulk of the work.
If that was you, don’t worry, I’m not judging -- it was often me.
We recently pivoted our programs in support of a single goal: training 300-500 leaders in innovation and speaking race. I manage our Action and Impact program, which offers specific support to teams seeking to make impactful change -- within and across organizations, in coalitions, networks, and beyond. As we design new offerings and tools for movement leaders, I am figuring out what that support looks like -- a fitting challenge for a person who avoided group work. So what conditions allow people to show up powerfully and collaborate in new and meaningful ways, across this movement? How might we unleash their most generous and generative problem-solving for impactful social change?
Here’s some of what we’ve learned so far:
- A shared purpose can create a team: My first reproductive movement position -- as a volunteer abortion doula -- changed my attitudes about group work: It became teamwork. I finally felt like part of a team, working with the pregnant person, other doulas, doctors, nurses, and clinic staff, toward a common goal: making sure that the person terminating their pregnancy had a safe, supported, and respectful experience. Of course, it wasn’t always perfect teamwork -- we knew when we had done all we could, and we knew when we had fallen short. But shared purpose allowed us to work together effectively: even though we each had a specific role, we were dependent on each other to make the best experience possible.
- Diverse teams make for stronger work: Multiracial collaboration isn’t simple, but the benefits to working across race and power far outweigh the challenges. The Harvard Business Review recently said that the outcomes of multiracial collaboration are often better because it’s harder: integrating new perspectives, ideas, and processes takes work, but ultimately results in stronger, more innovative results. What CoreAlign has learned over time is that people not only need to believe in the value of diverse teams, but they need to figure out the how -- how to make the work truly inclusive, to shift and share power in ways that allow non-white, non-cisgender people with positional power to lead the work. At CoreAlign, we offer space and tools for navigating this collaboration, so that the how becomes clearer.
- Strengths-based leadership and collaboration will facilitate innovation: Sometimes people hear “collaboration” and imagine everyone working in sync while doing the same thing. When it comes to movement collaboration, this can seem duplicative at best, and co-optive at worst. I believe that it doesn’t serve us to do what someone else can do better, particularly when it means ignoring years of experience and expertise. This isn’t to suggest that there’s no place for learning and improvement, or place for sharing strategies and testing out new ideas. CoreAlign’s management team wrestled with this as we prepared to launch our new programs: it felt like all of us were frequently doing the same work at a time when a lot of things were in development. This made sense when we were still getting on the same page, but it quickly became clear that we weren’t our most efficient or effective. When we named our strengths and areas for growth, we were able to divide up the work with more intention. I am strongest when selecting and implementing an idea -- beginnings are hard, but call me if you need a closer. My teammates excel at generating new ideas and determining how to refine them so they are both interesting and doable. Strengths-based collaboration requires identifying the places you shine and your growing edges, and building a team where people can lead from a place of strength, bring their complementary strengths to the table, and learn from each other in the process.
- When you can trust the process, you can let go of control: One of my biggest shifts was around ceding control and the need to be “right.” Unlike school assignments, movement collaboration is not hypothetical -- it’s necessary for our families and communities to thrive. And yet, so much collaboration potential is lost because people not only distrust each other, but also the process. People need time to reach agreement on how work will move forward, and the opportunity to offer feedback as the work evolves. They need a flexible process that allows for many “right” pathways to the goal, and strong facilitators (either within the team or outside of it) to support them. When all these things are in place, people can begin to trust that brilliant solutions are possible and that everyone can be responsible for making them a reality.