Power of Together

Moving from community resource sharing to solution creating is easier said than done. The results are worth the investment.

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[This blog post is one in a series focused on Collaboration. To read more, visit here.]

Picture yourself walking around your town or city where the greatest concentration of need is. As you walk, look around at the issues of that community. You even know what is behind the doors of those homes, schools, and struggling businesses because you serve the people from those places. Think about those people, those families, those neighbors.

Stop and sit on a bench. Close your eyes and listen. As you listen, hear the stories of people you have served over the years, even just the past few months. What do you wish you could do to make those lives better? Who needs to join you for the most significant positive community impact?

We want a better world and do what we can to usher that. An individual person, nonprofit, or church is not enough to move boulders that block the pathways to success. Consider the investment you alone have already made. If you could have fully met the need or solved the problem alone you probably would have already accomplished it alone. We need each other to find the community-transforming, life-restoring results we long for. From this longing for good, we can realize the power of working together.

This blog, the first in a series focused on collaboration, looks at three levels of collaboration in community development work. We also consider necessary elements of the best atmospheric conditions for success.

Levels of Collaboration

Resource Sharing
It’s what is right in front of us all—the specific need to be met at that moment. Whether it is rent, a power bill, food, a car repair, a health crisis, or a leaking roof, the basic life needs are abundant and out-scaling the resources in most communities. The desired response is pretty straightforward – they need it, we have it, we give it, problem solved. The extent of that “we” is powerful. More “we” usually means more resources, both in quantity and diversity.

Limitations are frustrating. When we have to say to someone, “We have no more resources to help,” it hurts. If it hurts frequently and long enough, we become a little calloused, which impacts how we treat the people we desire to help. Having more resources available because there are more of us sharing in this human services work provides more possibilities.

A couple of great tools that aid in this resource sharing are CharityTracker and United Way’s 211 Hotline. These technologies can help catapult sharing efforts into much more effective places. It is an investment of time, energy, money, and relational resources to get them into place, but the value added will be quickly noticed. The relational equity that will be built in the process is all by itself worth the investments. More on that below.

Problem Defining
When you have been involved in human services and community development long enough you begin to bring some definition to the needs and issues you see every day. The patterns emerge, you see them, and begin to wrap some words around the problems your neighbors and clients are facing.

A problem like hungry homebound seniors is easy to define. Generational poverty is a different conversation. The complexities of that global problem, found in every community, are a significant barrier to helpful definitions. Go back to that walk in your mind’s eye that I encouraged you to take in the beginning. What you saw and heard there, all of those problems and challenges are real, every one of them. Most have been around…for generations.

We sometimes settle for the existence of those problems and do what is needed to stir up the resources to meet those needs as best we can. We will often talk together about the problems just enough to be sure we streamline our resource sharing as much as possible. But what if we went farther? What if the existence of those problems bothered us enough to start doing something to solve them?

Solution Creating
How can a problem that has been a part of our lives and community for so long finally be solved? If the solution is that difficult, why work so hard to get us all together to find that seemingly impossible-to-find solution? Part of the answer is to try to do what is right. Have we tried together? If we have, did we try long enough to find answers? Did we evaluate efforts made that may not have been successful but left behind helpful clues?

It’s like hide-and-seek. If when you find another person they join in the seeking, you amass a major search party to find the answer faster. It’s an addition that exponentiates the effects. Every person added provides more life experience, more insight, more ideas, more energy, more hope, and more vision.

You see, pursuing a solution is difficult, multifaceted work. The more together we are in the work, the more opportunity we have for success in creating a solution. The power of together is multiple sets of eyes accustomed to seeing the problem from multiple directions. More on that below. A room of people with hearts and multiple perspectives engaging their brains together to find a solution to a shared problem is powerful. In the final analysis, we aim at hope-filled answers that lead to some level of success to be learned from and built upon. That’s how solutions are created.

Elements of Collaboration 

The nature of collaboration depends upon many elements. We will look at three necessary elements for cultivating the atmosphere for the sustainability of responses and solutions in our responses.

Quality of Relationships
The most common activity for those responding to human needs to connect with others outside their organization is a meeting with other organizations that serve. We become acquainted with what others are doing through brief chats before or after the meeting and maybe with a quick ice-breaker. With extra effort, we become acquainted with the actual person behind the work. Moving beyond acquaintances comes by way of investment over time.

How do we go from relationships in-passing to in-depth? Time together. What often prevents these deeper connections is an initiator. Be the one. Make the call, send a text or an email, engage at a meeting, and get it on the calendar. It is amazing what coffee, or a meal together can accomplish compared to a typical meeting. In fact, if you want to change the atmosphere of meetings, get some meals together in between and see what happens. Your starting point might be with the team you work with every day. For more ideas related to your workplace relationships, check out these ideas: Strong Workplace Relationships.

Atmospheric conditions are significant when it comes to the quality of relationships. History has its effects on communities and is layered generation after generation. The more generations, the higher and thicker the walls. The need for reconciliation is real and can be difficult. Without an impetus to work on walls that were built stone by stone over time, they will often stand as a seemingly immovable impediment. In reconciliation, we have to be patient. Don’t try to bulldoze or blow up the wall. It was built stone by stone, take it down stone by stone.

Level of Trust
The Oxford Dictionary defines trust as “a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” Collaboration necessitates trust. If we are going to collaborate, I need to trust you, and you need to trust me. The level and power of our work together are determined by our level of trust in each other.

Trust is a fruit that grows from seeds of experience. “Firm belief” means that each of us will display trust differently. For instance, some of us trust more quickly than others. Our individual life stories are strong determinates of our speed of trust. Trust cannot be forced. It must be allowed to emerge. However, the atmospheric conditions of our communities and relationships matter and can be cultivated for faster and more prolific growth.

One atmosphere cultivating attitude and behavior is availability to the perception and perspective of others. This doesn’t mean there has to be total agreement. We desire to feel that someone has listened with a heart intent of “I want to understand.” To understand is to stand under, which is a position of humility. The recipient of someone’s desire to understand also needs to watch out for the thought, “What’s their agenda?”.

Understanding also means the person who desires to be understood is willing to navigate questions. If there are elements of your perspective that I have never experienced, I need information. Sometimes the only way for me to gain needed information that you may not be sharing is for me to ask for it. The asker of questions needs to be careful how those questions are asked and why they are asked. Your why will often determine your how. Attitude determines delivery.

Trust takes us to the windows and doorways of “you” and “me,” and it allows entry. Refusal of entry prevents broad and deep levels of collaboration. But when the windows and doors are opened, the stuffy and stifling atmosphere from being closed up now experiences a fresh breeze to create a nice place to sit and dream together.

Detail of Vision
What do you see? What is everyone around you seeing or hoping for the future? Detail is somewhat in the eye of the beholder. Some of us see the world with more detail than others, which is another indication of why we are more powerful together. Others are so tired and weary that they can’t see anything but the problems. Someone who seems to always live with a positive picture of a preferred future is a powerful addition to vision conversations. “What if we could” can change the atmosphere of a vision conversation.

Vision details ask at least the questions of extent and focus. What is the point of focus? Are we using a wide-angle lens or a telephoto lens? Are we looking at what is right in the front door, looking out into the distance at possibilities, or both? Are we focused on the problems or working on solutions? Defining what we are looking at together provides clarity. Clarity reduces confusion and conflict. Reducing the foggy atmospheric conditions allows us to look ahead with a greater understanding of what is around us, providing a better idea of how to navigate the landscape.

This area of vision exposes a convergence of relationship and trust. Perception and perspective emerge here as significant determining factors in what someone sees and how they interpret what they see. We need to take the opportunity to understand what each other may see that we can’t. I may not perceive what you do because I haven’t experienced seeing the problem from your perspective. I might need you to help me see. Your details matter. My details matter. Put them together, and what we see is more complete.

Cultivating Progress

Over the upcoming weeks, I will explore these ideas further along with others related to cultivating a collaborative atmosphere and behavior. For now, get a sense of where you are and where you would like to be as a person and as an organization. Step into developing quality relationships. Who should you contact right now to schedule breakfast, coffee, or lunch together?

Let these weekly blogs coach you step-by-step into some new spaces, conversations, and behaviors. I would love to hear from you along the way about your challenges and successes!

Do you desire to strengthen your CharityTracker or OasisInsight network to new levels of collaboration and impact? Reach out to Chuck today to schedule your conversation:

ED645C80-CA25-41C2-8B6E-A6E7FA346EC1_1_201_aDr. Chuck Coward serves as Community Impact Specialist for Simon Solutions, Inc. Chuck has invested over 35 years in fostering human and community development from a variety of places and roles, including as a pastor, non-profit Executive Director, Director of Development, businessman, consultant, university professor, The Struggle Coach, and the founder of Entrusted Foundation. Serving to make people and communities stronger is his great passion. Chuck is the proud husband to Anita, dad to four, and granddaddy to eight.

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