Participants in a large, complex collaboration can build a capacity for finding common ground—and it doesn’t have to take years.
Creating the formal structures that make up an ambitious, multi-sector change initiative is one thing. But forging the intangible interpersonal connections that result in authentic bonds among participating leaders is something quite different. Indeed, it is notoriously difficult. “Developing trust among nonprofits, corporations, and government agencies is a monumental challenge,” John Kania and Mark Kramer wrote in their landmark article “Collective Impact,” which appeared in the winter 2011 issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review. “Participants need several years of regular meetings to build up enough experience with each other to recognize and appreciate the common motivation behind their different efforts.”
But what if it didn’t have to take years? What if it is possible to accelerate the trustbuilding process that is essential to any ambitious collaboration effort? We believe that it is possible to build trust quickly—even across a network that brings together highly diverse groups of stakeholders. We don’t mean trust that’s based on liking or agreement. We mean trust for impact. Trust for impact entails the ability to cross boundaries, to find a slice of common ground, and then to work together despite significant organizational differences and sharp personal disagreements. By cultivating trust for impact, participants in a collaborative project can creatively manage their differences and form relationships that enable them to do critically important work.
We developed an accelerated approach to building trust for impact while working with the James Irvine Foundation to launch the New Leadership Network, a cross-sector network of leaders that aims to revitalize the city of Fresno, California.