What is Coalition-Building?
Our CEO, Tara, recently wrote about the importance of leadership alignment in achieving successful organizational transformation. Building coalitions to move strategies forward is a form of leadership alignment, which we’ll cover today.
Coalition building begins when multiple people or organizations are working to tackle a similar challenge and they realize that they cannot achieve the intended results alone. In other words, coalition building happens by bringing together a group of people with a similar vision or desired outcome – and possibly different interests and motivations – to make progress toward a complex challenge. Typically, there is no single point of authority over a coalition so there is not a single figure with the power to drive specific action. However, coalition members are working on the same overarching issue – and would have a greater likelihood of success if they work together.
It may sound obvious, but most issues that require a coalition can’t be solved without a coalition. The group recognizes that the only way to deliver desired impact is to work together, as no individual party has the capacity, expertise, or authority to deliver success themselves.
“As a leader, few things are more frustrating than allocating significant resources to something that doesn’t move the needle at all.”- Patti Engstrom
The Risk of Not Forming Coalitions
The biggest risk of not forming a coalition when one is needed is clear: not achieving the desired outcome or change. Further, you also risk waste – of resources, time, and money.
We often see resources haphazardly distributed across several departments to solve a problem without a unified strategy. There is good intent, but nothing each silo does alone is powerful enough to make progress. As a leader, few things are worse than allocating significant resources to something that doesn’t move the needle.
By forming a coalition, leaders maximize available resources. There is information sharing and coordination, understanding and direction for who is doing what, and ensuring all the gaps are covered.
Consider an engagement The Clearing has with a major city government to combat the local opioid crisis. Before forming a coalition, individual entities such as emergency medical services, public health officials, police, and healthcare providers were focused on the issue, but their efforts were disjointed.
One of the keys to building a successful coalition is unification around a common goal. As fragmented entities, each of the above parties had worthy, but different priorities. However, at a leadership summit, one goal was identified that every leader agreed on: reducing opioid deaths. With that, a coalition with a singular focus was born and the work began.
The Clearing built a public-private coalition of more than 1000 community partners on strategies, initiatives, outcomes, and data sharing and analysis to ensure the successful implementation of a city-wide strategic plan to reduce deaths. By pooling resources and sharing information, the individual coalition members realized the benefits of building a coalition where they could collaborate – side-by-side in the work – executing on strategies together and delivering essential outcomes. This raised the bar beyond just data sharing and coordinating activities.
Today, real results are saving lives, including:
- Emergency coverage and service gaps are closing
- Government and community partners meet regularly to share information and resources, plan events, and work together to connect with people most in need
- Data is used to deploy resources in real-time to overdose hotspots
- Lifesaving naloxone is widely distributed and readily available to everyone across the city.
We value this example because it illustrates both the risks of not forming a coalition and the rewards when one comes together.
“Coalitions succeed when they have a goal that’s worthy and inspiring, when all parties recognize that the goal cannot be achieved by any individual entities therefore they must work together, and when the work of the coalition is delivering results.” – Jonathan Spector
What to Keep in Mind When Building a Coalition
We know that leaders face similar challenges in aligning disparate parties around a common goal every day. Here are a few tips that may help your coalition come together more smoothly.
- Aim for consensus. Everyone won’t agree on everything, but everyone must feel heard. The process should be explicit, rational, and fair to ensure everyone can live with the outcome. This is how defining the common purpose or outcome transpires.
- Acknowledge the value in different perspectives. Oftentimes people have a narrow view on a solution. Part of reaching a consensus is considering different perspectives. It’s always surprising what may change minds or where common ground is found.
- Focus on action. No one wants to be in meeting after meeting talking about what should be happening instead of what is happening. To avoid this trap, get very specific about outcomes and commitments towards action. For example, talk about and agree on progress from month to month or quarter to quarter. Then, hold each other accountable.
- Deliver results and tell the story. People will only stay actively engaged in a coalition if their collective work is producing desired outcomes and impact. Additionally, people will only invest in the work of coalitions when they are aware of the progress made because of that coalition – and can see the needle moving in the right direction.