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Facilitating Collaboration: Helping Board Directors Bridge Differences to Solve Tough Problems

June 23, 2022

diverse board members facilitating collaboration to solve problems

The Directors College was pleased to welcome author and global expert on collaboration processes and 2022 Social Innovator of the Year, Adam Kahane, for a webinar, hosted by Principal Michael Hartmann, on June 14. The session focused on transformative facilitation, a structured approach for addressing complex and problematic situations, and how to work with your board to remove obstacles, bridge differences, and move forward. Mr. Kahane is a Director with Reos Partners, a social enterprise that focuses on helping teams to collaborate to solve complex problems globally. Their expertise is in determining what it will take to bring diverse actors, often from across organizations where trust is lacking, together to make progress.

People pretend they have no enemies, but act like they do. Instead of acknowledging differences in points of view, communication has broken down by creating enemies of those who don’t share the same views. Collaboration is very difficult in this culture.

If we are trying to solve a problem by collaborating with those who do not share our views, facilitation needs to change. Stretch collaboration is about understanding that there is not one way to frame the problem or solution, experimenting ways forward and working with new options, and acknowledging the need to remove our own bias. Differences need to be recognized and embraced in order to facilitate connection.

Collaborating does not mean that you need to please everyone without any conflict. Determining the right players, discern those players that are necessary to get to your end goal and be willing to exclude, if necessary.

Facilitation needs to be re-defined – it is the role of people who work together to try to affect change. Facilitating as a way of leading is the opposite of forcing processes and controls on others. Collaboration, and this way of leading, is an increasingly essential skill for leaders.

Although some organizations were able to thrive during the pandemic, including Reos in their work, there have been some tangible disadvantages to shifting communication online, with the exclusion of opportunities for unstructured connections.

Multi-stakeholder collaboration is necessary for today’s organizations to create sustainable success, but multi-stakeholder issues do not have a straight path and no solution is likely to totally please all. Embracing commonality and conflict is the way toward the best solutions.
Boards need to ensure that all stakeholders are being addressed – and understand the risk of ineffective collaboration with outside stakeholders.

Successful collaboration does not require a capacity to get stakeholders to do anything – it is more about stretching to provide a safe space for all views to be acknowledged, and identifying those who are willing to come to the table. Can you approach other people and the issue with openness, respect and curiosity?

When dealing with degrees of polarity between parties, ask yourself how you are contributing to that polarity. The only thing a leader can do is to examine how they can change their own approach in order to open dialogue. Meet people on the level of simply being a human being – invest in building relationships with those across the table.

Key takeaways:
When you think you know, is when you are at the biggest risk of getting it wrong. Once you believe you know, you stop listening.
When you think you are not personally impacted by the issue, you can’t effectively contribute and you will lose the opportunity to change how things are being done.
Everyone needs to be fully committed in order to collaborate effectively and innovate creative and workable solutions.
Facilitation is that kind of leadership that enables collaboration to affect change.
The domain of control for the boardroom is getting smaller, but the domain of influence is growing and depends on embracing collaboration..
Directors should work towards gaining the competency required to effectively facilitate collaboration, by stretching outside of comfort zones especially in dealing with opposition.

Click here to watch the session.