Have you ever wondered why your new coalition is underperforming and not reaching its fullest potential? Then you really need to read what follows next: In this blog, we provide a framework for understanding how to build a successful coalition by highlighting the best-practice approaches and collective impact, building trust in a collaborative environment, and listing specific steps toward implementing each of these methods to garner successful outcomes.
Collective impact is a theory designed to promote shared commitments that empanel numerous organizations and individual actors to a common agenda for solving complex social problems in order to create lasting solutions. This represents a paradigm shift in the social sector’s previous idea for solving large complex social problems, as it was formerly customary to mainly work organizationally separate from other organizations. However, many organizations working in partnership, like a team, ostensibly have the best structure for solving complicated social issues as currently outlined in the literature. Highlighted below are the five steps which are necessary for implementing best-practice collective impact:
- Common Agenda—Create a common agenda that proposes a shared agreement for how the collaborative expects to reach a set of goals through goal setting strategies.
- Shared Measurement Systems—Create a set of indicators for monitoring progress on a regular basis (i.e., use a dashboard for tabulating current metrics).
- Mutually Reinforcing Activities—Create distinct activities that are shared by various collaboration partners to reinforce the activities of other partners and together lead to systemwide change (i.e., create a leadership committee that separately deals with the primary issues of the social problem).
- Continuous Communication—Create a tool and method for allowing partners to communicate frequently (on a weekly or biweekly basis) in the spirit of promoting continuous improvement and learning.
- Backbone Structure—Create a structure which supports the alignment and coordination across all collaborative partners.
The literature speaks of the importance of building trust in a collaborative environment to solidify networks across competing systems within the community, attract the best talent to the group, and promote an environment for superior ideas to flourish. Furthermore, it’s been our experience that building trust within a group is a most important objective in developing quality relationships, and the success of each interaction rests on the depth of trust developed in those initial exchanges. Highlighted below are the 10 steps that we think are important for building trust in a collaborative environment:
- Be helpful to those with whom you want to work. Helping them with their priorities shows that you are invested in what is important to them and encourages them to reciprocate.
- Do what you say that you are going to do. Let people know that you follow through by your actions, not just words. Be a conscientious actor by maintaining your integrity in all group dealings.
- This is huge: Share power. Be willing to sacrifice what you want for the good of the larger initiative. If you share power, others will be willing to share power too. Talk in terms of “we” and not “I.” The way in which one uses language provides a window into what one really thinks.
- If you want someone to trust you, show that you trust them.
- Be great at what you do. Being competent is crucial in collaborative environments. Competence will set a standard for work performance that others can emulate too.
- Be passionate about your work. Passion isn’t false praise, banality, or cliché eagerness. Passion for your work comes from a strong desire and purposefulness to get it right. People in need depend on you!
- Avoid stereotyping, which causes biases in judgment and ultimately hinders the larger work. Attracting a diverse group of individuals is essential to solving complex systems problems. Also, by withholding judgment and being fully present in order to generate engaging conversations, you must embrace differences, create a sense of openness, and facilitate connection among the entire team.
- Truly care about others! People are attracted to empathetic and compassionate people. They can do their best work when surrounded by caring professionalism. Express that you want the best for people, and in so doing, you will bring out the best in others and yourself.
- Be a good listener. This means not always waiting for moments when you can interject your thoughts into the conversation, but pausing so that you may learn what others have to say on the topic. This is how great ideas become best-practice results.
- Be an inspiration to others! See beyond yourself and realize that it is not about self-promotion, bonuses, or awards; it’s about something bigger. Help others share in the landscape of purpose, and enable a vision of why and how the work collectively matters. Say “Thank you” often, and mean it! People love to feel appreciated and acknowledged for the great work that they are contributing to the cause.
Altarum Institute’s Veterans Community Action Teams Mission Project (VCAT) has been working to build successful coalitions on the collective impact approach while using trust to support the framework since 2008. The goal of the VCAT coalitions is to help Veterans successfully access the array of support services available to them in a timely fashion and nearest to the communities in which they live. However, many Veterans and their families are unaware of the tremendous sea of goodwill that exists in the country, allowing them to gain access to life-changing services. All too often, they receive these services too late or not at all.
To help rectify the gaps in the service system, Altarum’s VCAT model has been used to successfully grow two self-sustaining entities in San Antonio, Texas; and San Diego, California. Presently, the VCAT team is building on lessons learned and again implementing the VCAT approach; collaborating with the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency; and using the VCAT model in two new pilot areas in Michigan, centered in Grand Rapids and Detroit.
Cultivating a collective impact approach, through building trust in a collaborative environment improves the performance of the entire system and yields successful outcomes. It is a win-win proposition and a must for any coalition building project and all aspiring new coalition builders.
 Kania, J., & Kramer, M. (2011, winter). Collective impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 36–41.
 Barnes, J., Woods, M., Frye, J., & Ralstin, S. (2004). What is a healthy board? Oklahoma Coopearative Extension Service, F-929.
Barnes, J., & Haynes, S. (2006). Building trust in local community organizations: Where do we start, and how can we make a difference? Journal of Extension, 4(44), 4TOT6.
Turner, S., Errecart, K., & Bhatt, A. (2013). Exerting Influence without Formal Authority. Stanford Social Innovation Review. http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/exerting_influence_without_formal_authority.
Russell, N. (2012, August 20). 10 ways effective leaders build trust. Trust: The New Workplace Currency. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/trust-the-new-workplace-currency/201208/10-ways-effective-leaders-build-trust-0.
 Burke, M., & King, J. (2011, April 4). Tech order VCAT: Community guide for establishing a veterans services system of care. VCAT manual version 1. San Antonio, TX: Altarum Institute; part 1, section 1, page 5.