Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Importance of Respect When Working Collaboratively with Others

Several years, I visited a new church. It was an inviting place to be - the people were nice, the chairs were comfortable. Then the minister began to talk. He spent 30 minutes or so chastising the congregation because there weren't more people there. I remember thinking, "Does he realize that he's upset with the wrong crowd?" Needless to say, I never returned to that church.

This weekend, I had a similar experience at a Youth Substance Abuse Summit I attended. I was invited to attend, as were there other 80 - 100 people who were there representing 6 or 7 different communities. We were there to explore ways we could collaborate to decrease youth substance abuse.

We heard some good speakers who shared some excellent information. Then we were sent off to work in community groups to come up with action plans for addressing the issue that we would continue to implement long after the summit activities ended.

In my community group, we had some good discussions. We went back and forth on several issues, and we struggled with finding a good starting point. Many of group left early (it was a Saturday, after all!). Our facilitator was a bit inexperienced, but she did her best to keep us moving forward. I admire her efforts because keeping us on track was probably a little like herding kittens. As we approached the end of the day, we had a plan to meet again and a priority list of issues we would address. Not bad.

Then, with 30 minutes left to go, a new facilitator came in the room and starting chastising us for all that we had not accomplished on that day. He said some rather inappropriate and untrue things about our community. He spoke to the group harshly and cruelly. In the end, all of the good will and excitement that had been built up over the past 24 hours was gone.

As you can imagine, I was angry. I was a bit upset about some of the things he said about our community that were not true (clearly, he has not been involved with the work in our community in recent years and months), but I was most upset about the way he treated those dedicated and hardworking people who were volunteering their time on a Saturday to do something good for their community.

The people he was most upset with were all the people who were not in room, but he took it out on the dedicated folks who were hanging in and working to the end of the day.

We expressed our frustration about what had happened with the organizers of the summit, but in the end, we have decided to let it go. We know that we are planning to move forward with the work in our community. We know we have done good work thus far. We know the really hard work lays ahead.

Here's the lesson I pulled from this experience ---Organizations are working collaboratively with other organizations more than ever. Not only is a collaborative approach the best way to leverage the most existing resources within a community, but most state and federal grants (and many private grants) now require inter-agency collaboration as a condition of funding.

How are we treating our collaborative parnters?

Are we showing them the respect they deserve for giving of their time and energy to help the effort?

Are we showing respect for their dedication to their community?

If not, it's time for an attitude adjustment. Remember, working with groups of people and agency representatives is not easy. Tasks that seem like they should be simple can take much longer than we expect. The discussions we have with our partners as we negotiate details and ideas are extremely important in paving the way for future progress.

Now, I could choose not to go back to that church were I was chastised years ago, but I cannot (I will not) choose to walk away from my own community. Collaborative partners simply must find a way to work together. We must get passed the petty hurts and offenses and keep moving forward - together. The stakes for our children are too high to let someone who is ill-informed and rude throw us off track.

The gift I got this weekend was a reminder about the importance of treating my fellow community members with respect.

No comments:

About Creative Resources & Research

My photo
Woodland, CA, United States
Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.