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Governing a Collaborative Organization

Posted by Anne Wallestad, President & CEO, BoardSource on May 31, 2017 12:00:00 PM



Anne Wallestad’s thoughts on collaboration and nonprofit board leadership were recently featured in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. We summarize the article here but encourage you to read Governing a Collaborative Organization in full on the SSIR website.

Collaborative organizations require collaborative leadership, but are boards getting in their own way?

As noted in Forces for Good by Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant, nonprofit organizations can typically be organized into one of two groups: Ones that can be described as having an “organization orientation” focus on their own goals and sustainability; and others that have a “collaborative orientation” focused on working with others, rather than competing with others, to achieve their goals.

While the latter of those two is characteristic of high-impact organizations, the unfortunate truth is that most nonprofits fall into the first category. And even though there is a lot of information out there on shifting to a more effective collaborative orientation, there is a dearth of information on how boards factor into the equation.

What does strong board leadership look like in a networked context? I offer the following suggestions as a starting point for dialogue:

  • Be clear about your purpose and goals, but flexible about your strategies — lessening focus on strategies allows your staff to be more open-minded and leverage potential collaboration
  • Expand your definition of organizational accomplishments — your view of “success” should include what your organization made possible, not just things the organization did itself
  • Align executive expectation and evaluations with your collaborative goals — this requires distributing power to others and other organizations
  • Cultivate curiosity and openness to all forms of collaboration — the more collaboration your organization does, the more board members will identify opportunities for deeper, structural partnerships

Read Governing a Collaborative Organization in full. 

Topics: collaboration

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