Blog (2011-2014)

Currently showing posts tagged collaboration

  • What Is The True Nature Of Partnerships?

    What Is The True Nature Of Partnerships?

    (image via Derek Beres)

    [written for the Design with Dialogue blog]

    Despite being held at 6pm in the middle of the workweek, the monthly Design with Dialogue meet-up, now in it’s fifth year, has established quite a steady following. March’s topic ‘What is the True Nature of Partnerships’ led by Mary Pickering of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund attracted 30 or so individuals eager to engage as both listeners and contributors in authentic dialogue. The session was rich with insights. Here are my top take-aways around contracts, money and forces.


    Drawing up a letter of intent, contract, or, in the case of a romantic partnership, a prenuptial agreement, is helpful because it forces us to go through the motions of discussing what assets exist, what our strengths are and how we can be fair with each other. However, if the partnership gets to the point where this agreement needs to be used, it often means a deeper betrayal occurred at some point and this issue(s) needs to be resolved before the partnership can be resumed. This highlights the need to think about succession and exit planning (less so for romantic partnerships of course) during the early stages of the partnership and to be very up front about timelines and needs.


    Contributing money doesn’t equal a true 'buy-in' (i.e., partnership) because one's personal value of money is weighted by how much you have in your purse. Mary explains that one of the fundamentals of true partnerships is that all parties “have skin in the game”, ie. contribute and incur risk by agreeing to engage. However, with agreements where power is imbalanced, such as those between investor and entrepreneur or music label and musician, it can be difficult to decipher whether an offer to engage is a transaction or a partnership. The intention of the engagement and level of commitment is the difference between a transaction (purely a business exchange, short-term in nature, and often a one-time deal) and a partnership (founded on reciprocity, cooperation and mutual growth and often long-term). These semantics are important because they have very different implications when things don’t go according to plan (and they never do). Simply bringing money to the table does not guarantee commitment, so how can we better neutralize these imbalances? 


    Forming partnerships can be hard enough, and, once formed, there are also forces working to pull them apart. Personal responsibilities, job requirements and navigating hiccups across projects all compete for our mental-bandwidth; thus, limiting the attention we can give to nurturing partnerships. Much like an untended garden that becomes overrun with weeds over time, unmaintained partnerships can take you steps backwards by growing once small nuisances into much larger issues or causing strain to relationships. Partnerships, like living organisms, need ongoing TLC to thrive.

    In the social innovation context, we are acutely aware that our complex systemic challenges (such as homelessness, income inequalities or climate change) cannot be solved in siloes. The growing need for cross-sector, cross-disciplinary collaboration to tackle these challenges amplifies the need for individuals skilled at managing and brokering partnerships. For more information about the process Mary described during the session, visit the Partnership Brokers Association website

    - Satsuko

    Related posts: The Art Of Collaboration (highlights from Montreal's 2013 Art of Hosting training), Partnering To Tip Systems (overview of Constellation Governance and Collective Impact models)

  • The Art Of Collaboration

    The Art Of Collaboration

    (image via mackink)

    [A version of this post also appeared on the Social Innovation Generation blog]

    We removed our wet boots at the entrance to L’Espace La Fontaine on a typical snowy February morning in Montreal. Located in the middle of a park with a skate rental shop downstairs and a frozen lake nearby, the upstairs of the building had been transformed to host about 115 men and women to participate in The Art of Hosting – a three-day workshop exploring how to create spaces for meaningful conversations. In the wake of 2012 Quebec university student protests, the participants were eager to tackle social problems with fresh ideas.

    Here are two highlights from the three-day workshop: connecting and harvesting

    1.  Arriving, Connecting and Being Present

    (image via thefancy)

    Overheard at a meeting near you: “The sooner we get down to business, the sooner we can get back to work”. Our fast-paced lives push us to jump straight into serious discussion at meetings, cutting the fat (small talk) to get to the meat (business). But how do rushed interactions affect the quality of collaborations and relationships? Ignoring the crucial step of settling in and establishing connection among fellow meeting participants can result in lost attention (manifested in the form of checking emails and taping away on smartphones while others talk) and, over the longer-term, prevents deeper relationships and trust to form. In other words, not making time to connect makes effective collaboration very difficult and negates the whole point of coming together in the first place. Particularly in lab settings, where compressed timeframes are the norm and deep collaboration is necessary, building in time to connect is crucial.

    I experienced both sides of the coin during one of the exercises at the training. All of the training participants separated into groups of three to work on a respective group member’s, real-life work challenge. Due to some confusion, though, my group of three arrived a half an hour late to our designated table. We felt the time crunch (!) and began haphazardly proceeding through the exercise barely having taken off our jackets. That’s when we decided to stop and take a moment to properly ‘arrive’.  We each shared past experience relevant to the project, enabling us to build a shared understanding of our individual lenses and connect with one another. By the end of the exercise, we were laughing with one another and had come up with actionable items to help our group member, Marco, move forward with his project. Taking a moment to settle in and connect made the remaining half hour productive and fun, reminding me that it doesn't have to be one or the other.


    2. Visual Learning and Harvest

    Incorporating illustrations and stories that anchor in emotions can make even dull meeting summaries and report-backs come to life. This is the premise behind the art of harvesting, a parallel practice to the art of hosting. What’s important about harvesting is: actively listening to the whole room, capturing the magic from conversation (quotes, stories, compelling points), synthesizing theses bits to pull out underlying messages and themes, and creating a meaningful record of the conversation that inspires action. Before attending the training, I understood harvesting to be synonymous with graphic recording (i.e. “capturing people's ideas and expressions—in words, images and color—as they are being spoken in the moment” World Café definition). With so many creative people at the training, my eyes were opened to many forms I had never considered including: poetry and spoken word, photography, singing, ukulele playing, and improvised dance. It was unexpected and refreshing to experience a report back in such creative ways. 

    Some harvesting resources:

    The Art of Hosting website has information about the underlying philosophies and upcoming trainings (another Montreal training will take place in Oct 2013 and some friends and I are working to bring a training to Toronto for around the same time). There are books (World Cafe, Open Space, Circle) and videos (Proaction Cafe, Storytelling Harvest) and PDFs (Strategic Harvest, Asking Good Questions, Hosting in a Hurry) that are very useful in unpacking the methodologies and the philosophies.
    - Satsuko
    Memorable lines from the training:
    • "what is set in stone and what is set in clay?" Tuesday Ryan-Hart referring to constraint and possibility
    • "we grow in the direction of the questions we ask" - David Cooperrider (Appreciative Inquiry Guru)
    • Organizational principals not as rules but rather as conversations we'd like to have ("how are we doing with transparency")
    • "A person who cannot ask for help cannot be trusted" - Toke Moeller
    • "Let's renew our vows with community" - AoH participant
    Related posts: Two Brilliant Bits of Wisdom And One Big Question From ALIA 2012 (reflections from the ALIA Conference) and Skating Lessons From an Eternal Optimist (Paul Born's essay on coming back to community)
  • Social Innovation Musings

    Social Innovation Musings

    (image via pinterest)

    [Adapted for Think Thrice. Originally written for and published on the Social innovation Generation blog]

    My first three weeks at SiG have flown by. As the newest member of SiG National’s team, I’ve had to hit the ground sprinting. I joined the SiG team to help create momentum for social innovation in Canada, with a particular focus on creating (and implementing) a strategy to support the existing Lab ecosystem across the country. You may be asking: what exactly is a Lab? There are a lot of definitions floating around. In the social innovation space, a Lab is a powerful tool used to develop holistic solutions to complex social problems (particularly those problems that have become resistant to traditional solutions). To help make all of this more clear, SiG constantly updates and develops new resources viewable on the SiG National and SiG@Waterloo website.

    As a quick peak inside my brain, here are a couple of current musings around Labs and social innovation that have piqued my interest.

    Language matters. We often don’t realize small distinctions, like the difference between the word ‘prototype’ (the first iteration of many, still emergent) and ‘pilot’ (has the connotation of more permanence). The ability to translate across different cultures, industries, demographics, socio-economic backgrounds …etc. is an invaluable skill when cross-collaborating. So how can we get better at it? And, how do we get better at using our ears and mouth proportionately (2:1 ears:mouth)?

    Blurred Divides. In social entrepreneurship and social enterprise we often talk about getting to a point where there is no distinction of the ‘social’; where all entrepreneurs and enterprises have the triple bottom line in mind. What if we push this thinking further to the sectors: private, public and social? What if all three sectors embodied the strengths of the others insofar that the lines, there too, become blurred. What do we need to do now to enable and accelerate this movement?

    Face to face. It is hard to find time for in person collaboration but magic happens when everyone is in the same room (inspiration and feeding off one another’s energy). As well, stronger offline relationships build trust and confidence in one another. How can we make the most out of in person meetings and get better at enabling this magic?

    Leveling the playing field. There is a lot of buzz about the democratization of knowledge (access to education and acknowledgement of various schools of thought), innovation/funding (no longer only the loudest and the most connected startups find investors), etc. But does all of this democratization really dissolve power, seniority and/or hierarchy? Particularly in the context of Labs, how can we create safe/neutral ‘containers’ void of egos and power struggles to enable innovation to flourish?

    In the wise words of organizational scientist William Starbuck, “the best way to understand a complex system is by interfering with it”. SiG is doing just that. I look forward to exploring these and other ideas around social innovation as we push the boundaries of this movement.

    - Satsuko

    For more on the topics discussed above, check out these resources:

    • Re. Language: interesting talk by Linda Rottenberg (CEO of Endeavor Global) at the 99% Conference about how not having a word for ‘entrepreneur’ in Portuguese affected the number of startups and ventures in Brazil
    • Re. Blurred dividesTri-Sector Forum is a new platform aiming to help prepare leaders to make the transition between sectors and build solutions from multiple perspectives.
    • Re. Face to Face: great book about how to hold more effective and efficient meetings. How To Make Meetings Work! by Michael Doyle
    • Re. Leveling the playing field: great book exploring real examples from his work developing solution to complex issues, Power and Love by Adam Kahane
    Related posts: Lab Landscape [Part 1]: Maximizing The Potential Of Innovation Labs in Canada (essay on things to consider when building a lab), Two Brilliant Bits of Wisdom And One Big Question From ALIA 2012 (musings from the ALIA Conference)