Unacknowledged, unappreciated, and untapped, cultural and other human differences can create substantial challenges to harmonious relationships and operational effectiveness. And, when differences are acknowledged, appreciated and engaged productively, the resulting relationships and enriched thinking can lead to better outcomes than would be possible in the context of homogenous groups. The focus of our work, then, is to build the capacity and deepen the cultural competency of individuals and groups so that they experience the benefits of diversity and harness these benefits in service of social change.
We as capacity builders must take a collaborative approach to our work and foster collaborative capacity as a foundation for cultural competency.
Over the past several decades, more and more leaders in communities, corporations, government, and organizations of every description have embraced collaboration as a promising approach for unleashing the creativity, divergent thinking, and commitment needed to achieve shared goals. Experience have taught us about the value of enabling groups to articulate a collective vision, develop a shared plan, and pursue action in a concerted, coordinated way.
As capacity builders, we can deepen cultural competency by focusing on a few essential aspects of collaborative capacity:
1. Modeling collaborative values and skills
2. Encouraging effective communication
3 .Focusing on systems and structures
4. Building shared knowledge and information
Below, we consider each of these aspects of collaborative capacity and offers a set of questions to guide your reflections on your own practice.
Modeling collaborative values and skills
As culturally competent capacity builders, the most important thing we can do to foster collaboration in diverse settings is to demonstrate collaborative values, model skills, and tools that support collaboration, and transfer collaborative capability in all of our interactions.
Points for consideration:
1. Truly believe that everyone has value and worth. You should communicate that level of respect in your interactions and in the way you structure your capacity-building engagements.
2. Believe that we are smarter together than any one of us individually. You must make space in your capacity-building engagements for shared thinking and learning that leads to powerful insights and effective strategies for change.
3. Understand that your clients have as much to teach as they have to learn. You must be open to being influenced by the people with whom you work. You must be committed to co-design, based on the strengths, interests, and capacities of my clients.
4. Make a point of guiding your clients to bring in the “unusual voices” and make space at the table for those who are likely to be left out.
5.Enable your clients to identify opportunities for working together more effectively in service of their shared goals so that:
a) Leaders become more skillful in sharing their visions, engaging stakeholders, designing collaborative planning processes, facilitating agreement, coaching, celebrating success, setting teams up for success, and modeling shared responsibility for success.
b) Team members become more skillful in sharing points of view, listening, exchanging feedback, reconciling differences and facilitating agreement.
c) Everyone becomes more skillful in self-reflection, interpersonal communication and demonstrates cultural competence.
d)Power is exercised responsibly and is continually cultivated, and privilege and negative exercises of power are mitigated, inhibited or eliminated.
Encouraging effective communication
At the heart of collaboration, people work well together in pairs and groups of various sizes. As capacity builders, we can foster collaboration at the interpersonal and organizational levels in diverse settings by demonstrating and transferring effective communication skills.
Points for consideration:
1. Encouraging others to make assumptions and underlying logic explicit and testable.
2.Use and teach tools for effective inquiry into another person’s thinking and productive advocacy of one’s own point of view.
3.Acknowledge and value different viewpoints and the underlying assumptions and worldviews that inform them. You must work toward mutual understanding.
4.Facilitate and model difficult conversations about racism, sexism and other forms of oppression.
5.Design and facilitate processes for constructively engaging with conflict.
6.Facilitate processes that enable groups to discover when differences need to be resolved and when they can agree to disagree.
Focusing on systems and structures
Effective collaboration among diverse people and groups requires attention to the individual, interpersonal and team interactions and also organizational, community and societal processes, structures, and systems.
Points for consideration:
1.Anticipate and encourage others toward openness to change as a result of engaging with people who have different experiences and views.
2.Create regular opportunities for people to build relationships and engage together in productive work.
3. Design systematic, transparent, participatory processes for planning, consensus building, and decision making.
4.Encourage groups to examine and build organizational processes, structures, and reward systems that support and encourage interdependent work.
5.Guide groups to ensure that formal reporting relationships and informal coaching relationships, roles and job descriptions for volunteers and staff are clear, fair, and appropriate to the work.
Points for consideration while developing and designing strategy:
1. Facilitate the development of strategy, mission, vision and values statements are clear, compelling and provide guidance for day-to-day activities.
2. Ensuring that these strategies, mission, vision, and values, are developed and owned collaboratively by staff, board and other relevant stakeholders.
3.Involve multiple stakeholders and multiple forms of data when designing processes by which programs are developed, progress is monitored, and impact is assessed.
4.Challenge groups to ensure that their programs and activities are designed with and appropriate for the intended clients, participants, or constituents and that they are not built on untested assumptions or stereotypes.
5.Guide groups to consider the root causes of the issues they are addressing, and designing their work with root causes in mind.
Building shared knowledge and information
Effective collaboration, especially in culturally diverse settings, demands that knowledge and information be understood and treated as a shared asset and that ongoing learning is considered essential for success. Much of the knowledge and information a group needs to understand the context for its work and make wise decisions about how to proceed will reside in the group itself, and sometimes more will be gathered from beyond the group.
Points for consideration:
1.Enable the people with whom you work to co-create the knowledge and information they need to understand their work and make wise choices.
2.Ensure that people with whom you work have the information they need to determine which conversations need to happen and how to frame them.
3.Support the development, management, and dissemination of shared knowledge and information.
4. Model and structure activities that support ongoing learning.Support people in reflecting on practice, assessing their progress and engaging in learning rather than blame finding.
5. Encourage people to acknowledge a wide range of expertise and to value various ways of knowing, including lived experience, formal education, research, observation, and theory building?
Inclusive collaborative strategies stand out as keys for enabling individuals and groups to deepen their cultural competency and work across differences in ways that maximize creativity, catalyze strategic thinking and build commitment to shared action.