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Add Variety & Innovation to Spice Up Your Coalition!

IMG_0675It’s the holidays and you know what that means … time for Christmas cookies. I like to honor the traditional tastes of the cookies that my family likes and expects, but then add the twist of an innovative or new recipe each year. This year it was the Hershey Hug cookies pictured here.

However, if I don’t make the sugar cookies, Jam Thumbprints, Jeweled Lace Cookies, or Pistachio-Cranberry Biscotti, I’ll be in deep trouble. So, as I surveyed the fruit of my labors, I began thinking how variety and innovation are critical for growing and sustaining your coalition or partnership. But, what exactly do the terms variety and innovation mean?

Variety is a quality similar to diversity or difference. Having variety in life is more exciting than doing the same routine day in and day out. As a coalition, you might:

  • Recruit new organizations and individuals who can help strengthen your skills, resources and ability to reach out to new populations.
  • Provide mentorship and a transition process that fosters leadership opportunities and development at all levels of the coalition from the Steering Committee to Work Groups and Task Teams.
  • Develop a diverse portfolio of funding streams that provides financial security for the coalition, such as in-kind donations, membership dues, grants and contracts, fees for services or training and fundraisers.
  • Use different meeting formats that build excitement. Switch the meeting day, time or location, offer seasonal treats, invite a guest speaker, or skip the formal agenda and try a town hall discussion format instead.

Innovation is the introduction of a new idea, method, or device. The Clemmer Group suggests 35 ways (http://bit.ly/1mgqZGE) that any organization can cultivate innovation. For coalitions this may translate to the following:

Listen to the voice of your partners

  • listen-upRegularly involve partners in joint problem solving and planning sessions, celebrations, focus groups, conferences, and presentations.
  • Offer windshield tours or visits to places where your priority populations live, work, learn, eat, play and pray.
  • Make customer service and excellence a priority for everyone in the coalition.
  • Widen your network of partners. Provide regular face-to-face, electronic, print, or web-based communications to help external and internal partners exchange experiences, ideas, and problem solve.
  • Ask “What if?” questions. Ignore those who try to write this off as wishful thinking. Leaders find ways to translate the answers into doable strategies.

Cultivate a culture where experimentation is honored

  • Trial and errorDevelop and nurture strong management system and a transformative leadership culture.
  • See your coalition as a community lab for piloting new ways of doing things. Trial and error or making small mistakes, experiencing failures, and learning from them is how we improve.
  • Make everyone in the coalition responsible for personal, team, and organization change and innovation.
  • Establish regular assessments to reflect on the reasons for your coalition’s failures and successes. Based on everyone’s input, produce a summary of “lessons learned” following the launch of a new product, strategy or service.
  • Set up a “best practices and good tries” clearinghouse to continuously spread the learning about what works and doesn’t across your coalition.

Leverage the best internal and external ideas efficiently

  • IdeasMake sure that your coalition looks for good ideas to swipe from other coalitions. Learn from others who have experienced the same opportunities or problems that you face.
  • If you want more innovation, set up methods and measures to track your outcomes. If you don’t know how you’re doing, you can’t improve.
  • Develop alliances with other coalitions and partnerships that deal with your health or social issue. It can help you extend your reach and reduce your risk.
  • Reward and recognize partners to foster cooperation, learning, and innovation.
  • Recruit and retain unconventional thinkers and passionate people who have successfully bucked the system.
  • Keep your coalition flat, decentralized and team-based. The more people feel they’re running their own show; the more they’ll act like entrepreneurs.

Happy New Year! Don’t eat too many cookies and make 2016 a year filled with variety and innovation for your coalition!