As complex systems unfold—and mankind’s impact on them and theirs on us is revealed—we are left searching for the most effective ways to understand and respond to the changing world around us.

I have spent my professional life looking at how to bring very different types of people and organizations together to solve social problems. In recent years, our understanding of collaborative, adaptive approaches to social change has increased as research on systems leadership has blossomed. This is welcome. Yet I would argue that we lag far behind where we need to be, and that the ability to build, curate, and steward these kinds of models needs to become a prerequisite for anyone with leadership aspirations today.

The strength of clever coalitions lies in repeatedly crowdsourcing information or intelligence around a specific social problem, and adapting both composition and strategy accordingly. They are dynamic and flexible, taking different forms and adopting different approaches as the situation demands. They can adopt centralized organizing techniques, as well as connect with more dispersed, self-organized movements orientated toward the same goals.

  1. Build culture around servant leadership.
  2. Define a clear theory of change.
  3. Invest in and empower a strategic coordinator.
  4. Prioritize opt-in coalitions over consensus-based models.
  5. Build a core of partnerships from which coalitions can be built.
  6. Collect and share information and continue to adapt to it.
  7. Find roles that play to strengths.
  8. Reduce the transaction costs of collaboration.
  9. Get the right people on your team.
  10. Sustain morale.

Today’s world demands that we get good, quickly, at sustained collaboration. We cannot afford to rely on any one group of organizations or coalition of interests to bring about the right decisions and outcomes. We have to be both pragmatic and radical; working with what is there, as well as supporting, encouraging, and reinforcing new modes of organizing that are growing in importance and impact.

Read the full article about building coalitions by Gemma Mortensen at Stanford Social Innovation Review.