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All great achievements require time.

-Maya Angelou

There’s something very particular about engaging in work with others, and especially across organizational boundaries when we collaborate to create networks for social change.

What I’ve seen as a key element is what I’d call promise, a word I appreciate for its dual meaning: a commitment we make to ourselves or others that we do our best to fulfill AND the possibility we see in a direction or course of action. Both characterize the spirit of collaboration, which combines the hope of greater impact with ongoing relationship.

In my practice over the last year and over the past decades, I’ve seen many essential ingredients which help hold teams together and allow networks to sustain themselves and succeed including the achievement of concrete outcomes, clarity around communication and structure, and the development of shared values. These are all rooted in embracing the full nature of promise.

Here are some of the ways I see this show up in networks focused on social change and sustainability, though this can be generalized to any team or group hoping to create meaning and results:

  • The Promise of Space. This is a “no-duh” idea, but for a network to feel important and ultimately to succeed, those participating need to create the time to show up-both at network gatherings and meetings, and in dedicating a part of their time to what the network is trying to achieve. I often hear from people that “we also have our day jobs” and acknowledge this truth and challenge–yet successful networks (and network mindsets) are those where everyone feels the broader goal of the network serves their own goals and where the space they create is honored.
  • The Promise of Learning. People need a concrete reason to participate in a network, and beyond a particular outcome, it’s also important to acknowledge other values created–one of which is learning. This could be about the exchange of information or about building skills including the practice of collaboration itself, which Eugene Kim reflects on beautifully in his piece on High Performance Collaboration Requires Experiencing Great Meals.
  • The Promise of Promise. While it’s a little “meta”, this practice is critical to network success: much of the feeling in a network and possibility it holds is emergent–we may think we know why we’re collaborating and what the results will be (and may not), but we need to experience the potential of “not knowing” and where that might guide us. Curtis Ogden’s recent post on Network Impact: Hidden in Plain Sight elevates this idea powerfully.
  • The Promise of Care. Most importantly, commitment and possibility are embedded in relationships where people experience three things-a feeling of trust generated by an ethic of “I’ve got your back” or “we missed you” (or both), a practice of self-care shared by the group, and-this is the magic ingredient-having fun! In teams and networks where there is a genuine feeling of fun and wanting to be together-even when things get hard-the ability to commit over the longer-term and build connection for collaboration increases.

Promise in collaboration or otherwise is ultimately not only about commitment and possibility but also about appreciation and gratitude, for commitments fulfilled and for the intention of walking a path together and doing our best (individually or as a team) to achieve what is possible. In some cases, what we propose may be closer to impossible, but often has a greater power as a promise which is inspiring and visionary.

I am inspired by and learn from all of the work happening to make our world more humane, sustainable, just and beautiful…most of which I get to read about and a fraction of which I get to be a part of in some way.

One of my favorite quotes is from Meister Eckhart, who wrote “If the only prayer you said in your entire life was ‘thank you’ that would suffice.”

For those of you I work with directly, or are part of my larger supportive community of friends and family, I wish you a joyous and bright transition to the new year and new possibilities. And for everyone out there doing their part to make the world a bit brighter and better…thank you.