> Partnership Evolution
> Incorporating Self-interests
The first two sections of this unit on incorporating self-interests —Acknowledge the Presence of Self-interests and Own Your Own Interests—were gentle ways of beginning to give the partnership permission to deal with self-interests. Now it’s time to actually get them on the table. This section first gives you background information on the importance of cohesion in diversity and including difficult people. Then it gives you techniques for uncovering self-interests.
Cohesion in Diversity
One of the challenges facing partnerships is the increasing diversity in their communities and among their members. Diversity encompasses a variety of factors: locale (regional, urban, suburban, rural); demographics (age, religion, race, sexuality, country of origin); knowledge (education, skills, professional affiliations, organizational memberships); and personal experiences.
Researchers have discussed the influence of diversity on successful group performance. Their research concludes that teams made up of individuals with different personalities and a variety of skills, knowledge, abilities and perspectives, are more effective than homogeneous groups. Diverse knowledge and skills, in combination with a balance of personality types, is thus key for team success. This also means there is a much wider divergence of self-interests.
Yet in this challenge, everyone is needed to make a difference in the lives of older adults. The success of community partnerships therefore depends on how you celebrate diversity —and the many value systems, points of view and self-interests that go with it.
Including Difficult People
As an exercise, take a moment and imagine a difficult person whom you’ve encountered in your partnership or in another organization of which you’ve been a member. Think about all the ways this person has made life challenging for the group and for you.
This difficult person may seem different from you. On a personal level, he or she might have a whiney voice, bad hygiene, wear too much perfume, hum while at work, gossip, come to meetings late, or a hundred other things. On a work level, he or she might ask irrelevant questions, not show up on time, not follow through on tasks, or attempt to control the group through their personality and the demands they make. The list is endless.
The first reaction for most partners is to wish the difficult people were gone. After all, they limit what the group can accomplish. The second reaction is to blame them for any lack of progress.
But in actuality, difficult people are no different than you. What’s really happening is they are not getting their self-interests met and neither are you.
Yes, there are difficult people out there and in your partnership. But in truth most of them are appreciated and loved by someone, just not by you and others in the group.
Keep in mind that members can possess all the personal and professional idiosyncrasies they want, as long as those attributes don’t stop the partnership from completing its work. But to stay on track means you have to uncover their self-interests. And yours.
Techniques for Uncovering Self-interests
Barbara Jordan, one of the first African-American women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, once said, “Don’t call for black power or green power, call for brainpower.” When uncovering self-interests, you are looking for the brainpower that drives the partnership. You want people to think through the ways that the partnership can tap the abundant resources in the diverse self-interests of your members, complete with all of their diversity and difficulties.
Here are two techniques for uncovering self-interests:
With the full knowledge of your members, contract with someone (and this can be a volunteer) outside the partnership to act as an interviewer and reporter. This person’s job is to call each member and ask: “What do you need to get out of the partnership in order to contribute to the partnership.” The calls can and likely will be brief.
Members will be briefed ahead of time about the protocol for the phone call. Nonetheless, the interviewer begins by promising that:
- all responses will remain anonymous, nobody’s name will be attached to any statement;
- comments will be generalized whenever necessary so the respondents cannot be identified; and
- information gathered from the phone calls will be reported back to the partnership in categories, not as lists of statements.
Initially, the interviewer is likely to hear about some form of the partnership’s desired impact (for example, to make it possible for older adults to age in place, develop home-healthcare volunteers or influence policy development). The interviewer responds, “That’s wonderful. In addition, I’m wondering if you are personally looking for a new job or if your agency is looking for grant money. Maybe you want greater professional recognition or your organization is seeking political connections in the community.” See the Tool Owning Our Own Interests for more examples of self-interests.
The interviewer notes the comments and thanks the respondent. When all the calls are completed, the interviewer, as promised in the protocol, groups the responses into categories of similar responses such as agencies seeking funds to supplement their existing programs; organizations looking for money for new programs; and individuals looking for more community connections. The interviewer also lists the number of responses in each category. (What to do with this information will be covered in the next section on integrating individual interests into the group’s work.)
While technique No. 1 is the best way of getting at self-interests, you may not have an outside interviewer available, or there may be major time constrains. So here is another approach.
Using a flipchart, ask everyone in the partnership to list hidden agendas they have experienced in other organizations to which they have belonged. Remind everyone that this is simply a listing of past experiences and no one is being asked about their own self-interests. Do push for them to think not only about hidden agendas, but such things as turf issues and conflict areas, as well as points at which members took a stand and would not compromise.
If the list starts to include items about the partnership’s desired impact (for example, to make it possible for older adults to age in place, develop home-healthcare volunteers or influence policy development), remind the group to focus on personal and organizational self-interests they have encountered such as people looking for a new job, agencies looking for grant money, individuals wanting greater professional recognition, or organizations seeking political connections in the community.
When the partners are finished listing their experiences, group the responses into categories: agencies seeking funds to supplement their existing programs, organizations looking for money for new programs, individuals looking for more community connections, etc. Again, what to do with this information will be covered in the next section.
A special note: If the partnership is large, you may need more than one interviewer for technique No. 1. And you may need special meetings to include everyone in technique No. 2. Also, if the partnership is large and all members do not attend the meetings, it is essential that everyone is informed of the results by mail or at least e-mail.