Collective impact is all the rage these days in the nonprofit/mission driven sector.  Community partners from across sectors are convened in much greater numbers to pool their efforts to solve complex, systems level issues, like childhood obesity, generational poverty, opiod  misuse, and jump starting local economies. We join committees, coalitions, task forces, work groups, advisory councils and other collaborative bodies convened by a respected backbone organization.

Together, we endeavor toward a shared vision with mutually reinforcing activities while in continuous communication and sharing our outcome measurement.  This work is HARD. It takes a long time.  Politics and turf wars abound.  Some partners just phone in their participation just to say they are at the table. Funding is still not quite enough to provide the kind of staffing we wish we could have or the high level professional development we all wish we could attain. When and where do we cultivate the skillsets, mindsets, and heartsets we need for this challenging, sometimes seemingly bottomless pit of systems level collaborative change-making?

In a world where we need to first look to low and no cost ideas, the answer is actually deceptively simple, perhaps even trite.

Love Is The Answer.

No really, it is.  Over a year ago, I saw a Tweet on the Twitter feed of which read, “We say I love you all the time in the office, is that normal?”  My first reaction to this question was, “No, that is not normal.” And then I thought, “well why not? What would it look like if love was the norm for every organization?”  Of course there is a real fear of saying the words “I love you” at work.  Its unprofessional.  It could be misconstrued as harassment or at least a little sketchy.But even if the words themselves were not always uttered, what would love in an organization look like in practice?

Companionate love is not a new concept.  There has been a great deal of research put into showing how a loving, caring, compassionate work environment leads to more job satisfaction, less burnout and even fewer sick days.  It would follow then that loving collaborative groups would garner the same kinds of results. I gave a presentation at the 2014 Gross National Happiness Conference this past summer at the University of Vermont. This is what I put forward:

Love is Commitment.

How do you create shared vision?  You share your passion, your vision that brought you to the work in the first place.  Make space in your meetings to give voice to everyone’s inspiration, what they love about their work or even about working with your group!   You are all awesome people, make space to appreciate that!

Love is Authenticity.

Taking time to connect on a human level can foster care for one another. We have to remember that we are more than our professions, more than mission-driven robots. How are your kids doing in school?  Talk about the choir you sing in or about your new pet.   When we share those personal things with our colleagues, we become human.  Don’t take up the whole meeting with this, but provide space at the beginning for a check in so you know how everyone is showing up that day.

Love is Accountability.

Businesses are held accountable by shareholders, boards, auditors, investors- the list could go on and on. But I’m referring to an internal form of accountability, where colleagues  acknowledge conflict or issues and together, work out solutions.  We need to hold ourselves and our colleagues accountable with compassion.   If we know something is wrong, we need to act on it and hold each other to that action with support.  For example, if staff meetings always go over their allotted time say something to your co-worker like: “Thank you so much for facilitating these meetings week after week. I really appreciate the time you give. I also have a request about the agenda and how we move through it.”  No one wants to be held hostage by a bad meeting design or a struggling, well meaning facilitator.

Love is Balance & Retreat.

Mission driven professionals have a high rate of burnout from overworking.  In order to have something to offer one another the week after week, we have to stop working 70-hour workweeks and checking emails on the weekend. We need to regularly take five minute physical activity breaks and build in all-staff, day-long retreats. We need time together as colleagues to reflect and be together. If we can break together in nature or through physical activity, even better.  How about a regular five minute dance party?  If an insurance company can host a five minute dance party every day, certainly nonprofits can have a bit of that fun as well.


Love is Partnership & Collaboration.

Partnership is about collaborating cross-organizationally on the macro level, but also on the personal level. Find a “dynamic duo” work partner (or several!), another colleague who fosters creative energy and innovation–even if this person is from another organization.  What are the types of projects that could be done collaboratively in your community?  Who could have a role to play to make the workload lighter?  Could you form a learning community with other partner organizations about shared goals? You could foster each others’ creative learning while getting more perspectives on a thorny issue.

In order to make a collective impact with our work, we need to be collectively awesome.  We need to bring our best selves to our groups in order to do our best work together.  We love our communities, which is why we do this work.  If we are trying to create our best communities, then we MUST show up in that work as our best selves.  Let’s model what we are trying to create.  Love yourself.  Love your colleagues.  Love your community.

This piece previously appeared on Common Good Vermont.