Whether you are promoting new scientific findings, advocating for a profession, advancing legislation or trying to change behavior, it takes a group of people working together to have a sustained influence. But finding ways to effectively collaborate as a team can be challenging. As Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; Keeping together is progress; Working together is success.”
Below are takeaways that are relevant for groups considering forming or joining a coalition to advance a cause.
- Find common ground and language through careful messaging research. Groups often come together because they agree an issue is important. More often than not, though, they do not agree on how to talk about it. In fact, they often disagree passionately. Market research can help address individual concerns and find the common ground and the precise language to address each organization’s worries, avoid turf issues and allay fears in an unbiased and data-driven way, all while keeping everyone focused on the main goal.
- Increasing awareness of an issue has to be emotion- and science-based. To achieve your goals, you will need to influence perceptions and discussions to include science and emotionally resonant personal stories to attract attention and motivate audiences to act.
- The issue─and the ask─need to be specific. Sometimes coalitions form for a general purpose and can get bogged down in politics. While coalition members won’t agree on everything, they need to remain in sync on the core issue. Being able to focus on one issue with such unanimity will ensure you do not get caught up in organizations’ differing priorities outside of the coalition.
- The consumer voice is powerful. It isn’t enough to talk about your point of view and simply explain the science or the rational thinking behind your perspective. Instead, it is critical to focus on putting a face to the issue and concentrate on the direct impact your goals will have upon the lives of real people in real communities.
- Allow organizations to tackle topics and activities on their own. Identifying specific areas of agreement is what will make the coalition successful. Recognizing in advance that there will be areas where you will be unable to find common ground is critical. You will need to agree to disagree. Focus on working together in one area and then allow individual organizations to undertake efforts with their own perspective on related issues. Doing so will increase engagement among each organization’s individual constituencies.
- Honest, constructive conversations are a must. Having a group of smart, passionate people together sometimes can lead to heated discussions. A capable and credible leader within a coalition needs to play a mediator role and maintain a high level of professionalism.
- Building trust among the diverse groups is essential. To do so, everyone’s interests must be fairly represented and given sufficient attention. Convene regular calls and in-person coalition meetings to provide forums to share insights and opinions and build relationships.
Coalitions are a great way to work together to achieve goals and they offer many benefits--when structured correctly. Sharing resources, bringing passionate, diverse voices together, creating a force behind an issue and sharing successes with a team can be professionally and personally rewarding.