Insights and Recommendations for Collaboratives: Capacity to Deliver

Capacity to Deliver: The talent, infrastructure, and processes needed to execute the business strategy in order to deliver social impact.

A focused business strategy is only as good as an organization’s ability to execute it. Capacity was a leading concern across the Alliances. There was a consistent need for more time and resources across all Alliances. This is a common challenge in the social sector, but it can be particularly hard within the collaborative context, when accountability and ownership can be unclear. To achieve sustainability and adapt to change, collaboratives must plan for and continually build the right talent, including leadership, stakeholders, board, and staff.

Prioritize and align your talent. It all begins with people and the skills and competencies they bring to the table. Great ideas, strategies, and execution will not flow from a mediocre team. The Alliances best positioned to sustain their impact were those with leaders who had a strong vision, a clear understanding of the impact they need to make in the community, and the team with the right skills and competencies to support the Alliances’ most valuable programs and services. Forty-nine percent of the Alliance’s expenses were for staff compensation, with another 14 percent spent on consultants for contracted services. To ensure that this investment in talent is a direct investment in impact, it is critical to have a deep understanding of the skills and competencies the team needs to deliver the programs and services that benefit the community. Many Alliances were able to identify the unique value they could bring to their communities by providing otherwise unavailable high-quality products and services. However, many of the Alliances then failed to consider how the skills and competencies of their staff aligned with those products and services, which led to them being unable to sell and deliver those products and services to the market.

Have a succession plan in place well in advance of transitions. Over the course of time, many Alliances faced staff transitions at all levels. The impact of losing a resource that holds mission-critical knowledge, whether technology, partnerships, leadership, etc., cannot be underestimated. Those that thoughtfully planned for staff changes were able to use the impending transition time to garner feedback from key stakeholders and assess the direction and future of the open position, and potentially, the Alliance.

Create a culture of shared ownership from the start. Collaboration was a key focus of all of the Alliances, and they were skilled at engaging their stakeholders in their work. However, there is a key difference between stakeholder engagement and stakeholder ownership. Many Alliances had large numbers of stakeholders engaged either as members, advisors, or funders, but few had instilled a strong sense of ownership across those stakeholder groups. The result was that responsibility and capacity demands to continue the work fell solely on the Alliance, rather than being shared by stakeholders.

Intentionally engage and effectively manage the board. Some Alliances expressed the need for assistance with board engagement, seeing board members as both a critical factor for success and a significant roadblock for progress. The most effective board members were those who have the opportunity to engage in specific projects or committees, partner with staff, and connect with other board members. In some instances, however, Alliances offered board seats as a benefit of becoming a member of the Alliance. For these Alliances, their boards grew to be so large—many Alliances had more than 30 board members—that it became challenging for board members to be engaged in meaningful ways. Other Alliances attempted to use board members to help offset their own internal lack of capacity and address challenges to executing goals. However, reliance on board members to carry out essential tasks had its own downside, as the board members did not necessarily have sufficient time or expertise required by the Alliance.  Other Alliances had highly engaged boards that took on challenging tasks, using their skills in productive ways that helped progress the work of the Alliance.

Capacity to Deliver: Recommended Actions for Collaboratives

Prioritize and align your talent.

  • Develop a culture of transparency and feedback. Set goals with team members that align with the organization’s goals, and use a performance evaluation system that guides decisions on compensation and tenure.
  • Conduct an annual employee engagement survey to ensure that team members are satisfied with their work and have the tools and resources they need to perform their jobs well.
  • Invest in professional development to ensure that team members are provided with opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Assess skills as a component of planning and development of products and services. Identify any gaps or training needs to ensure meeting resource requirements for all initiatives.

Have a succession plan in place well in advance of transitions.

  • Document and discuss the key activities of senior team members and key personnel. Identify staff members who should step in and carry out duties when additional support is needed.
  • Regularly collect and share information about important external relationships held by the senior team members and key personnel (e.g., among major donors, funders, community leaders, or key partners).

Create a culture of shared ownership and from the start.

  • Identify and clearly communicate how stakeholders can be directly involved in the effort.
  • Collectively develop partnership principles that clearly outline how stakeholders will work together. For example, define how decisions will be made, how information will be shared, and how stakeholders will be held accountable for actions.

Intentionally engage and effectively manage the board.

  • Create an advisory board and a governing board to effectively manage interest across a large number of people. Create and document clear expectations about roles, responsibilities, and term limits across both groups.