Collaborative partnerships/networks do not spontaneously come to life. Neither do they continue to function effectively all by themselves. It takes tremendous dedication not only to launch a collaborative initiative, but even more so to lead one. When a collaborative partnership/network moves into the Operational Phase, it is absolutely essential to have a committed coordinator – a “facilitator” – who can serve the ongoing function of the whole partnership/network.
You might ask: “What is a facilitator? What does a facilitator actually do? What kinds of qualities does this role require?” The following article provides some of the answers to those questions.
In brief, a partnership/network facilitator is a person – or a team of people – affirmed by the partnership/network to coordinate its day-to-day operation. This person is usually loaned to the partnership/network by a partner agency that is dedicated to the big vision and allows the facilitator to serve in a neutral role for the common good. Most effective partnership/networks value the contribution of the facilitator and provide for their resources, training, and encouragement.
Prophet & Servant
The facilitator must have a deep personal commitment to the purpose of the partnership/network as well as the process of working together. Thus, this person must sometimes play the simultaneous roles of prophet (keeping the focus on the big vision) and servant (demonstrating concern for each partner).
In your role as a prophet you:
- Serve as an advocate, an ambassador for the vision of working together. The general vision of working together, of course. But you have a specific vision – a specific Kingdom outcome in mind.
- Hold out the vision that it is possible to work together, that others are doing it, and that it really can make a difference.
- Once underway, encourage the group by helping them see what they’ve accomplished or the progress they’ve made.
- Help the group monitor and evaluate its work – providing encouragement, course correction, and reports to others.
In your role as a servant, you will:
- Help individual ministries see where they can or do fit into the bigger picture.
- Help ministries find points in common they never knew they had.
- Help members of the network keep focused on the vision – not getting sidetracked on side issues that are likely secondary and may divide.
- Help ministries integrate their work – finding ways to link with others when they’ve never done it before.
- Help fellow believers build and strengthen relationships.
- Help the partnership/network or network work well – and keep working – through effective communications, meetings, productive task forces, etc.
Your Credibility & Communications
Your ability to lead, facilitate, and keep a partnership or network on course for real productivity depends, certainly in part, on your personal credibility. Here are some factors that will strengthen your credibility as a facilitator:
- You demonstrate you have a heart and spirit of maturity, clearly committed to Christ and His Kingdom.
- You demonstrate a sense of urgency about the vision on your heart—whether it is a neighborhood, a special sector of people in your city, a Kingdom-minded project, or an unreached people group in a distant location.
- You demonstrate knowledge about what’s involved in successful collaboration.
- When things get difficult, you stay with the vision and keep pressing on.
- Your organization, if you are attached to one, has a good reputation.
- You remain neutral and committed to everyone’s success, together, rather than to a private, one-person or one-organization agenda.
- You show genuine interest in other ministry leaders and their vision.
- You are consistent in what you say and do.
- You handle confidential or sensitive information responsibly—both what you say and don’t say about other ministries and their leaders is important.
- You keep your promises. You do what you say you’ll do, when you say you’ll do it. If you find you can’t keep the promises, you’re honest and indicate realistically what you are going to do
All of these lead to a place of trust. Trust is what keeps everything together when it threatens to go wrong.
Effective communications is critical for any successful partnership/network. (Watch for another article in this series specifically on partnership/network communications.) But your personal communications is at the heart of the partnership/network’s effectiveness. Good communications impacts your effectiveness as well as your credibility. Here are some things that can strengthen your personal communications.
- Listen well. Asking good questions is a sign of strength not weakness.
- Plan ahead and be able to summarize. Participants in a partnership/network want to know where they are going and what they have accomplished. Your effective communication strengthens their confidence.
- Work on your ability to be brief. Develop your ability to succinctly summarize difficult issues, action the partnership/network has done, or highlights of working meetings.
- Encourage partners to speak up – call for input from as many as possible. The more effectively you encourage other’s communication the more effective you are in your facilitator’s role.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. A little appropriate humor can often be very helpful – particularly in difficult situations!
Accountability when you Serve everyone but Have no single “boss”
As a prophet upholding the fundamental purpose of the partnership/network, you can feel like you work for no one – except your Spirit-directed conscience. But as a servant, upholding the essential process of working together, you work for everyone.
Understanding this tension, it is vital for a facilitator to have personal accountability. We all need to be responsible to someone. In a company, the CEO is responsible to the board. And that accountability goes right on down through the ranks. In the case of a partnership/network facilitator, it’s very important that you define as clearly and early as possible who you are accountable to. Partnership/network participants need to know this!
Usually the facilitator is responsible to the steering committee or leadership team. These individuals are often selected by the partnership/network to represent the wider group’s interests on a day-to-day basis. Some suggestions –
- Draft a job description so that you, your facilitation or leadership team, as well as the partners know very clearly what your roles are. Defining expectations is vital!
- Define your reporting responsibilities – what, when, and to whom; inside and outside of the partnership/network. Then make sure you meet those reporting expectations!
- Continue to actively seek others’ input; members of your leadership team and your partner ministries. Actively listening to them gives you a sense of what people are thinking and feeling. And it strengthens your credibility and effectiveness in ability to develop and maintain consensus.
- As many know, nothing of lasting value comes at a cheap price. This is not an easy assignment.
- Humility goes a very long way. Humility and great leadership can go hand in hand.
- The role takes time; possibly nights and weekends in the beginning – fitting it into your ‘day job.’ But if the vision’s important the role may soon become your ‘day job!’ Don’t try to do this work with bits and pieces of your time. The results will show.
You can’t do this job alone. After all, this is collaboration we’re talking about! Early in the process you need to be identifying those who share the vision and can share work load. If you take a team approach to facilitation, make sure the communication roles and responsibilities are clear. The wider partnership/network or network needs to know who they will hear from and who they can go to with questions or issues.
You may ask, “How can I possibly do all this?!” Helping God’s people work together isn’t easy. Satan is after you. Well-intentioned folks don’t want to break from “tradition.” Change is hard and oft en threatening.
One of the most important things for the partnership/network facilitator to do is to give away the vision. That’s not giving it up! Give it to others, so they understand, personally own, and are willing, with you, to take the steps necessary to turn dream into reality.
- The idea for God’s people to work together was His, not yours. We just need to make sure that what we’re doing and how we’re doing it is guided by Him and affirmed by trustworthy people who love Him, listen to Him, and are committed to his church.
- If the partnership/network was easy to do, it probably would already have been done!
- The vision is important – what you’re trying to accomplish can make a real difference.
- Ultimately, only the love and power of Jesus will carry you through. Unless He’s in it, providing wisdom, vision, and hourly and daily encouragement, you won’t get far.
And, remember the Apostle Paul’s words from Philippians 1:6 as he addressed the Philippian church:
“I feel sure that the one who has begun his good work in you will go on developing it until the day of Jesus Christ.”