Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Limits of Good Intentions and the Confidence Born of Skill

Crossing the Will/Skill divide may be crucial
to the success of your partnership

By Dave Hackett, Associate Director, visionSynergy

Doing mission in partnership is the faithful way to go, most people agree. It's good witness for Christians to work together. We gain the benefits of greater numbers and resources in tackling the faith-sized mission and ministry we have on our hearts. And there's the practical dimension: We avoid duplicating efforts where our ministry initiatives overlap significantly with other ministries.

The Will/Skill Divide
Many leaders appear to believe that creating a successful partnership is mainly an act of the will, of "getting around to it." Oh that it were so! Efforts built on an abundance of good intentions and good will, however, have floundered just as routinely as those without. This begs the deeper questions: Can we accomplish enduring collaboration by running on good intentions? Or are there perhaps identifiable partnership skills necessary to become proficient in – key principles to observe if groups are to work together successfully?

Doing partnership takes "will," certainly. Without the conviction that we can do more together than we can do separately, any attempt to work together may be flawed from the start. The heart has to be in it.

But the heart has its limits. Good intentions start the journey but they lack power to actually reach the goal. People don't know what they don't know - and lacking that crucial information, it can be all too often a case of the blind leading the blind.

The Skills of Collaboration
That's where networking skills enter the scene. Networking and partnership specialists have observed the same cycle over and over again - eager and willing organizations launching hopefully into collaborative ventures, only to bump headlong into predictable but unseen obstacles that trip up their effort. When failure comes, relationships are strained (sometimes never to recover), and collaboration is written off as impractical in the real world. For the participants, it's back to their separate ways.

This pattern is tragic, not least of all because it is preventable. Networking skills are not quite like brain surgery, but like brain surgery, we don't want someone operating on us who doesn't have high-level, practiced skills. We want someone who has learned under great mentors and teachers. So it is with the delicate work of drawing together distinct organizations into a collaborative effort. Why do we think networking can be approached without learning from experienced practitioners in the field?

Partnership, in short, takes will – and skill. The will to persevere forward into the good land of stronger, broader ministry gained only by working together; the skills of successful collaboration to move groups of organizations past the many challenging roadblocks and barriers.

Navigating the Shoals with a Steady, Trained Hand
Like a trained captain who knows the boat and the sea, gaining the skills of collaboration help emerging networks and partnerships navigate the dangerous shoals by...
  • Creating a level field for participation among ministries that vary in size, tradition, and approach yet share core convictions.
  • Dealing with strong egos and ministries that tend to dominate or propose that others simply follow their lead.
  • Preserving the sovereignty of each ministry while discovering new ways to work together.
  • Countering the tendency to set unachievable objectives that break momentum and create a downward spiral.
  • And dealing with a raft of other typically encountered problems.
Author Eric Hoffer writes eloquently about the hazards of substituting enthusiasm for "the self confidence born of experience and the possession of skill." He observes,

There is close connection between lack of confidence and a passionate state of mind, and, as we shall see, passionate intensity may serve as a substitute for confidence. The connection can be observed in all walks of life. A working man, sure of his skill, goes leisurely about his job and accomplishes much, though he works as if at play. On the other hand, the working man new to his trade attacks his work as if he were saving the world, and he must do so if he is to get anything done at all. The same is true of the soldier. A well trained soldier will fight well even when not stirred by strong feeling. His morale is good, because his thorough training gives him a sense of confidence. But the untrained soldier will give a good account of himself only when animated by faith and enthusiasm. Cromwell used to say that common folk needed the “fear of God before them” to match the soldierly cavaliers. Faith, enthusiasm, and passionate intensity in general are substitutes for the self confidence born of experience and the possession of skill. Where there is the necessary skill to move mountains, there is no need for the faith to move mountains. ("The Ordeal of Change," Perennial Library, 1967)
Gaining the Skills of Collaboration
Where can one gain these requisite skills in partnership building and collaboration? The field of collaboration in the Christian ministry context is not well-plumbed. But substantial resources exist to help those who want to grow in their collaborative skills. Among the available resources that visionSynergy provides are these that can serve as first places to turn to for gaining collaboration skills:
  • "Well Connected: Releasing Power, Restoring Hope Through Kingdom Partnerships" (Phill Butler, Authentic, 2006; available through and other booksellers). Comments from book endorsers: "Networks, partnering, and strategic alliances are hard to build but create incredible leverage...Phill Butler's book is a practical 'how to' with exciting, real-life examples and the 'why' behind it all." "If you didn't know how to make partnership work well, you will now."

  • The Networking Movement Resource Site The PowerofConnecting Web Site has a reservoir of articles, case studies and principles to help the reader gain the skills of collaboration.

  • The Partnership eNewsletter, a free, monthly email delivering news, commentary and links about partnership and Kingdom collaboration. Subscribe to this eNewsletter at the http://www.PowerofConnecting.nett Web Site.
-- Dave Hackett


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