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Teaching elephants how to dance – Fronteer introduces the Coalition Toolkit

How might we…? This is the question we always ask. Why not ask the same question to ourselves? How might we make a real impact as a consulting firm? The world has changed and will see some deep and lasting changes. Is it possible for us to structurally contribute to some positive movements? What would that entail?

Form Clever Coalitions for Impact

Our answer usually is co-creation (whatever the question is). This time we offer something else: coalitions. We strongly believe we need coalitions to tackle today’s challenges. No company can solve everything by itself. Real big issues can only be solved by collaboration along the value chain – including all stakeholders. This is why one of our three recommendations in the ‘Era of Coalitions’ is: ‘Form Clever Coalitions for Impact’. Please read James Veenhoff’s update to learn more. In this post, I will discuss our recently developed multi-step process to form a strong coalition: the Coalition Toolkit.

Our Coalition Toolkit

We bundled our approach to forming alliances in the ‘Coalition Toolkit’. It is based on 10+ projects we did recently. From reforestation to shortening food chains, from biogas to biodiversity, we learned the ropes when it comes to structural collaboration between organisations. To be totally honest: not everything went well. We learned it the hard way. We were optimistic at the outset, but we became more aware of the potential pitfalls after several coalition projects. It ain’t easy, but it can be done. This is how. Below I will discuss two types of coalitions and present you three steps in the coalition process. I will end with some tips. In the Fronteer approach to coalitions, we will guide you through these steps, support you in decision making, setting goals, recruiting partners and participants, co-creating concepts, managing communication, and most of all keeping the energy flowing!

Two types of coalitions

Firstly, you have to make a decision Directive or Collective? Am I on a journey, where I need others to join? Or do I have a strong urge to change something and do I want to do this together with others? Mostly we see that our clients aim for type 2. More people, more impact; share the purpose, share the work. They feel they need to start a movement, something big, something where they need others.

Type 1 – Directive

In a directive coalition, one actor has an outspoken ambition that it wants to realise in reconsideration with others taking a directing role in an established arena of stakeholders.

Type 2 – Collective

In a collective coalition, actors are partners in a newly created arena of complementary shareholders, each with something to give and gain in a jointly shaped ambition. Secondly, you have to design a process that builds a team for a shared goal, ready to invest in concrete projects. Simple? No. Doable. Yes!

A successful coalition in three steps

Phase 00 – Foundation

The phase when all the groundwork is done. From finding the right partners (core coalition and extended coalition) to determining the common goal: everything is covered. Challenges lie in creating a shared purpose and ownership, finding clear benefits for everyone, and being open about obstacles.

Key Success Factor: It is essential to ask about the commitment of the core coalition. With which people and resources do you participate in phases 01 and 02?

Timing: 2-4 months

Phase 01 – Design

Now all the fun can begin. How might we…? We co-create the future together with the core coalition, the extended coalition, and other experts. Tricky parts here are formulating clear projects, the communication to all participants involved, and creating ownership.

Key Success Factor: Finding the right balance between vision development and delivering concrete concepts/projects – making it tangible.

Timing: 2-4 months

Phase 02 – Venturing

After these first two hopeful steps, the real hard work begins. A team sets out to search for the final proposition; the beginning of a new business model. The hard part: getting people and resources, being able to get the ball rolling, and finding the business model.

Key Success Factor: The venture should have freedom and funding. It must be able to stand on its own two feet to be successful.

Timing: 6-24 months

Last words of advice

Thirdly, some advice from the Fronteer when you feel like getting this off the ground.

  • Have a really clear coalition structure and process and clear mandates (without being too formal at the start).

  • Select your core team partners wisely (use a checklist to review them).

  • Form a basis of trust between participants (invest in the relationship).

  • Run a smooth, efficient, and inspiring process (allow for flexibility as well).

  • Set clear and explicit roles and contributions per coalition partner (including who is leading the coalition..).

And lastly, one more tip:

  • Be very clear about why we are here together (do not get tired of stating the obvious!)


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