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  Failing forward - Lesson in stakeholder management

  • mark elliott
    Hosted by Mark Elliott
    Managing Director & Founder at Collabforge


Failing forward - Lesson in stakeholder management

A story of moving too quickly into collaboration, and getting derailed by dissatisfied stakeholders.

Project Name: ANONYMOUS
Sector: Industry body
Country: Australia

The challenge: To create a shared plan for a project with a well established vision
Collaboration scale: 10-100 

Sometimes the passion individuals have for achieving a vision can create tensions and politics when trying to form a plan for how to take action. Some activities don’t seem to have the impact or speed that participants want to see, and they want their solutions to be prioritised. Conversations can spiral and lead to a feeling that no agreement can be found and the group is just a ‘talk-fest’ lacking leadership and direction.

Collabforge was brought in to assist with an industry body, dealing with this challenge who were focused on carbon-reduction ideas and strategy. They had a strong vision, but lack of clear path forward, and wanted to utilise their passionate network to build their plan. We worked with the project team to develop a strategy to engage their stakeholders to collaboratively develop a plan for the group’s activities.

In the course of the project we engaged stakeholders with a series of workshops. Buoyed by the positive experiences of past projects, we focused preparation for the stakeholder engagement on the process to support collaboration rather than developing basic shared understanding among stakeholders about their interest in the project and plan.

Amongst one group of workshop participants, for the first time, we encountered stakeholders who had political interests in the group’s activities and were not favourably aligned to engaging in a collaborative process. They had a strong negative reaction to our process which disrupted the workshop and ultimately contributed to derailing other planned engagement activities, eroding trust in our organisation within the project team. 

This experience taught us some important lessons. It was not enough to anticipate that people will be enthused about, and see the potential in collaborating for its own sake. They need to be able to see value in collaboration as part of the process for themselves, in their own day-to-day context. As facilitators, we must understand what that value is likely to be so that we are speaking the language of the participants when we introduce new ways of working.

It also highlighted the importance of identifying high-risk individuals in the group. Because of the negative reaction to our process the disengaged stakeholders began recruiting others in the group into their way of thinking. This meant that the project team’s trust in our facilitation was eroded and they became more hesitant to utilise our skills with stakeholders and instead shifted to preferring Collabforge to mentor their team while handling their stakeholders themselves. 

The project was ultimately successful and the planning reached the intended outcome for the organisation, but had clear learnings for Collabforge that improved our approach to future work.