Building Coalitions | Strategic partnerships that make a real impact

July, 2019

Recently we hosted a breakfast event called the ‘Fronteer Sunrise’. A new event to bring together kindred spirits and talk about topics that drive us in our daily work. This first edition centered all around the topic of coalitions and partnerships. Why? Because the challenges of today are often too big to tackle alone and ask for systemic collaboration between stakeholders. Moreover: existing relations are often limited to transactional interactions. We believe in the power of partnerships: real value exchange in which stakeholders overcome traditional boundaries, collaborate and support each other to make more impact, together.

Partnerships vs Coalitions

So what is the difference between a partnership and a coalition? We define a partnership as:

                  An arrangement where parties, known as partners, agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests.

In partnerships, stakeholders collaborate to advance their own needs or interests through value exchange. It is a win-win situation: each partner gets a clear benefit out of the collaboration. Coalitions, on the other hand, are a bit more complex. Coalitions often consist of more than two stakeholders that, besides their own interests, also collaborate to serve a higher goal. Our definition of a coalition:

              A pact (or treaty) among individuals or groups, during which they cooperate in joint action, each in their own self-interest, for a common cause.


Co-creation for Coalitions

Increasingly, we have been doing a lot of work around setting up coalitions. Co-creation has proven a fundamental tool in setting the stage for successful coalitions. In fact, it’s all about changing the conversation. By creating a level playing field in co-creation workshops, we do just that. One of the examples is a project we did for Rabobank about sustainable living. Theo Harms from Rabobank joined the Fronteer Sunrise to share his thoughts and experiences.

Coalition Digest

Some key insights from our experiences with coalitions:

  • It all starts with shared enthusiasm The coalition approach is especially useful to spark joint enthusiasm. It gets people moving towards a joint goal and by focusing on the content of the challenge itself, people go beyond boundaries to explore new ideas and opportunities.

  • Be open about the risks for all coalition partners Trust is at the base of partnerships and coalitions. It is essential to be transparent about existing fears concerning the coalition. Developing a clear picture of the different coalition partners’ interests helps to establish trust.

  • Focus on company interest Part of the struggle around aligning business objectives is related to the interests of individual stakeholders. People often have KPI’s to meet and even though the coalition might meet larger company objectives, people feel reluctant to pursue them when it does not match their own business objectives or KPI’s. Therefore, getting top management involved seems to improve the chances of success. They can see across department objectives to ensure a business fit on the highest level; meeting core values and strategic company goals.

  • Ensuring commitment is key When the business plans come into the mix, it is fairly easy for stakeholders to hide behind business realities and its (old) ways of doing. When that happens, barriers that were crossed in ideation because of shared enthusiasm are built back up again. So in fact, ensuring business commitment beforehand is key in making a coalition successful.

  • Personal passions make waves People run faster when they are passionate about the end goal. So make sure to appeal to the personal interests of your key stakeholders. They will put in a bigger effort to get things done within your coalition and in their own organisation.

  • Offer the possibility to escape Building a coalition is always an exciting endeavour. You are exploring new territories and will encounter new boundaries. Acknowledge that. And offer stakeholders a way out. Challenge them when they do, but also accept that sometimes, what seemed to be the ideal coalition partner at first, might turn out not to be.


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