Check your personal agenda at the door

A conversation on collaboration with Amy Bennett from Adriel School. Adriel School Inc., the ministry is, in actuality, a social service agency for children, rather than an educational institution. Adriel serves the whole child with foster care, independent living, adoption, residential treatment and a variety of family preservation programs..

VL: The word we’re focusing on today is collaboration. Can you give an example of a time or a specific activity where you’ve had to collaborate–whether at work, or elsewhere?

Amy: In my current role, the majority of my work is coordinating across departments, and therefore, disciplines.

VL: Any specific examples?

Currently, we’re headed towards certification in the Teaching-Family Model. We are very segregated between our residential program, our foster program and our administration. However, when we come together for the review process, we are reviewed as an agency; not as the different mentioned programs.

In order to accomplish this, we have to create a collaborative team that keeps everyone unified. We have to break down some of the department lines.

VL: What does that look like when it plays out? What practical steps do you take to get rid of those barriers?

Amy: There is an expectation that when we come together, we are functioning as one.

I think this applies to any collaboration. In a setting where collaboration is expected, it becomes its own team, its own entity. Everyone who comes to that table is coming as one, functioning as one, versus their own sphere.

It’s the idea of checking your personal agenda at the door and focusing on the task at hand, making that your temporary team number one.

And then, of course, going back to your normal life.

VL: Are there values or principles–Anabaptist or otherwise–that have shaped this approach?

Amy: What first came to mind is a focus on greater good. That’s not exactly what I mean, but it sort of is.

In our particular world, things can be very territorial–and not just because people want to own things–but people are so overwhelmed. And that just doesn’t work, especially when you’re collaborating.

I think you have to focus on mission. The collaboration has to have a purpose and a value.

VL: Is it enough for the leader alone to have this focus? Will it organically trickle down to the other participants?

Amy: No, it’s not enough.

I definitely had to say, “this is why we’re here, and this is why it’s part of our mission and it’s important to do, and now we have to all play together.”

I think the leader is responsible to set the parameter, and when someone’s not on board, to gently remind them. We have a role. We don’t just get to sit back and say ‘do what I do.’

VL: Was there ever a point in this process where you weren’t sure the collaboration would be successful?

Amy: Every day. (Laughs.)

In fact, I went through this last week. I went through a meeting where I said, “Yes, this is great,” and then, “We’re going to fail,” three or four times in the same meeting.

It’s a big task. We don’t collaborate on small things. I don’t collaborate on my emails. So just collaboration in its own right is the beginning of something large, and it’s a process.

This means you’re going to have to keep people coming back to that table, and that’s a lot of work. But I have seen times when it is so successful, and yes, it’s worth it.

VL: The successful times, I’m curious–can you pinpoint what made those collaborations work?

Amy: Everyone had to commit to the goal. Everyone has to have that goal as their focus and not bring their own agenda. They have to see the value and actually embrace it. It’s one thing to say it’s important, it’s another thing to see value and commit to it.

VL: I imagine over time this type of collaborative work has had an impact on your faith.

Amy: I am definitely someone whose faith is strengthened during times of difficulty, versus times of comfort. So collaboration is that kind of time for me. There is room for failure, there is more challenge.

I can’t just rely on me, so I have to go somewhere else.

VL: During these challenging times, is there a resource you that is especially helpful?

Amy: One’s old-school, one’s not so old-school:

Up from the Organization, which is like, from the 60s. This is part of the reason I was so excited about it, but also he’s super sexist. If you can get past, like, ‘how the executives should bring their wives,’ and all that, some of his ideas are helpful.  It’s the basics of how you should treat people. It was really eye-opening.

Servant Leadership–this is so second nature to me I almost forget it. It’s all about how you treat people. I think this plays into collaboration.

You’re going to get better results when the people at the table are treated with respect, when they feel their input is valuable.


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