A convener of stature is someone with the stature to bring together a group of independent parties and have them work in an aligned way to create something of value. While common pain may provide the motivation for various groups to participate in a collaboration, they still need a convener of stature to capitalize on that motivation, providing credibility and cohesion.
Conveners of stature can have three forms: an individual, an organization, or a combination of individuals and organizations. Combinations are sometimes necessary to secure participation from a critical mass of groups that a single convener couldn’t secure alone. For instance, in his work on the Clinton Health Access Initiative, President Clinton co-convened various efforts in Africa with the administrators of local hospital districts because their stature had greater resonance in those remote areas.
At times, organizations are more effective conveners than individuals. A variety of organizational types –– a company, a trade group, a community-based entity, a think tank –– can use organizational structure and reputation to provide convening power to solve complex problems. For instance, a local PTA convenes leaders from various parts of the community to combat the growing problem of gang violence.
In some instances, multiple organizations can act as conveners. A few insurance companies, two hospitals, a large medical clinic, a long-term care facility and a local community health organization all helped convene a value alliance that established a more efficient way to manage patient care in their community.
Conveners may have very different personalities and leadership styles and may be either individuals or organizations. Nonetheless, the most effective ones share seven traits:
1. Trusted brand. Prospective conveners, whether individuals or organizations, come to the task with a personal brand –– a reputation that defines expectations of potential participants. For successful conveners, this brand must include fairness –– the reputation for being even-handed and honest in their dealings with employees, the community, competitors and others.
2. Relevant reach. When conveners recognize intuitively or through investigation that their influence is too limited to get the value alliance going on their own, they may wish to partner with another convener (an individual or organization) to fill in the gaps in their influence.
3. Adequate independence. Those who come to a collaboration with a solution that benefits their own company far more than other collaborators will not be viewed as credible. Similarly, those who are seen as being beholden to special interests or as having a reputation for favoring one group over another will lack the independent stature necessary to be effective conveners.
4. Diplomatic skill. Because the main function of conveners is to bring the right parties to the table, they must be proficient in the art of diplomacy. Perhaps most important of all, conveners must gain contingent agreements among separate parties to join the collaborative entity and then bring them together into a functional whole.
5. Instinct for stage setting. A sense of stage management also comes in handy for conveners in need of a dramatic demonstration of the importance of the alliance. Sometimes using a prestigious setting to make an invitation does the job.
6. Astute perception. Whether by intuition, instinct or a learned skill, conveners need to be perceptive of what motivates people to participate in an alliance of people or entities.
7. Ability to apply pressure. The convener sometimes needs to skillfully apply action-motivating pressure to clarify and create the reality of the common pain strong enough to make collaboration an attractive alternative.
Convening a group of people to create value collectively is an act of leadership. Conveners must complete the following tasks:
1. Define the problem and consequences of inaction contrasted with what collaboration aspires to accomplish.
2. Organize a structure that furnishes the alliance with people, perspectives and an orderly method of operation.
3. Create a system of accountability.
4. Mold a culture of productivity.
5. Recognize good performance and respond to poor behavior.