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Rising on the Westside

Joining with GCN and The Arthur M. Blank Foundation, IBM has become a major partner in Momentum: Westside – the latest in a series of initiatives propelling nonprofit development and networks in communities across Georgia. Launched in April 2015, Momentum: Westside has been building capacity and velocity for the human services organizations serving neighborhoods surrounding the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where IBM is providing advanced, interactive technologies as a founding partner. IBM’s business partnerships are complemented by the company’s commitment to corporate responsibility, including its Impact Grants initiative. Through Impact Grants, IBM is providing consulting expertise to several Momentum: Westside nonprofits at one time, helping them better serve communities around the stadium in several specific areas, including economic development, education, and health.

One major component of the Momentum model is uniting a network of nonprofits through group training, giving them a common understanding of best practices, professional values, and the benefits of working in concert to address community-wide challenges. IBM recently led one of these group training sessions – a day-long seminar equipping leaders from eight nonprofits to initiate and lead collaborative solutions inside and outside their organizations. Larry Pastor, Strategy Consultant with IBM Global Business Services, Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs, began the session with a group discussion of “collaborative leadership,” a model in which executives and managers play the role of connector:




We feel obligated to return favors to people who have done us favors in the past


We value information and commodities that are scarce more than when they are abundant


We believe what trustworthy and credible experts say


People are most likely to do what is consistent with what they have done in the past


People trust the power of the crowd and like to be associated with popular things


People are more likely to say "yes" to people they like


“A collaborative leader quickly and easily establishes relationships across many different worlds, knowing that diverse teams tend to produce more robust and innovative solutions. At the same time, diverse teams require more deliberate leadership to resolve conflicts and keep efforts moving,” said Pastor.

What happens when stakeholders want to tell you about everything that’s wrong but won’t pick up the tools to fix it? The group starts losing enthusiasm. The easiest thing to do is identify the negatives. Solutions are hardest: They take thought, blood, sweat, and tears.”

To short-circuit the “analysis paralysis” trap, leaders must model effective teamwork by setting the right tone, putting aside personal or political agendas, and knowing how a decision gets reached. When has a discussion run its course? Who has final authority? “You’ve got to encourage collaboration, but you must also be able to get a little tough on the team. You can’t let deliberation go on forever,” said Pastor.

One major element of successful collaboration is persuasion: the art of convincing others to embrace your point of view. The group discussed six key principles of persuasion – reciprocity, scarcity, authority, commitment, consensus, and likability – along with practical tips for implementing each.

On an organization-wide level, the elements of collaboration can be established through culture-building. With leaders to act as role models, organizations can move the organizational culture in the right direction by identifying and rewarding collaborations already in progress, creating opportunities for people to work together, cultivating the ethic of contribution in every worker, and building a shared purpose to guide team efforts.

Participants left the day’s session with a workbook full of practical techniques and experience, having thought them through in group activities. Mitchell Parsons, operations manager with Midtown Assistance Center, called the training “top-notch,” saying, “Innovators like IBM have so much to share, in so many different aspects of running a business, that everyone takes away something positive. Hashing out these ideas with our peers gives us great insight from those who really understand the complexities of the Atlanta nonprofit sector.”

Additional feedback from the Momentum: Westside network has indicated that the expertise provided through the IBM Impact Grants was valuable to the professional development and organizational growth of IBM’s nonprofit clients. But through the experience of serving others, IBMers also gained a deeper understanding of the different issues facing the Westside and other nonprofits, thereby improving the effectiveness of subsequent Impact Grant across a variety of nonprofit sectors.

Tjuan Dogan and Christian Shoen are managers for IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs, helping facilitate and deliver Impact Grants for Momentum: Westside participants.

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