Collaborating across boundaries

bridgeAs leaders, we are often more comfortable working within familiar frameworks and with familiar stakeholders. While the work isn’t always easy, it is at least somewhat predictable and we have an idea about the conversations that need to occur.  But what does it look like when we move into new ways of collaborating?

In order to address the challenges facing our system, we are going to have to look at collaborations across institutions, with government agencies, local and regional business partners, other public K-12 and higher education systems, and many varieties of nonprofit agencies.  While many of our leaders are skilled at building these relationships, we are all going to have to learn more about crossing boundaries.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to take a course through the University of Minnesota’s Center for Integrative Leadership. For a lot of reasons, it was eye-opening and significant in my development as a leader. Much of what I learned applies directly to our MnSCU leadership competency of collaborating across boundaries.

The Center for Integrative Leadership defines integrative leadership as leading across  sectoral, cultural, and national boundaries to advance the common good. This quote from the Center’s website proposes six ideas that help frame their efforts:

  1. Leadership is fundamental to making progress on long term grand challenges and addressing issues of the common good;
  2. Often leadership is most needed at the places where conflicting world views, beliefs, and knowledge intersect;
  3. The most powerful acts of leadership are those empowering others to make positive change;
  4. Building broad capacity for acts of integrative leadership may have greater global impact than exclusively working with individuals in positions of formal authority;
  5. Acts of leadership flow from person to person.  When viewed this way, acts of leadership that address grand challenges become everyone’s responsibility and everyone’s opportunity.
  6. Fostering collective action is a skill that can be learned.

Based on these propositions, integrative leadership is everyone’s responsibility. In your leadership role, which boundaries are most challenging? What are steps you can take to reach across them?

Dee Anne Bonebright


2 responses to “Collaborating across boundaries

  1. Michael Van Keuln

    Our college is separated into five campuses and three centers, with a distance of about 100 miles between the two most distant corners of our region. I don’t believe that leaders are necessarily unwilling to collaborate, but figuring out the most appropriate way to share resources and ideas as well as keep the lines of communication open are always a challenge. It is one thing to collaborate when you can walk down the hall and engage a colleague. It is another thing to collaborate when you are miles apart.


  2. Good point, Michael. That’s one of the things that makes it so challenging. The competency actually talks about collaborating across “the system, the nation, and the world.” That adds even more complexity!


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