A Reflection on CFI’s Power and Leadership for Collaborative Change course

The very first delivery of the Power and Leadership for Collaborative Change course was completed this month. The 3-day long course, spanning over 3 weeks, was designed by Liz Skelton and co-facilitated by Liz Skelton (Co-founder & Director) and Kate Williams (Collaborative Change Practitioner) of Collaboration for Impact.

11 participants from multiple sectors joined the cohort – including local and federal government members, consultants, researchers, Backbone team and civil society. The goal of the course was for participants to leave with increased confidence and skills to work with others to address their own adaptive leadership challenges. By the end of the course, our hope was that participants would also be able to identify and navigate power dynamics and conflict in their organisations and collaborations and leave with a broader range of approaches and skills at their disposal.

A majority (90%) of the participants who answered the post-course survey, said that the course has helped them better understand how to tackle adaptive leadership challenges. All participants who took the survey unanimously agreed that the facilitators had communicated expert knowledge in a way that was clear, helpful and relevant.

“My understanding and confidence in how I step up in my role and step into adaptive challenges has increased significantly as a direct result of this learning experience” – Jenny Joyce, Assistant Director – Stronger Places, Stronger People at Department of Social Services.

Co-facilitator Kate Willaims shared her reflection after the completion of the course:

Liz [Skelton] often speaks of the long emergency. That we are living in a time when we must navigate the convergence of numerous complex challenges – from climate change to COVID-19. For these challenges, there are no simple solutions or known ways forward.

These times call for brave ways of working: an adaptive approach to collective action. It calls for a movement of adaptive leaders. Leaders, that have the ability to hold complexity and tension over time, an awareness of the role of power in shaping collaborative change initiatives, and the ability to work across differences.

Adaptive work – and how we show up in it – is deeply personal. It requires us as practitioners, facilitators, and leaders to be aware of our individual narratives, explore our own relationship with power and authority, and contend with the loss that adaptive work can require of us.

Over the duration of the course, a shared understanding of the importance of fostering enabling conditions for adaptive work emerged. A key to this was the participants’ willingness to invest the time and process needed to distil and diagnose their own individual adaptive challenges. Each participant demonstrated commitment and care to both the learning process and towards each other, creating a safe space to unearth insights into their personal and collective work.

Another critical insight that surfaced during the course was the importance of our ability to distinguish between authority and power – and the function and influence of both in adaptive work. Participants spoke of the unique role of power within the context of Australia’s colonial history, recognising the systemic inequities and injustices experienced by First Nations and the collective work required to address these.

As a facilitator, it was a privilege to work and learn alongside the cohort. The wisdom, humility, and accountability they brought to the space and applied to their adaptive work illustrated to me just the type of leadership that is required for the long emergency.



Article by Kate Williams, Collaborative Change Practitioner, and Poroma Kanya, Communications and Events Coordinator, Collaboration for Impact.

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