A recent experience has illustrated how two quite different approaches to working with stakeholders can have a similar outcome if the same mindset is brought to the party.

In September last year I was engaged by the Department of Planning and Environment (now DCCEEW) to plan and facilitate the NSW Minister for the Environment’s Koala Summit. The Summit represented an important milestone for the Minister, the Department and the Government more broadly in their effort to review and refresh the state wide Koala strategy.

A date was set for the end of March this year and the process of planning began. 150 stakeholders from across the koala conservation and management sector were identified and invited. The agenda and process was developed in detail through many drafts. A large team of departmental staff were invited to participate and trained up as table facilitators.

We visited the venue twice to ensure everything would go smoothly on the day. Many meetings were held and many iterations of every detail worked through. We discussed risks, met senior people and the Minister to review how the day would run.

In short, there was a lot of effort invested in ensuring the success of the day. And while we were all nervous as 150 people showed up to discuss the potentially quite controversial range of issues, the day of course went well and participants valued the opportunity to work through those issues together.

Chalk up a victory for careful and detailed planning and head home exhausted!

The very next working day I had a call from a different team within the Department to say the Minister wanted another similar-but-different event to be held in six working days. We weren’t yet clear on objectives, who would be there or what issues were to be canvassed.

In other words, the preparation time for this second forum was at the other extreme; minimal!

The day before the new forum (!!) we met as a team and planned the event in detail and before we knew it there we were with another 60 stakeholders talking about those contentious koala-related issues.

And of course, the day went well and people valued the discussion. Head home exhausted again.

So how is it that two events with such different lead-times and preparation can produce a similar sort of result? Lots of good will and commitment from the teams involved and from participants helps a lot. But in addition I believe it’s the mindset that is important. We can run the best planned process but if we aren’t thinking collaboratively and appreciatively about our stakeholders we will get a poor outcome. Conversely, we can do something quite last minute with minimal prep but if we bring the mindset and expectation that people can be trusted to do great work together, we are likely to get a great result. The detail is surely less important than the collaborative intention.

This is not an argument for doing things without good preparation, as inevitable as those moments are, but it is an illustration of how a collaborative mindset is the key to success, whatever the circumstance.

Are you bringing a collaborative mindset to your work with stakeholders?