Starting anything without getting everyone on the same page, like walking out of the locker room before making sure your pants are on. A very, very short-lived adventure.
Not only do you lose out on momentum, this mistake is a project killer.
Let’s break it down—getting that early buy-in and steering everyone in the same direction is not just good practice; it’s the path for creating long-term value.
Trust Me, I've Made This Mistake
Starting up a social entrepreneurship project right out of grad school, with backing of a major foundation was amazing.
Imagine this: a small group, fueled by ambition and caffeine, decided to weave together a program that connected graduate students, professionals, and nonprofits.
The goal? To create a symbiotic ecosystem where value exchange was the currency, and everyone involved would benefit—nonprofits would get the help they need, students would gain invaluable experience, and professionals would find meaningful volunteer opportunities.
Right Bus, Wrong Reason
However, aligning the stars—or in our case, stakeholders—wasn’t as straightforward as we’d hoped. Yes, everyone had the same outcome, but the vision for that outcome followed different paths.
- Professionals were looking for a direct route to contribute, focusing solely on the impact.
- Students sought pathways that would not only offer them real-world experience but also a precious networking opportunity.
- Nnonprofits were on the lookout for tangible, specialized support—someone to navigate through the maze of accounting, legal, or tech challenges without inflating their already tight budgets.
As you can probably tell by now, it was a disaster.
Our initial excitement didn't account for critical early-stage alignment—not just on what we were aiming to achieve but how we planned to get there together.
Learning from My Rookie Error
Good news, you don't have to recreate my unforced error.
There's a gap between recruiting the right people and starting the work.
Could be five minutes or five days, but this space is the most important moment when it comes to the success of your work.
You can use a simple message, automated or not, to get the conversation started. This is important because individual members can often immediately dive into the broader experience and get a little lost.
Bonus if you can save these responses in a place that you can refer to and tabulate them later as you start to grow.
"Hey [Name], thanks for joining our community! We're thrilled to have you on board. First up, tell us your goals and expectations. What does success look like for you? This will help us tailor your experience."
For Small Groups (Cohort)
Ideally, this is a combination of both message and meeting. The context for both conversations is the same.
In a meeting setting, it's helpful as members can often find overlap in connections and try to develop that shared sense of collaboration.
"Hello [Cohort's Name]! As we kick off this journey together, let's take a moment to introduce ourselves and our aspirations. Please share a brief introduction, including what you're most excited about in this cohort. This will help us build a strong foundation for collaboration and ensure everyone's interests are acknowledged."
Large Group (50+ People - In Person or Online)
In this situation, you will absolutely combine both individual and group communications. The individual communications should prepare people for the group meeting with an explanation of what to do if they can't make it. This will help set the stage for a successful meeting and help you get right down to the business of alignment instead of getting lost in questions.
The Group Process
- Organize a Kickoff Meeting/Webinar: Start with a kickoff event where all participants can introduce themselves and their objectives. Encourage brief, focused introductions.
- Conduct Icebreaker Activities: If the group is large, use icebreakers or breakout sessions to foster connections and allow members to share their interests or goals.
- Create Dedicated Channels/Forums: If it's an online community, set up specific channels or forums for members to introduce themselves and state their expectations. Provide a template or example to make it easier.
- Regular Engagement: Maintain engagement through discussions, polls, or collaborative projects that align with the community's goals. People's goals will change over time after all, and it's your job to stay on top of the pulse of what your members need.
The Final Word
Embarking on a collaborative venture without first securing alignment is like setting sail without a map.
Take it from someone who’s navigated these waters: dedicating time to create this initial consensus is practically mandatory.