Last week I facilitated a roundtable discussing observations and ‘lessons learned’ from the creation and growth of an international organization I helped steer.  I wrote about the creation of the OIA  in 2004. The organization is now almost a decade old and with the rotation off of the Board of most of the founding members, it was a good time to reflect back on some of what had been learned. We started off with some brief prepared comments from two founding Board members who were about to leave the Board, and with their responses to some questions I asked them to prompt their reflections.  You never completely know how an open discussion will go, but once we opened the discussion up to the full group of participants (approximately 40 people from 10 countries) the conversation just flowed and themes were easy to find.  Here are some of the major themes that were shared:

Take a step back – With cultural differences that influence how you perceive an issue, it is easy to misunderstand someone else’s position or prejudge it.  Take a step back and try to understand “What does this person value” and why?   How are they processing information? Taking this step back to reflect and try to understand before being quick to judge can lead to more effective decision-making for the whole and the ability to keep moving forward in positive ways.

Who can be the ‘keepers’ of the vision? – For new international networks to move forward through the various obstacles they will face, you need to have individuals who are willing to step in at key junctures and refocus everyone on the vision.  What big things are we trying to accomplish that can make the small differences seem less important?

Keep a longer term perspective – Moving forward will almost always take longer than you think.  Especially if you are working on consensus, the more different cultures and perspectives represented, the longer it will take to agree to common directions, the specific steps to implement those goals, and to actually implement them.  Stay patient!

Relationships –  Taking time to build relationships is crucial.  This includes relationships within the new network as well as with external partnerships.  Identify potential partners vis a vis mutual interests, then take the time to pursue styles and expectations and build trust. Boards and organizations take on their own ‘cultures’ so it also important to take the time to orient and truly incorporate new internal partners.