Thursday, September 8, 2016
What does effective collaboration look like and does leadership matter? If leadership is important, what specific skills and qualities are valuable for leaders to possess and/or develop in order to lead successful collaborative efforts?

These are very important questions and a recent IBM Center report,Effective Leadership in Network Collaboration: Lessons Learned from Continuum of Care Homeless Programs tackles these questions by examining collaboration within the context of homeless policy networks,an area receiving significant policy attention in recent years. This report specifically investigates the role of leading in continuum of care (CoC) homeless programs and the leadership behaviors that matter in achieving successful collaborative outcomes.

According to the U .S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a CoC homeless program is “a community plan to organize and deliver housing and services to meet the specific needs of people who are homeless as they move to stable housing and maximize self-sufficiency. It includes action steps to end homelessness and prevent a return to homelessness.”  HUD identifies four necessary parts of a homeless continuum:

  • Outreach, intake, and assessment to identify service and housing needs and provide a link to the appropriate level of both
  • Emergency shelter to provide an immediate and safe alternative to sleeping on the streets, especially for homeless families with children
  • Transitional housing with supportive services to allow for the development of skills that will be needed in permanent housing
  • Permanent supportive housing with services to provide individuals and families with an affordable place to live, if needed

The authors of this report collected data from a survey of 237 homeless program networks across the nation, as well as in-depth reviews and interviews of four CoC homeless networks in three states -- Texas, Utah, and New York. The analysis of CoC homeless networks helps to develop a deeper understanding of what effective collaboration looks like and the conditions that lead some networks to be more effec­tive.


The report describes measures of effective collaboration that public managers can use to assess performance at two levels: network andcommunity. Both of these levels are a reflection of the competing interests of two stakeholder groups: network members and community stakeholders.  


Elements of Effective Leadership in a CoC Homeless Collaboration

Another objective of this report is to create a leadership model that will help public managers lead positive outcomes of public service collaboration. This report develops a leadership model in the context of a networked environment with distinctions between a singular organization and a network. It is important to understand the leadership competencies necessary to function within a networked environment. Leaders must exhibit the right combination of task-oriented behaviors and relationship-oriented behaviors.

There are two types of behaviors seen in cross-sector collaboration: 

  • Task-oriented behaviors are focused on facilitating network goal achievement, such as identifying roles and responsibilities, holding network members accountable for performance, and putting plans into action.
  • Relationship-oriented behaviors place a greater focus on building positive social relations, such as motivating and inspiring network members and ensuring that the individual needs of members are carefully addressed.

Both task and relationship behaviors are important for the effective management of a CoC homeless network. Network managers who engage in both types of behaviors will be more effective than others in achieving successful collaborative outcomes.



The report presents six recommendations that will serve as a guide for individuals charged with leading collaborative networks. These are identified as critical in a CoC homeless network and shed light on the leadership values that are primary drivers of public service collaborations.


Develop expertise. Managing networks requires the development of expertise in a subject matter policy area. This recommendation is centered on the idea that managers need to be equipped with extensive knowledge, expertise, and best practices in order to be an effective network leader. Leaders of policy networks can gain knowledge of policy priorities and funding by becoming well connected to local stakeholders and existing national associations. Community connections provide the network leader with innovative ideas and local supports to accomplish goals and objectives. And for new network leaders, community stakeholders may possess institutional memory that can prove helpful in moving him or her through the learning curve. It is also important for a network leader to stay up-to-date with new administrative procedures established by HUD and informal rules that may be in effect.


Cultivate a collaborative culture. The collaborative process is about constant communication, building trust among network members, and just as importantly, cultivating a culture that welcomes both competition and collaboration. The findings from this research suggest that encouraging competition in the collaborative process can be a healthy exercise.  In the context of federal homeless policy, networks compete for federal funding on a yearly basis. Creating competition, therefore, can result in the stimulation of new ideas and solutions. At the same time, it is important to nurture and maintain a collaborative culture. Network leaders should be careful to continue communicating a common vision that will help the network be one step closer to achieving its goals and objectives as a collective.


Take risks. Previous research on the management of networks indicates that establishing ground rules and holding members accountable are important responsibilities of a network leader.  In our research, we find that network leaders should not be afraid to risk relationships with other members of the network when necessary. Risking relationships means being a bold leader and communicating expec­tations to network members, whether some members may like hearing those expectations or not. By doing so, the leader may be taking a risk and potentially losing a member. A leader must be focused on the collective efforts of the network and realize that there are others ready to work.


Be an inclusive leader. Research shows that homelessness is a multidimensional problem requiring a cross-sector strategy that engages a wide array of supportive programs and services.21 As a result, any intervention to eradicate homelessness will take real coordination and a diverse group of stakeholders. The same is likely true for other types of public services in response to difficult social problems. This reality requires network leaders to be inclusive of community stakeholders such as local governments, nonprofit shelters, food pantries, church-operated soup kitchens, school dis­tricts, and others.


Be agile and adaptive. Leadership is critical in balancing the reality and interests of the local community while main­taining team spirit valued by network members including policy makers, government manag­ers, nonprofit service providers, religious communities, advocacy groups, and so on. Like an organization, networks evolve over time—sometimes the network evolves for good and other times it does not. In this process, network leaders must stand ready to accept the reality of their network’s status and adapt as necessary. Effective leaders must understand reality and adapt quickly to the new normal for the best interest of the community.


Use performance indicators effectively. Network leaders must realize the advantage in having access to data and information, and they must use them properly . Funding agencies, community stakeholders, and others come to expect data in order to understand the severity of a problem, allocate funding, and develop objective metrics of success in implementing local homeless programs. Securing new and unique data on the homeless population certainly creates an advantage. Smart use of the data will help CoCs develop comparative analyses to understand where each network stands in the national standards. These data sources can be used to create an advantage when applying for funding or making a case for new programs. 


While this report focuses on homeless networks, its findings and recommendations are applicable to networks in all service delivery areas. They can be used by other cross-sector collaborations that meet one or more of the following conditions: 

  • Address complex policy issues 
  • Involve a variety of non-state actors, such as nonprofit organizations and private firms
  • Are self-organized at the local level
  • Have ties to the federal government or federal policy

The report builds on the Center’s previous reports on collabora­tion and adds another example—homeless networks—where collaboration is being used to work across organizations and sectors. Previous IBM Center reports on collaborating across boundaries include Inter-Organizational Networks: A Review of the Literature to Information PracticeCollaboration Between Government and Outreach Organizations: A Case Study of the Department of Veterans Affairs; andImplementing Cross-Agency Collaboration: A Guide for Federal Managers.


We hope that this report will assist executives in better under­standing the challenge of managing networks and the skills and abilities needed by collaborative network leaders.