The Ingredients of Future-Oriented Collaboration: An Interview with Barry Shelley

The Ingredients of Future-Oriented Collaboration: An Interview with Barry Shelley

We hope you’ll join us for Collective Leadership and the Ingredients of Future-Oriented Collaboration with Mr. Barry Shelley at our March Lunch and Learn.
Barry will offer the one-hour webinar on March 16, 2023, from 12 noon - 1 PM.
In this interview, Barry introduces himself, shares a bit about his work and his approach to meaningful and effective collaboration. Insights gleaned from his work are promising for successful practices of collaboration within our congregations.

Karen: Barry, thank you for your time today. We’ve been in lively conversations since you first reached out to engage the Center for Transformational Leadership (CTL) of the Conference about a resource for our work in innovation and transformation. Would you introduce yourself to our readers?

Barry: For our purposes here, perhaps I can best introduce myself as a seminary-trained political economist whose vocation has been framed by a commitment to social justice advocacy and a keen interest in leadership that generates genuine and effective cooperation and transformational outcomes.  I have learned from both suffering the consequences of poor leadership as well as reaping the blessings of stellar leadership.

My early endeavors included teaching, community organizing, UCC conference youth minister, and retreat program director.  In the late 1980’s I shifted my focus more abroad and have devoted the past 35 years to international development practice, research, and teaching, most recently with Oxfam and then Boston University.  It is also relevant that I have served in various congregational leadership positions, including a challenging term as moderator during the pandemic and a pastoral transition. Since 2015, I have been more explicitly focused on developing programs on community-led development using frameworks and tools for collective leadership, developed primarily with the Collective Leadership Institute based in Potsdam, Germany.

Karen: I know that you are a trained Collective Leadership Specialist for an organization known as The Collective Leadership Institute or the CLI which you mentioned earlier. What can you briefly tell us about the CLI?

Barry: CLI evolved over the past two decades out of efforts to engender collaboration among different stakeholders, often with conflicting self-interests, in order to successfully address complex—sometimes international--issues of shared concern.  Co-founder, Petra Kuenkel, asked what had to happen for such spaces of collaboration to blossom.  That research has led to frameworks, tools, trainings, and consultations focused on helping “future-oriented people to develop the competencies to lead collectively towards the common good and a sustainable future”.  I was drawn to CLI in 2015 when I worked for Oxfam when I recognized how applicable CLI's approach was to community-led development.

Karen: Thanks – that’s helpful. What would you want our readers to know about the values that inform collective leadership principles?

Barry: CLI’s values are drawn from what Petra determined to be the core ingredients in a group of actors who together are able to effectively collaborate:  
•    A sense of future possibilities, 
•    Authentic and reliable engagement, 
•    Innovation for intelligent solutions,
•    Connecting to another’s humanity,
•    Harvesting diversity for collective intelligence, and
•    Wholeness—seeing the larger picture and staying connected to the common good.
These values reflect the foundational personal competencies with which CLI strives to empower collective leaders.  Aspects of these competencies include qualities such as creativity, agility, mindfulness, empathy, humility, diversity, and mutual support.  CLI also speaks of an almost undefinable collective energy that arises in collaborative spaces where these values are embraced.  CLI calls that “aliveness;” some church folks might think of that energy as, “the spirit.”  The CLI Compass provides an insightful tool for guiding and evaluating the application of these values in collective leadership processes.  

Karen: Wonderful! Thanks. In our conversations, you shared that you believe the resources, ideas, and strategies within the CLI could “foster collaborative processes that collectively envision, plan, and create the change to which The Church is called.” You hinted at this in answer to my last question. Can you tell us a little more of how you imagine the concepts and tools of the CLI might introduce our leaders to new ways of envisioning transformation?

Barry: I believe that collective leadership lies at the heart of the polity of the United Church of Christ and that the CLI approach has much to offer our congregations—pastors, staff and members—with regards to developing competencies that can lead us forward as “future oriented people.”  I see such competences as strengthening truly collective intra-congregational vision and strategic planning for a sustainable future.  As part of that sustainable future, I also think CLI concepts and tools offer us particularly valuable resources for engaging in creative ways with diverse stakeholders within our local communities. 

Karen: Can you share an example of Collective Leadership principles in action?

Barry: Before I moved to Brockton and joined Christ Congregational Church, the congregation went through an Open and Affirming discernment process.  I have been fascinated with how it unfolded.  From what I have learned, it was very carefully planned and facilitated by a diverse team of members, it was slow and intentional, and it was truly collective in the sense that all six values I mentioned earlier seem to have been incorporated. After three years and 28 events that included Bible and book studies, discussions, and shared experiences, only one person in the congregation voted against the proposal to become ONA. That outcome would have been very different three years earlier.  What is key here is that the congregation made a collective decision, not that a small group of ONA advocates out-maneuvered opponents.  As far as I know, there has been very little, if any, questioning of that decision since then.

Karen: Thanks Barry, a great example! Now, as you anticipate our March Lunch and Learn, what can participants expect in this hour-long webinar?

Barry: Collective leadership is nothing new, either in general or in our congregations.  What may be new and helpful are CLI’s conceptual wisdom and resources for empowering us to more easily create spaces for collaboration and co-creation and spark the aliveness that can carry us into a sustainable future.  So, in this short webinar, I would like to briefly discuss the ingredients of such collaboration and co-creation and preview CLI’s approach and tools.  If there is a critical mass of interest for digging deeper into this approach and learning how to use those tools, I would welcome an opportunity to organize a longer workshop or series of workshops for that purpose.

Karen: Thanks Barry! We’re grateful for your time and we welcome everyone to our March Lunch and Learn! We hope to see you there.

Mr. Barry Shelley will be our guest presenter at the March 16th 2023 Lunch and Learn Webinar from Noon to 1 PM.  Follow the link below to learn more about Mr. Shelley and to register!


You may learn more and register here. 


karen ziel.jpg
Karen E. Ziel

Karen works in partnership with the team to guide congregations in self-assessment and discernment, and to provide or suggest effective programs for clergy and lay leadership development.  Contact her to: Connect your congregation with the tools and...

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