Creating Shared Commitment: Building Power Through Relationships

How do we intentionally recruit others to join us in a common cause? Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz teaches that we build relationships to create commitment, the glue of an organization. Ganz elaborates:

Leadership begins with understanding yourself: your values, your motivation, your story. But leadership is about enabling others to achieve purpose. The foundation of this kind of leadership is the relationships built with others, most especially, others with whom we can share leadership.

  1. Identifying, Recruiting, and Developing Leadership: We build relationships with potential collaborators to explore values, learn about resources, discern common purpose, and find others with whom leadership responsibility can be shared.
  2. Building Community: Leaders, in turn, continually reach out to others, form relationships with them, expand the circle of support, grow more resources which they can access, and recruit people who, in turn, can become leaders themselves.
  3. Turning Resources into Power: Relationship building doesn’t end when action starts. Commitment is how to access resources for organizing – especially when you come up against competition, internal conflict, or external obstacles. Commitment is based on relationships, which must be constantly, intentionally nurtured. The more others find purpose in joining with you the more they will commit resources that you may never have known they had.

Coercion or Commitment?

Leaders must decide how to lead their organization or campaign. Will the glue that holds things together be a command and control model based on coercion? Or will the glue be volunteered commitment? If our long-term power and potential for growth comes more from voluntary commitment, then we need to invest significant time and intentionality in building the relationships that generate that commitment—to each other and to the goals that bring us together. That requires transparent, open and mindful interaction, not closed, reactive or manipulating maneuvers.

What are Relationships? 

Relationships are rooted in shared values. We can identify values that we share by learning each other’s stories, especially ‘choice points’ in our life journeys. The key is asking “why.”

Relationships grow out of exchanges of interests and resources. Your resources can address my interests; my resources can address your interests. The key is identifying interests and resources. This means that relationships are driven as much by difference as by commonality. Our common interest may be as narrow as supporting each other in pursuit of our individual interest, provided they are not in conflict. Organizing relationships are not simply transactional. We’re not simply looking for someone to meet our “ask” at the end of a one-to-one meeting or house meeting. We’re looking for people to join with us in long-term learning, growth and action.


Relationships are created by commitment. An exchange becomes a relationship only when each party commits a portion of their most valuable resource to it: time. A commitment of time to the relationship gives it a future and, therefore, a past. And because we can all learn, grow, and change, the purposes that led us to form the relationship may change as well, offering possibilities for enriched exchange. In fact the relationship itself may become a valued resource – what Robert Putnam calls “social capital.”

Relationships involve constant attention and work. When nurtured over time, relationships become an important source of continual learning and development for the individuals and communities that make up your campaign. They are also a great source for sustaining motivation and inspiration.

Building Intentional Relationships: The One-on-One Meeting

One way to initiate intentional relationships is the one-on-one meeting, a technique developed by organizers over many years. A one-on-one meeting consists of five “acts”:


Attention – We have to get another person’s attention to conduct a one-on-one meeting. Don’t be “coy”. Be as up front as you can be about what your interest is in the meeting, but that first, you’d like it take a few moments to get acquainted.

Interest – There must be a purpose or a goal in setting up a one-on-one meeting. It could range from, “I’m starting a new network and thought you might be interested” to “I’m struggling with a problem and I think you could help” or “I know you have an interest in X so I’d like to discuss that with you.”

Exploration – Most of the one-on-one is devoted to exploration by asking probing questions to learn the other person’s values, interests, and resources and by sharing enough of your own values, interests, and resources that it can be a two-way street.

Exchange – We exchange resources in the meeting such as information, support, and insight. This creates the foundation for future exchanges.

Commitment –A successful one on one meeting ends with a commitment, most likely to meet again. By scheduling a specific time for this meeting, you make it a real commitment. The goal of the one-on-one is not to get someone to make a pledge, to give money, to commit their vote as it is to commit to continuing the relationship.

The excerpts above come from a workshop guide developed by Professor Ganz and many of the fellows and colleagues who have worked with him. 

JOIN THE CONVERSATION & SHARE: Who are the people you feel called to mobilize to build a better world together? I would love to hear from you. Please share your comments below. And if you find this helpful or valuable, please share on your social media. 

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