This winter, Maggie and I co-moderated a panel for a conference session called “Better Together.” This wasn’t just any panel – it was made up of employees from all departments and levels of an organization with a powerful success story to share about the inclusive, collaborative culture they had created together. This was a culture change we had the joy of designing and leading as the project’s co-facilitator and process designer.

Five years ago the town of Carrboro, http://www.ci.carrboro.nc.us,  was splintered – departments were functioning but as silos with little sense of the whole organization. Employees felt overworked and beleaguered; they resented other departments, took little pride in the overall mission of the town and were skeptical about a project that many believed might be just a passing fancy.

It took a strong, clear leader, Steve Stewart, the town manager, to call for change and ultimately overcome resistance. The Mulberry Partners (then Mulberry Tree Consulting), www.themulberrypartners.com, were hired to design and lead a process for creating a cohesive organization and worked closely with the manager and employees across the organization to facilitate it. We started by hearing stories from the employees in each department, creating an actual puzzle that made sense of the whole and developing a cross-representational leadership committee made up emerging leaders (vs. the usual suspects) who worked with us to steer the project.  By design, with each year, our involvement in the project decreased as town employees took increasingly significant responsibilities for sustaining its success.

The project, named Better Together by employees, now aptly describes the culture of the town where resources are shared and communication is transparent. More than 7o% of the town’s employees are actively engaged in furthering the culture via appointment to the leadership team, involvement in strategy groups and/or participation in the town’s many Better Together programs and activities.

Five years after the start of this culture change, town employees were asked to share their insights about  creating a ”Better Together” culture with town and city leaders attending  the North Carolina City and County Managers Association Conference (http://207.56.202.158/infoexchange/conferences.asp)  As Maggie and I worked with a team of cross-departmental employees to prepare and deliver the presentation, we had the privilege of experiencing, anew, the staying power of employees’ pride in their organizational culture and the job satisfaction resulting from being “Better Together.  As employees on the panel enthusiastically shared their strategies for creating a “Better Together Culture” with other municipal leaders in North Carolina, we basked in the joy of knowing we’d helped bring collaboration to life in ways that were making positive, lasting differences for employees throughout the town.  We had played key roles in leading the way to a culture where communication flows, resources are effectively managed, ideas are heard, progress is sustained, people at all levels are invested in achieving goals, leadership is clear and cross-organizational collaboration across all levels is the norm.

This Friday Steve Stewart will celebrate his retirement. Amid plans for a festive, lively lunch and long goodbyes, Steve has made clear his commitment to keeping this Better Together culture alive. He has written several emails to town leaders directly encouraging them to make sure that sustaining this culture is a centerpiece in their search for a new town manager.  It took strong clear leadership to make Better Together happen — now, may it have the shared commitment it needs to stay alive and growing.