Why Work Together

Why Work Together

Why work on inter-organizational relationships? Why is it important to create momentum and the flywheel effect when a desired outcome requires a fundamental culture change

There are many strategies to choose from when attempting to improve mental wellness, and treat or prevent mental illness and mental health issues. One is to focus directly on the desired outcome in individual people; another is to address the systemic factors that lead to the desired outcome (as well as those that lead away from the undesirable outcome). For example, we know that the physical environment (natural, built and the digital environment) can be enabling of mental health, or can be a detractor. Design of classrooms and washrooms, adequate lighting in parking lots, Residences and off campus housing are examples of important aspects of the built environments.

Others are the social environment – if it is one that promotes win/lose competition, or is one of stigma, then that works against a person’s mental wellness.

The policy environment is a factor – how well the institution is a mentally healthy workplace will influence the social and physical environment. In turn, the institution is influenced by the policies of government ministries that influence this area (particularly Alberta Advanced Education, Alberta Health, and Alberta Human Services), and also municipal policies.

Working together can mean working with other units on campus – the Development and Counseling unit is an obvious one – but the Athletics department or others might see benefit from working together. Other important partners are found in the communities in which the campus is nested – perhaps mental health or mental illness service providers, housing associations or others will be good partners.

It’s helpful to focus on shared outcomes when you want to work with others. Don’t jump right into action – that usually ends up only focusing on what people are actually Doing – being creative about how to create a desired outcome can lead to some powerful partnerships. Here’s a sample of the range of actions that a Student Leader might consider taking:

  • Do – deliver service directly.
  • Advocate – encourage others to take action themselves.
  • Partner – share with another group, with either partner leading. If done well, this can make resources stretch farther and the initiative benefits from the differing strengths of the partners. For example, perhaps a professor would like to incorporate a service-learning component in their class and would be happy to work together with you on a mental health or mental illness/issue project for their students.
  • Collective action – engage with a wide range of people or groups. This requires some sort of coordinating body that facilitates discussions towards a shared vision and agenda, helps develop shared measures and evaluation, and undertakes common functions.
  • Model appropriate behaviour
  • Celebrate others who are contributing to your shared end – improved mental illness services for students, students’ improved mental health and ability to grow life assets, and a mentally healthy campus.

As noted earlier, a Mentally Healthy Campus is made up of people, place, information and systems. Part of taking a systemic approach is recognizing that many people and units within the institution’s structure, and many people and organizations, provide services addressing mental wellness and mental illness / issues. This opens the door to the potential for collective action.

Collective action, done well, builds on successes over time. As strengths are built, they lead to unforeseen opportunities and better use of everyone’s resources. This builds synergy (the impact becomes stronger and stronger over time as it builds on itself and forms a spiral pattern illustrated below. This is the ‘flywheel’ effect. Successfully creating the flywheel effect produces the most sustainable change, and so is desirable when a culture change is what is required. Focusing all your resources on doing, or even partnering with one or two organizations, will not create a culture change. Also, as the diagram illustrates, all components of a Mentally Healthy Campus must grow and develop to maintain the energy of the flywheel.