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Coalition or Council: Which One Are You?

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Coalition or Council: Which One Are You?

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CouncilI have been thinking about institutions that strive for change. Sometimes we call them communities or organizations, sometimes we call them alliances or parties. But whatever their nature, these institutions are usually led and managed by a small group of people.

I see two kinds of leading groups: coalitions and councils.

A temporary alliance of distinct parties, persons, or states for joint action

A group elected or appointed as an advisory or legislative body


A coalition is a self-selecting team. The persons seek each other out because they want to be active agents for change, and by working together they can be more successful in achieving a common goal. In his change management books John Kotter referred to them as guiding coalitions. They are not elected. They are not appointed. They select each other because they want to. And they can even work undercover, because their goal is to influence, not to govern.

The allied powers in World War II were a coalition. The Google founders were a coalition. The originators of the Stoos Network were a coalition.


A council is a group of representatives. These people also want to be active agents for change. But, their primary concern is to have buy-in from the larger group of people they are representing within the institute (community, organization, or party). The concept of democracy has led to many different versions of these councils. Sometimes we call them a government. Sometimes a committee. And everything has to be out in the open, because if it’s not, we call them cronies. Their goal is primarily to govern or advise the institute.

The United Nations has a council. My former students society had a council. And many workplaces have management teams acting as councils.

And you?

If you have a group of people who all desire change, do you lead with a coalition or with a council?

This is the big problem with some alliances and consortiums for change.

They have directors who try to be both. It is a recipe for disaster.

Maybe the best institutions have both: a coalition and a council.

(image from Veni Markovski)

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Published at DZone with permission of Jurgen Appelo. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.


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