Being flexible can be interpreted in many different ways. As a graduate student and a lead-instructor in a few different collaborative projects, I could offer some thoughts.
Am I being indecisive? Years ago I was asked by a professor what was my dream job. In her thought, knowing my dream job would strategize the selection of courses during my graduate study. I did not answer satisfactorily, partly because not really knowing what could be my dream job. Now I am grateful that I did not set a dream job early on because I am really open to anything. Even better, that mind set has allowed me to be flexible in taking opportunities when working on community-oriented activities. I can see now that I am fully confident that I could compete in academic (teaching) job market, higher education administrative job market, and nonprofit management.
Am I being “weak” as a leader and not having a full control over a project? Let me share a couple thoughts. First, being flexible in a project and continuously trying to adjust when team members or community partners were having others stuff deemed as more important than the project. My flexibility includes two aspects. I would like to treat my team members and community partners as an adult and trust them that they are an adult with adequate consciousness on their responsibility. Rather than worrying about not being able to meet project goals, focusing on building genuine trust and respect among team members and partners would be more important. I believe once trust and respect are built, project goals that are set collaboratively can always be adjusted and that everyone has full ownership.
Second, this is also my way to encourage participation from team members and community partners. Being flexible and understanding even for personal issues that may be completely unrelated to the project, this is to develop comfort and full understanding that our collaboration is not guided by strict rules. I believe that rules would only be counter-productive to the goal of having committed team members or community partners. In addition, having rules could immediately exclude individuals who feel that they may have some perceptions of disagreement. Yes, it is true, not having rules could be a recipe of disaster too. But as a leader or facilitator, I have anticipated that with continued conversation with individuals and groups and then develop shared-understanding in how we collaborate.
Being flexible is essential in developing social capital. Most of our focus has been on human capital (knowledge) and physical capital (infrastructure). Social relationship has not been thoughtfully addressed.