Back to basics: What is a cohort? (Part 2) - Acumen

Back to basics: What is a cohort? (Part 2)

By Acumen on September 08, 2009

In last week’s post, Blair and I started a discussion about the definition of a cohort. We first presented the idea of a cohort being more than just a structure for curriculum delivery. This week, I will share what we found, both from literature and practice, are the seven variables that define a “real” cohort in the context of leadership development. To illustrate some of the variables, I will refer to the Acumen Fund Fellows program. And of course, we would love to hear other examples from you!

Seven variables defining a “real” cohort

#1  Form/structure of a cohort

  • Size: Not too big, not too small. Generally 12-25 participants.
  • Shared experience
  • Common purpose as the basis for collaboration: For example, in the case of the AF Fellowship, the common purpose is to understand the challenges of social enterprises in addressing the problems of the poor.
  • Encouragement of critical reflection.
  • Knowledge construction that is “problem based and participant centered.”

This first variable and its subparts are quite general and apply to a broad number of cohort programs. But don’t stop here. Keep reading! The next few variables are more specific to leadership development cohorts.

#2  Balance of individual and group development

The Cohort experience is about groups empowering individuals and individuals empowering groups. Most importantly to our discussion, the authors conclude that a direct parallel can be drawn between self-understanding and leadership.

#3   “Hold Well”

This variable refers to the ability of cohort members to form a cohesive, collaborative group accepting of the individual. Initial experiences focused on community building, co-learning, building collegial and interpersonal relationships, as well as modeling expectations on how the cohort will function, are key in ensuring that the cohort “holds well.”

Note to Practitioners: do not take this stage for granted! As a participant of a cohort I can tell you that the time we spent in getting to know each other was critical to building a support network based on trust and collaboration.

# 4   “Let go”

The cohort must “let go” of the individuals by challenging them to allow them to develop. In our case as AF Fellows, we were sent to work in different countries with different organizations. As a result, each fellow’s challenges and lessons learned were unique.

# 5   “Stick around”

At the same time, the cohort must “stick around” to provide continuity, stability and availability to the individual undergoing growth and development.  Finding this balance is tough.

#6     Processing of group interaction is incorporated in the program

Time is regularly set aside for processing group interaction and a variety of group processing strategies are incorporated (e.g., feedback tools, journals, meetings, etc.)

#7    Cohort has a mediator/skilled facilitator

The mediator should have the talent to assist the group in processing its progress.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think of these variables? Is there something missing in this definition?

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