Monday, 19 March 2018

Interested in time travel? Vary and balance your time speed

Collaborations need to vary and balance their 'time speed': they need to work within slow 'evolutionary' time and fast 'urgent' time.

Slow evolutionary time slows apparent progress but increases innovation. It encourages people to think transformationally and plan strategically: to reflect, to create and share knowledge, and seek lasting consensus inside and outside a collaboration that will ensure effective and lasting results.

Fast urgent time quickens apparent progress but decreases innovation. It encourages people to think transactionally and plan tactically: to cut quick, often bilateral, deals inside and outside a collaboration that will immediately gain demanded results.

The need to vary and attain a balance between these time speeds is illustrated by the experiences of Regional and Local Strategic Partnerships in the UK. When these partnerships were first created, a strategic planning cycle of three years was imposed. This created an imbalance in the time speeds applied to the partnership: fast urgent time was emphasised at the expense of slow evolutionary time; deals were cut to ensure short-term wins rather than knowledge created and shared to realise superior and lasting results. When the effects of this imbalance were recognised, they were addressed by increasing the planning cycle to five years. This encouraged partnerships to invest in slow evolutionary time to enhance the quality of their results.

The tensions created by the need to work in both slow and fast time further complicate the mix of clashing time perceptions and preferences present within a collaboration. (The most significant ones have previously been described here and here.) People often feel pulled in one direction or another by the demands of one or other of these time speeds, and people's perceptions about how quickly things need to be achieved and preferences for specific periods of time (e.g., the past or the future in general, or past or future agreements and actions) will often subtly influence the direction they favour.

Those who favour the past will demand things slow down so the collaboration can reflect upon the achievements of the past and how they can be safeguarded and built upon. Those who favour the future will not hesitate to create a feeling of momentum that will carry the collaboration speedily towards the demands of the urgent new challenges they have identified as important. Those who perceive the collaborative 'watched pot never boiling' will obviously embrace the demands of fast urgent time; those not watching or caring about the collaborative pot's rate of temperature increase will be content to let 'evolution' take its cause'.

Behavioural cues of a preference for slow evolutionary time or fast urgent time are virtually the same as those previously described here. However, the motivations for these preferences are different. The motivations for preferring particular time periods or having specific perceptions of time are based upon personal habit and experience and/or influenced by the interests, cultures and priorities of organisations, etc. The motivations for preferring evolutionary slow time or urgent fast time are more fundamental: the former is based upon the motivation to be effective above all else; the latter is based upon the motivation to be efficient above all else. In this sense, the respective motivations for preferring either slow evolutionary time or fast urgent time could be said to be 'purer' than those driving preferences for specific time periods or specific ways of perceiving the passing and pace of time.

Why is this significant?

It is significant because the more fundamental motivations that lie behind slow evolutionary time and fast urgent time are likely to exist within and influence the behaviour of all partners, regardless of partners' or partners' organisations' preferences for specific time periods (e.g., the past or the future) or habitual ways of perceiving the passing and pace of time. This means that tapping into these fundamental motivations can be a powerful way of creating a pulse or feel of time that all those working within a collaboration are comfortable with and willing to help maintain.

And an important aspect of the above 'pulse and feel of time' is attaining a balance between slow evolutionary time and fast urgent time that is appropriate and effective for the collaboration.

The previously described mix of time preferences and perceptions will still rub-up against and tangle with each other, causing external scaring and internal conflicts and damage, but the fundamental need for effectiveness (through investment in slow evolutionary time) and efficiency (through application of fast urgent time) will ensure the vital organs of the collaboration remain intact and that its heart continues to power the flow of the collaboration's activity and progress.

To tap into partners' fundamental need to be efficient (through applying fast urgent time) and effective (through investing in slow evolutionary time) two things need to be done: 
  1. The clutter of time perceptions and preferences that partners bring with them based on their habits and experiences and work with other organisations need to be temporarily put to one side.
  2. Partners need to be encouraged to see the collaboration they are working within as an independent entity with its own unique needs and potential.       
A practical way of achieving this is to make partners aware of the collaborative conundrum and then use 'Doughnut Thinking' to emphasise the independence and uniqueness of the collaboration.

The collaborative (or partnership) conundrum states the following:

'Partnerships are formed to achieve new things and transform situations. Exactly what these can and will be, however, cannot be known until the partners have come together and begun communicating and sharing their opinions, experiences, knowledge and skills, etc.'

Drawing partners' attention towards this conundrum will create a necessary gap between the demands and goals of the collaboration's work and partners' responses to them.

Without this gap, partners will likely respond with their habitual ways of seeing and doing things (including the way they perceive and manage time); the shadow of old thinking and doing will be cast over the new demands and unique potential of the collaboration, limiting its efficiency and effectiveness. Most crucially, the collaboration's ability to innovate will be significantly diminished.                     
With this gap, however, partners will be able to collect their immediate reactions (including their habitual ways of perceiving and managing time) and put them to one side for a while. They will then increase their openness to new ideas and approaches and their motivation to use them to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the collaboration. Most crucially, the collaboration's ability to innovate will be significantly increased.

Once this gap has been created, 'Doughnut Thinking' (which has previously been described here) will help partners address the collaborative conundrum. Doughnut Thinking will encourage partners to not only see the collaboration as an independent entity possessing its own unique mix of people, experiences, knowledge, expertise, skills and potential, etc., but also identify those things that can be done and achieved that could not be done and achieved (or, most probably, even thought of) before the collaboration formed. 

To encourage partners to gain a balance between effectiveness (slow evolutionary time) and efficiency (fast urgent time) that is most appropriate to the collaboration, partner's Doughnut Thinking must focus on not only what the collaboration can do but also how it will do it. (When and where will it do it and, importantly, how will it invest and use the time needed to do it effectively and efficiently?)

By creating a gap between the stimulus of the collaboration's demands and goals and partners' responses to them, the chance is created to clear away partners' habitual and often limiting ways of thinking and doing. 

When partners grasp this chance and begin to see the uniquely challenging and opportunity rich nature of the collaborative work before them, it is likely they will appreciate the need for (and be motivated to find) new ways to be efficient and effective. These will include finding new ways to manage the balance between slow evolutionary time and fast urgent time rather than favouring one above the other and, through this imbalance, failing to achieve the collaboration's potential.