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.