Sunday, 24 November 2013

Do you pass or share?

Passing information to other organisations is not the same as sharing it.

Passing implies distance and the negotiating of boundaries. 

Sharing implies closeness and the lowering of boundaries.

To use a surprising, unsubtle but certainly very memorable example:

US aircraft bombing enemy positions in Iraq used spotters on the ground to guide them to possible targets. Initially, these spotters had to 'pass' the information back to analysts in the Pentagon who would evaluate it and decide whether or not the aircraft attacked. Whilst this passing and processing, analysing and deciding was going on the enemy were not staying put. Consequently aircraft frequently attacked positions no longer occupied by the enemy.

The system was changed, allowing pilots and spotters to talk directly, share and evaluate information in real-time and make decisions about whether or not to attack. Consequently aircraft began to attack more positions occupied by the enemy.

The above example shows the value of real-time sharing and exploring rather than serial passing and processing. It shows that creating time for face-to-face or voice-to-voice sharing and evaluation of information makes a process more efficient and effective, not less. 

But when collaborating with others it is safer to pass rather than to share; you can maintain your distance and boundaries and the power and control they provide. It is riskier to share; distance and boundaries are eroded and so too your power and control. The Pentagon defence chiefs and analysts were taken completely out of the above process, losing most of their direct control over pilot decisions. (They did, however, gain statistically superior results.)

It is no surprise that businesses, institutions and organisations with power and influence are instinctively inclined, if having to collaborate, towards passing rather than sharing. If they share and their power is eroded as a result what will become of them? What will be their purpose? What will be the point of them? What will be their place in the world? What will be their unique selling point? How will they survive? How will they make a profit? How will they continue to matter?

So collaborations between powerful and influential businesses and organisations can often be cumbersome, focused on creating staging posts and routes for passing information back and forth rather than on sharing, analysing, evaluating and exploiting information together.

Anyone who watches the news bulletins knows the truth of this. The police, social and health services have worked hard at building pathways between themselves for sharing vital information about potentially vulnerable people. All too often, however, the information is opened and 'processed' without its meaning (the opinions, attitudes and contextual knowledge the various agencies have about it) being shared. 

When information is passed rather than shared it becomes inactive, dormant. All too easily, it becomes a packaged product to be stored or moved rather than the flowing fuel that powers insight. People receiving such a package are very likely to read its label and pigeon hole it or pass it on (rather than open it and explore what is revealed).

Passed information all too easily becomes 'past' information that is processed and shelved rather than talked about and acted upon.

Passing and processing information encourages a functional mind-set that is lacking in curiosity. It will involve databases, emails and documents and perhaps the odd follow-up procedural phone call. Very rarely will it involve people sharing their thoughts about information face to face or voice to voice in the 'here and now'. 

Sharing and exploring information encourages a creative mind-set brimming with curiosity. It will involve databases, emails and documents and perhaps the odd procedural phone call. It will always involve people sharing their thoughts about information face to face or voice to voice in the 'here and now'.

So do you play safe and pass or do you take a risk and share? 

The added risk that accompanies sharing information in real-time will probably be worth it in terms of better use of time and money and increased efficiency and effectiveness. 

If you play safe and continue to 'pass' your collaborations will likely become more and more time consuming and expensive as the pathways you create to move information back and forth become storage space for parked information.

For more about collaboration and partnership go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition   

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Avoid the 'Synecdoche Syndrome' like the plague

What do you see?

Scroll down to see the complete picture!

A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole and vice versa. We can immediately see from the above that this can often cause uncertainty, confusion and problems. It could even prove life threatening!    

Smart collaborations create interest and energy and encourage participation by quickly identifying and addressing high profile problems and issues relevant to their aspirations and purpose. 

But these high profile areas, be they acute medical and health services, complex and pressing social problems, high impact crime or the presence of homeless people on the streets, can quickly begin to represent the entirety of the problem, obscuring the bigger picture and the complex web of people, needs and services that surround them.

A health and social partnership may well have successfully addressed the needs of those with complex mental and physical health and social problems, but what of those who are not so badly off? Have their needs been addressed or has the complex and demanding part obscured the less complex and less demanding whole? Do those with milder problems now need to wait until they become the 'part of the problem' that is recognised and addressed?

It is right and proper that collaborations should focus upon those parts of a problem that are most pressing. Arguably, it is even right and proper that they should focus upon high profile areas that will garner support and resources for them. 

If, however, the 'Synecdoche Syndrome' infects a collaboration's thinking, if the part comes to represent the whole in people's minds, blanking out the bigger picture and the current and future problems (and potential solutions) it could reveal, the collaboration will have contracted a chronic condition that will slowly eat away its resources and diminish and eventually terminate its effectiveness. The needs of the many will grow and gradually inflame, overwhelm and weaken the discrete and specific areas a collaboration had previously dealt with so well.

Collaborations need to look beyond the pressing, high profile issues that demand their attention and that are so attractive in terms of gaining support. They need to future-proof their aspirations, purpose and activities by engaging with the whole of their environment, the whole of which they are only a part. They need to acknowledge people's wider concerns, problems and issues, analyse them and assimilate the insights they gain and the solutions they identify into their thinking and activities.

They must never mistake the part for the whole.

They must avoid the Synecdoche Syndrome like the plague.

For more about collaboration and partnership go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition.   

Friday, 1 November 2013

Actions speak louder than labels

Most organisations label their activities: social services, health services, education services.  As soon as you label something you create a boundary around it that separates it from everything else: other services, organisations; the public; the people that use the service.

These 'boundary labels' filter and blinker people's thoughts and direct people's actions down specific routes, separating and fragmenting rather than joining up and integrating. If collaboration does take place it does so at the level of the labelled service; information is passed from one service to another rather than shared, discussed and developed in real time by all those individuals who have an interest in it. 

Susan is admitted to hospital after a long period of care and support at home. Her records are passed to the new service. But does everyone involved in Susan's case acknowledge, discuss and use the valuable information they contain? Do they use it to inform and enhance Susan's hospital care and treatment?

Passing something to social, health or some other service can become equivalent in people's minds to taking action to maintain or improve something; addressing and fixing the label is assumed to ensure that the parcel will actually be delivered to the right place at the right time and that the person who receives it will appreciate its importance and know what to do with it. 

To encourage and enhance collaboration use actions to describe your work. Actions liberate people's thinking. They invite people to take part. They dissolve boundaries between services and organisations, joining up and integrating rather than separating and fragmenting.  Preventing, promoting, intervening, supporting, protecting, caring, training, safeguarding, reaching, engaging: actions make things straightforward, personal and immediate. They describe physical behaviour that everyone can identify with, understand and find ways to contribute to, whatever their status, role, knowledge, expertise or experience.

Susan is admitted to hospital after a long period of care and support at home. She has a copy of her records and treatment plan. She can help 'inform and shape' the treatment and care she receives in partnership with the professionals. The actions of 'caring and treating' have become more important than acknowledging and negotiating labelled professional boundaries. If there is a collaborative initiative encouraging this approach it is most likely called 'Supporting the Patient's Journey to Recovery' or 'Supporting Your Journey to Recovery'  It definitely will not be called 'Patient Care and Hospital Services'.  

For more about collaboration go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition