- In size
- In complexity
- In influence
Here are the five main issues to address when managing the growth in complexity of a collaboration:
- Dealing with the increasing complexity of rules and procedures. (This can be addressed by regularly bringing partners and key stakeholders together to track and review changes and additions to a collaboration's rules and procedures. The key focus of this review should be to identify and challenge the reasons and motivations for changes and additions that add complexity to a collaboration's agreed ways of working. Do these reasons and motivation's stem from a genuine desire to improve collaborative effectiveness or from uncertainties partners have about each other? If the latter, any changes and additions will be examples of the previously mentioned over-compensation and partners will need to focus upon improving the quality of their relationships rather than adding rules and procedures that will merely serve to increase mutual uncertainties.)
- Dealing with the increasing complexity of communication (including use of information technology). (This can be addressed by regularly bringing partners and key stakeholders together to review the different ways in which they communicate with each other. This review should ensure, as was the case in the previous paragraph, that any increased communication or increased complexity of communication is being done for beneficial reasons. It should also ensure that a healthy mix of communication methods is being maintained as the amount and complexity of communication grows. The latter can be achieved by encouraging partners to use the place/time continuum of communication to review their overall communication approach and identify where benefit would be gained from communicating differently and with increased diversity.)
- Dealing with the increasing complexity of relationships and understandings. (This can be addressed by bringing partners together to do a partner and stakeholder involvement, attitude and relationship mapping exercise. A tool for doing this is described at Appendix F of the 5th Edition of "Sleeping with the Enemy - Achieving Collaborative Success". Once partners have completed this exercise, they can take action to address any problems that are emerging due to the increasing complexity of their collaboration's relationships. They can also, of course, take action to exploit any opportunities that are emerging due to the increasing diversity and richness of their relationships.)
- Dealing with the increasing complexity of discussion and dialogue. (This can be addressed by bringing partners and stakeholders together to participate in structured dialogue that seeks to not only manage increasing complexity of discussion but also encourage and exploit the sharing of differing perceptions and ideas. A simple and effective tool that can help partners achieve these things is the "Co-Counselling Method", which is described at Appendix G of the Fifth Edition of "Sleeping with the Enemy - Achieving Collaborative Success". Also, encouraging Flock Thinking by using the tools described here will achieve the same things.)
- Dealing with the increasing complexity and interconnectedness of issues and problems. (This can be addressed by bringing partners together to explore the ever-evolving big picture context of which their collaboration is a part and identify how various issues are combining and developing to complicate existing challenges and create new challenges. Rich pictures and mind maps will enable partners to do this task effectively.)
When undertaking the above tasks partners must keep in mind that growth in complexity must be not only managed but also encouraged. This is because the challenge most collaborations face (which is to solve previously unsolvable problems) and the way they go about meeting it (which is to find new and useful ways to combine the differing perspectives and varied resources of a diverse and ever-evolving mix of partners and stakeholders) requires not only direction and purpose but also creativity and innovation.
This is why many of the approaches mentioned above are flexible, structured and participative: they are fluid and permissive enough to encourage complexity through the combining of diverse thoughts and ideas, directive and disciplined enough to manage complexity so that it progresses towards worthwhile outcomes, and participative enough to encourage contributions from a diverse mix of partners.
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