Friday, 7 August 2020

Avoid the "Synecdoche Syndrome" like the plague

What do you see?

Scroll down to see the whole 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 issues, 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 surrounding complex web of people, needs and other associated issues that combine to create the whole picture.

A health and social partnership may well have successfully addressed the needs of those with severe and pressing mental and/or physical health and social problems, but what of those who are not so badly off? Have their needs been addressed or has the severe and demanding part obscured the less severe and less demanding part? 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 a collaboration should focus upon those parts of a problem that are most pressing. Arguably, it is even right and proper that a collaboration should focus upon high profile areas that will garner support and resources. 

If, however, the "Synecdoche Syndrome" infects a collaboration's thinking, if the part comes to represent the whole in people's minds and blanks out the bigger picture of current and future problems (and potential solutions) that would be otherwise revealed, a collaboration will have contracted a chronic condition that slowly eats away resources and diminishes effectiveness. Eventually, the needs of the many will grow and gradually inflame, overwhelm and weaken the discrete and specific priority areas a collaboration had previously dealt with so well.

A collaboration needs to look beyond the pressing, high profile issues that strongly demand attention and so easily attract support. It needs to future-proof its aspirations, purpose and activities by engaging with the whole of its environment: the whole of which it is only a part. It needs to acknowledge and analyse people's wider concerns, problems and issues and assimilate the insights, ideas (and potential solutions) consequently gained.

A collaboration must never mistake the part for the whole; it must avoid the Synecdoche Syndrome like the plague.  

Friday, 24 July 2020

Towards a community paradigm: four principles of collaboration that can help us get there

This paper, by Adam Lent and Jessica Studdert of the New Local Government Network, describes a new way of meeting the diverse needs of local communities:

It advocates placing the power and decision-making associated with providing public services into the hands of local people and communities and describes how this is already starting to happen within current practices and initiatives.

It also describes how the above practices and initiatives could be built upon to create a new "Community Paradigm" for public service provision.

This new paradigm will require a wholesale shift of not only money and resources but also thinking and perceptions, and an increased emphasis upon collaboration will be key to making this shift happen successfully.

And collaborative working itself requires a wholesale shift in our usual assumptions about how things get done; indeed, it often requires that we think and act counter to these assumptions.

And thinking and acting counter to our usual assumptions about how things get done gradually reveals four principles that we need to keep in mind whilst collaborating with others: the more we keep the more we waste; the more others take the more we gain (and the less the cost the more the value); the more we control the less we control; and the more we collaborate the more we come into conflict.

The following blog post explores these four principles and describes how we can use them to navigate the complex world of collaboration and travel towards a new community empowered approach to public services.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

The characteristics of an effective collaborative culture: No.6

A collaboration will display and use symbols that are human in scale and focus, and the most powerful of these symbols will be multi-dimensional and interactive: they will be symbols that people can see, hear, feel, touch and use; they will be symbols with which people can interact   

The most common and obvious symbols will be pictures that convey implicit or explicit messages about collaboration. These pictures will usually show a group of people involved in a joint task and be often accompanied by a strap line or slogan emphasising the value of collaboration. A little less commonly used, but still obvious in its message, will be a "pregnant symbol" denoting nurture and growth (and implying, of course, the close cooperation needed to achieve them).

Job titles will be not only functional, indicating a person's role and responsibilities, but also  symbolic; job titles that include words such as "partner", "mediator", "facilitator", "broker", etc., will symbolise the collaborative nature of people's day-to-day work. It is likely, however, that official job titles will be rarely heard during day-to-day interactions within a collaboration. Commonly, collaborators will emphasise their informal approach to relationships by being on first name terms with each other.   

Also, people's positions within a collaboration (the titles and roles and responsibilities people take or are given) will be deeply symbolic. Prominent positions for specific people and groups, the precise natures of these positions being dependent upon a collaboration's purpose and focus, will deliver powerful messages about inclusion, engagement and overall collaborative intent. 

Women, business people, entrepreneurs, academics from various disciplines, local politicians, representatives of religious and community groups, people with lived experience of the problems a collaboration is endeavouring to address: all of these people, given the correct context and carefully and intentionally positioned within a collaboration, have the potential to become unambiguous symbols of a preferred way of dealing with people and doing things.      

The above symbolic positioning of people within a collaboration is an example of a multi-dimensional interactive symbol: the people in these positions will be not only seen but also heard, and they will be people with whom others can interact.

Because these multi-dimensional interactive symbols impact people through multiple senses and in multiple ways, they are very powerful. Within a collaboration, they can be numerous and diverse. Here are five examples of where they can be found:

The language with which a collaboration communicates. Mutually agreed ways of describing key terms, concepts and processes, etc., will be consistently and routinely used. More generally, a collaboration's language (both spoken and written) will be accessible and engaging to internal partners and external stakeholders and other beneficiaries alike. This co-created and inclusive language, which will continue to evolve as various partners come and go and existing partners develop their relationships, will become a multi-dimensional interactive symbol of collaborative culture that gradually embeds itself within the minds of partners and proceeds to influence perceptions and actions.

The location, layout and style of accommodation a collaboration occupies. Where feasible, accommodation will co-locate key partners. It may also be embedded within a key partner's or stakeholder's community or locality. 

The layout of the accommodation will be open plan and ergonomically sophisticated: there will be informal "mingle areas", personal privacy and "thinking time" areas, and (of course) collaboration areas. 

In addition, the accommodation's layout will explicitly respect professional and disciplinary space by ensuring each partner's working area is designed to meet the demands of his or her discipline (e.g., by providing additional and appropriate space for partners' specialist equipment, etc., or by providing space where partners can safely store and discuss information that they are required to treat as confidential).  

The symbolic messages associated with the above aspects of accommodation will gradually embed themselves in not only minds but also muscle memory, positively influencing partners' day-to-day collaborative activities.         

The style and approach of meetings and events a collaboration attends and to which it invites others. Meetings and events will exhibit the following characteristics:
  • There will be time set-aside for informal interaction.
  • Openness and transparency will be the default position for all meetings and events. When confidentiality is required, the reasons for it will be made clear. Overall, confidentiality will be the exception that proves the collaborative rule.
  • Inclusivity will be favoured rather than exclusivity. Where exclusivity is needed (e.g., where a small group of key partners needs to be created to expedite decision making), its process of creation will be open, transparent and jointly agreed.
  • Engagement and interaction will be encouraged through the use of creative and participative techniques and approaches (e.g., Doughnut thinking, Two Circle Thinking, Six Hat Thinking and Open Space Technology).        
  • The style and manner of the chairperson of a meeting or the leader of an event will model and encourage the above characteristics and, therefore, be deeply symbolic of collaborative culture. He or she will, through his or her personal behaviour and approach, encourage openness and demonstrate transparency of decision making and action: he or she will clearly explain the reasons for decisions and actions, and why confidentiality may occasionally be necessary (and the areas and issues it will affect and in what way). The majority of a chairperson's or event leader's role will focus upon encouraging involvement and dialogue, mediating disputes and conflicts, and brokering relationships and agreements (including informal and formal trades).  
The above characteristics will become multi-dimensional interactive symbols of collaboration that positively influence partners' interactions at significant moments: points in time when key relationships are formed, crucial decisions are made and important actions implemented.  

Internally generated and co-created rules for working together and achieving things: rules that delineate the "collaborative way". These rules will focus upon how resources should be shared, how people should treat each other, how results should be achieved, and how people who break the rules should be reprimanded or punished. It will not be unusual for some of these rules to be unwritten and informal and policed through social interaction and personal relationships. 

Rules will be simple and few rather than complex and many, focusing upon key aspects of a collaboration's activities.

The above rules will act as multi-dimensional interactive symbols that strongly influence partners to not only "do the right collaborative thing" themselves but also ensure others do likewise. 

Commonly owned and co-created resources, which become significant artefacts of the collaborative culture. As collaborators work together, they will co-create new resources (e.g., analytical techniques, specialist equipment, new knowledge and theories, etc.) to improve effectiveness and help achieve outcomes. These resources will, reasonably quickly, become multi-dimensional interactive symbols of collaboration. Their daily use and management (the latter being about ensuring not only continued maintenance and updating but also continued common ownership and accessibility) will emphasise that they, and other things produced collaboratively, are precious in three ways: firstly, because they help a collaboration achieve its purpose; secondly, because they are of significant and often equal value to the people who worked together to produce them; and thirdly (and most importantly), because they provide powerful and motivational evidence of the synergies made possible through collaboration.

To read about the other characteristics of an effective collaborative culture, click here.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

The characteristics of an effective collaborative culture: No.5

A collaboration's assurance systems will focus upon the quality of partners' relationships, the level and quality of partners' contributions, the quality and effectiveness of current and emerging collaborative processes and structures, and the amount and effectiveness of partners' novel thinking and innovation        

Assurance systems will seek to ensure that relationships between partners are diverse and inclusive in terms of not only knowledge, qualities, skills and expertise but also genders, sectors, communities and cultures, etc.

The amount and quality of face-to-face interaction will be monitored and its value and effectiveness evaluated. Of particular interest will be the balance between formal and informal face-to-face interaction. 

In fact, the quality of all personal communications (face-to-face, telephone or written) will be carefully assessed to ensure they result in appropriate and timely action rather than  inappropriate and untimely action.

The quality of relationships with people, organisations and stakeholders external to a collaboration will be given significant attention. Care will be taken to evaluate the influence a collaboration has on key external people, organisations and stakeholders, etc.          

However fleeting and informal (be this the welcoming attitude of a partner organisation's staff member, a timely expression of support, or the offering of a small resource that makes a big difference), all contributions that help a collaboration achieve its purpose will be acknowledged and appropriately rewarded. Collaborations will also acknowledge and reward non-monetary or "in-kind" contributions (e.g., knowledge, expertise, services, equipment, accommodation, etc.) that partners are willing and able to offer. Lastly, partners' contributions towards shared, common and co-created resources will be noted and suitably acknowledged.

All collaborative processes (especially those designed to engage, involve and encourage dialogue) will be constantly monitored and evaluated. Three aspects will be given particular attention: the interactions, transactions and other actions within a process that are crucial to its success (i.e., its "moments of truth"); the processes emerging from within a collaboration; and the internally generated rules and ways of working that support these emerging processes.

In addition, the efficiency and effectiveness of the structures that emerge from within and/or develop around a collaboration will be constantly assessed.   

Innovation will be recognised and rewarded and its effectiveness evaluated. Specific behaviours (such as pioneering, risk-taking, and identifying and exploiting unexpected or chance opportunities) will be searched for and rewarded.

A collaboration's previously mentioned focus upon capturing and sharing rich and diverse stories about people, key relationships and associated significant happenings will, by highlighting and acknowledging lessons learned from experience and past successes, help assure continuing and improving effectiveness in all the above areas.

To read about the other characteristics of an effective collaborative culture, click here.

Monday, 4 May 2020

The characteristics of an effective collaborative culture: No.4

A collaboration's organisational structure will be flexible and constantly evolving rather than inflexible and pre-designed, and it will consist of small and simple components that emphasise individual people

Organisational structures will constantly evolve from within the wider network of partners. The components of these structures, like individual bits and pieces of Lego, will be small and simple; they will, as the previously mentioned platform of key partners demonstrates, consist of small numbers of people and have very clearly defined functions.

Having a small number of people within each component (be this a dedicated team, committee or task force, etc.) will help develop effective personal relationships, and the clearly defined function of each component will help ensure not only effective communication and timely action but also smooth co-ordination and, where necessary, rapid integration of components (much as individual bits and pieces of Lego will readily interlock to create new shapes and structures).

Additionally (and superior to the abilities of Lego), placing a small number of individuals within each component of a collaboration's organisational structure will help external people and organisations put a name to (and become familiar with) a face. This will facilitate effective communication and co-ordination with external people and organisations and, over the medium to long-term, help forge new relationships and alliances; individual people (their names, faces and actions) will become proactive elements contributing to the evolution of a collaboration's organisational structure rather than passive elements impeding it.

To read about the other characteristics of an effective collaborative culture, click here.

Monday, 20 April 2020

The characteristics of an effective collaborative culture: No.3

A collaboration's rituals and routines will emphasise sharing with people, including and involving people, celebrating and rewarding people's contributions, championing a collaboration and its work, and interacting with people informally and face-to-face  

Recording and sharing the previously mentioned types of stories; appointing champions who promote and support a collaboration's work; celebrating not only success but also the people who contributed to it: these things will be regular high profile rituals that take place within a collaboration.

Most meetings and all high-profile conferences and events will set aside time and space for ritually celebrating diversity and inclusion. These ritual celebrations will be low church rather than high church: they will encourage participation and informality and the joyful expression of a shared belief in the power of including and involving the many rather than the few.

Day-to-day, collaborators will habitually use first names when introducing and addressing each other, eagerly meet face-to-face in the informal margins within and between formal meetings and events, happily give the benefit of the doubt, quickly offer a helping hand, and openly share and explore each other's ideas and mistakes (as well as each other's feelings, enthusiasms, intuitions and intentions).

In addition, collaborators will regularly and enthusiastically reach out and across to potential partners and other contributors who may be able to offer new insights, ideas and resources, etc.

To read about the other characteristics of an effective collaborative culture, click here.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

The characteristics of an effective collaborative culture: No.2

A collaboration's power will be distributed amongst the wider network of partners, and a collaboration's sources of power will be diverse

Power will be imbued in the network of partners; this network will be empowered and able to get things done and solve problems, and leaders will develop within and emerge from it. This process will encourage web networked rather than star networked power to develop: power and the ability to get things done will be spread throughout the majority of individuals and organisations in the network rather than focused upon one or two star players who pull the strings or to whom all network paths lead.

This webbed network of partners will pulse with diverse sources of power that can be tapped into as required. Partners possessing the power to broker, bridge divides and make trades; partners possessing the power of essential expertise, experience and skills (and the credibility to make others appreciate these things); partners possessing the power of the pioneering spirit (the risk takers, the creative and innovative); partners possessing feminine power (the empathetic, the intuitive and emotionally literate): all these people (and many others with differing sources of power) can step forward to take the lead and express their unique powers as and when beneficial to the collaboration.

Having said all this, the above webbed network of diversely powerful partners is eventually likely to coalesce around a hub or platform of key partners who can guide and lead the collaboration and provide the required stability and resources, etc.

This process of coalescing, however, will strengthen rather than weaken the networked, diverse and emergent nature of collaborative power rather than weaken it. This is because the collaborative network will push partners towards the platform and, where and when necessary, pull them away from it; the ebb and flow of the network sea will cast partners as leaders upon the platform and sweep them off as necessity dictates. The platform will become a dynamic and powerful manifestation of the power of the collaborative network.

To read about the other characteristics of an effective collaborative culture, click here.