The latest version of my book Achieving Collaborative Success is now freely available to read and download. Click on my picture to get it.

Monday, 26 April 2021

Five useful collaborative principles from cross-cultural collaboration in New Zealand

Here is a very useful article about cross-cultural collaboration in New Zealand:

“Koe wai hoki koe?!”, or “Who are you?!”: Issues of trust in cross‐cultural collaborative research (

The article is useful for two reasons: firstly, the collaboration it describes (between two very different cultures with an often problematic history) accentuates not only the difficulties associated with challenging collaborations but also the principles that need to be applied to overcome these difficulties; secondly, the principles identified can, I believe, be applied within many collaborative contexts.

For me, the principles that stand out as particularly important and widely applicable are as follows:

  • Thoughtfully and considerately using creative tools and approaches to encourage dialogue and participation. 
  • Continuously seeking to build relationships with people from diverse backgrounds to gain access to and benefit from often uniquely valuable knowledge, experiences and perspectives.
  • Developing the open-mindedness and humility required to learn from others.
  • Giving up control: allowing yourself to be led by someone else, and stepping aside so someone can express their own way of knowing and use their own way of doing whilst working within their own culture and environment.
  • Working with and adapting to the shifting temporal sands of collaboration: realising that who has to have humility, who has to give up control, and who has to stand aside to allow others to work with and from within their own cultures will alter with the changing needs and contexts of evolving collaboration.                     

(Read the article for examples of how the above principles can be applied.)  

Although some collaborations will not be so obviously challenging as the one described in the article, and many collaborations will possess different or subtly hidden challenges that are no less problematical, I believe that all collaborations that bring together partners from diverse backgrounds to address shared issues and problems will benefit significantly from discovering ways to apply the above principles.                 

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Collaboration can be looked at through many lenses, each lens revealing new insights

   A couple of lenses that I have looked at collaboration through are time and relationships. You can read about the insights revealed through these lenses by clicking on the previous links or by reading my book Achieving Collaborative Success.

  Timo Järvensivu looks at collaboration through the lens of networks and networking. Doing so reveals additional insights. Amongst these are the everchanging nature of networks (and consequently collaborations) and networks' need for flexible and creative management from the inside reaching out. To find out more about these and the other insights revealed, read Timo's book Managing (in) Networks.    


Sunday, 21 February 2021

Some practical approaches for encouraging and developing dialogue

Here is a link to some practical approaches for encouraging and developing effective dialogue between partners:

Dialogue: practical approaches for encouraging and developing it

The link takes you to a free chapter from Timo Järvensivu's book Managing (in) Networks: Learning, Working and Leading Together

As Timo's chapter makes clear, dialogue emphasises "listening to understand", which encourages people to travel to the centre of issues and discover uncomfortably challenging facts and previously unspoken assumptions. "Listening to understand" discourages conversations where people are tempted to debate around issues and seek conveniently supportive facts and clearly victorious arguments.

When working in collaboration, the knowledge gained by engaging in dialogue rather than debate often leads to superior achievements. This is because dialogue encourages people to make a decision or take an action based upon realism and the confidence that they have considered all sides rather than upon idealism and the hope that they have backed the right side.   



Thursday, 11 February 2021

Enhance collaboration by mapping informal networks and balancing formality with informality


Here is an article from the Harvard Business Review (by David Krackhardt and Jeffrey R. Hanson) that shows how mapping informal networks can improve an organisation's efficiency and effectiveness:

Informal Networks: The Company Behind the Chart

Collaborations between organisations will also benefit from this approach. By mapping informal advice, trust and communication networks, partners will uncover informal but significant relationship patterns that can then be analysed and leveraged to enhance day-to-day collaborative working.

Mapping informal networks will help redress the widespread bias toward formality that is built into the culture and fabric of many collaborations, especially if done alongside the approaches given here.



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.