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Friday 13 December 2013

A pinch of pain will prompt your partnership's progress

What really prompts businesses, organisations, institutions and governments to collaborate? Is it the greater good? Is it that ‘we are all in it together’? Is it that the complex, scary issues of the world cannot be addressed by one business, one organisation, one government alone? Is it the recognition that we are but one species under the sun and that collaborating is the right, ‘moral’ thing to do?

No, I think it is pain that provides the sharp prod towards collaboration: the pain that a business feels when it is losing market share and money; the pain that a government feels when it is losing power and control; the pain that a charity feels when it cannot feed those in need. Loss of profit, loss of security, loss of credibility, loss of reputation, loss of power, loss of ability: all of these and more cause the pain that prods collaboration.
Just consider the following for a moment:
  • Nations say much about the importance of international collaboration to combat global warming, but it is those countries at its painful sharp-end or, perhaps more appropriately, at its drowning waterline that are most passionate in their advocacy. Those not so directly affected, at least for the present, shed crocodile and occasionally sincere tears, content to throw their cash in from the side-lines and help (quite literally) mop up after disasters strike.
  • Bank executives talk heart-warmingly about the need to work with businesses to combat and overcome the economic recession, but then stockpile the government printed money that would be of most help. This is their insurance against the most excruciating pain they can ever experience: becoming a bank without money (Okay, this is an example of the fear of pain working against collaboration and the greater good, but it still shows that pain or the fear of pain is a prime motivator for institutional decision-making -- and I wanted to get the banks in somewhere).
  • European Governments (and sometimes their people – as the recent events in the Ukraine demonstrate) argue enthusiastically for the political and economic advantages of an expanding European Community; they do this most loudly if in danger of experiencing the pain of national poverty, bankruptcy and political instability.
  • UK Regional Authorities have only recently begun to share and merge services, even though it always made sense to remove duplication and dismantle bureaucratic and territorial boundaries. Why? They are experiencing the pain caused by not having enough money, people, expertise, influence and status to get things done on their own.
  • The energy companies of the west, experiencing the famine-pain caused by their dwindling stockpiles, frantically seek to collaborate with fuel rich nations in exploring and exploiting new oil and gas fields.
  • Failing mining companies wait until they are ‘dead men walking’ before the impending pain of their liquidation makes them unilaterally share their highly prized expertise and statistics in the hope of encouraging and benefiting from the collaborations that may result.
Pharmaceutical companies? Well, they act differently. They exist within a sector that would not function effectively without the on-going collaboration that is hard-wired into their ways of working. Also, interestingly and perhaps not totally coincidentally, they work in an industry where pain and its alleviation is never far away from their thoughts; it is always in some way or other the focus of their decisions and actions. It is tempting to think that this awareness of pain and the need to alleviate and if possible end it affects the day-to-day thinking of those working in the pharmaceutical industries, making them more pain aware than those working within other industries. (I am aware this is probably a fanciful notion, but it is interesting non-the-less.)
Am I being overly simplistic, overly sweeping in my above statements? 

Perhaps so; to be honest, probably so!

But doing so feels so easy, so comfortable; and I do not think this is entirely down to my natural predispositions, my warped perceptions or my flawed judgement. I think there is a hard, sharp, spiky kernel of truth in my belief that pain is one of the strongest motivators of people who seek to work collaboratively.
For the sensitive amongst us, and indeed for my own sensitive side, it is important to realise that the concept of a ‘pain driver’ for collaboration has a positive and caring aspect. (My comment about the pharmaceutical industry touched on this very briefly.) We humans can be prodded by another sort of pain: sympathetic pain, feeling pain for others and their problems. This pain prompts charities to work with each other and the public and private sectors to improve the help they give to those in need; it prompts health and social care professionals to integrate their functions to enhance the quality of life of patients; it prompts the collaborative approaches of social enterprises that seek to improve the life chances of disadvantaged people.

So, I believe the pain driver, in either selfish or selfless form, is very significant and powerful in encouraging people to collaborate and that it must be embraced rather than underestimated, avoided or dismissed.
We must not be shy about seeking out the pain that threatens us (and those we are working with or trying to help). If we find pain and suffering we must explore and share it with partners. We must be strikingly clear about the pain's consequences and graphically demonstrate how its neglect could enable it to become excruciating and eventually immensely harmful to all concerned.
Does this sound sadomasochistic? Perhaps it does, but obviously this is only the case when it is done without any purpose other than the joy of inflicting pain. If it is done with another purpose in mind, the need to create closer, more intense and even passionate collaboration among partners, it is an act of kindness, perhaps even love.

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 and analysing and deciding were 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 evaluating 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 upon creating routes and staging posts for passing information between partners rather than upon sharing, analysing, evaluating and exploiting information with partners.

Anyone who watches television news bulletins about failures of joined-up working knows the truth of this. The police, social and health services have worked hard at building pathways between their respective organisations for sharing vital information about potentially vulnerable people. All too often, however, the information is received and "processed" without its deeper meaning (the opinions, attitudes and contextual knowledge the various agencies have and hold about it) being shared. 

When information is passed rather than shared it can become inactive, dormant: a packaged product to be moved or stored rather than the flowing fuel of insight. Someone receiving or processing such information is more likely to read its label and pigeon-hole it rather than open it up and explore it.

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 between partners become storage space for parked information.

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 

Friday 25 October 2013

Do you do what you prefer to do or as the situation demands?

As I was doing some research this week I came across this newsletter from the Health Services Management Centre of the University of Birmingham:

The article by Deborah Davidson 'The Courage to Think and Act Differently' is an interesting read and is very relevant to those who seek to lead collaborative efforts and work in partnership.

I will not simply repeat the content of Deborah's short article; you can read it yourself in under ten minutes. All I will say is that it invites us to think very carefully about whether we habitually frame issues and problems in ways that suit our preferences for dealing with them, rather than in ways that suit the situations and contexts within which they exist.

This is something really worth thinking about, especially if you are working within the demanding, wicked issue focused world of collaborative working, which requires us to think, decide and act in new, innovative and challenging ways.

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


Tuesday 15 October 2013

Bite-size pieces: a checklist for collaborative conversations

Here is a 'top ten' checklist for collaborative conversations. I quick read through before meeting with partners will encourage mutual understanding, help develop relationships and support collaborative effectiveness:

  1. I am talking with you not at you.
  2. I am very curious about you and your story.
  3. I am finding out about your view of the world and the problems and issues you feel we must address.
  4. I am listening to understand rather than gain information that helps me prepare my next argument.
  5. I am asking questions because I want to listen to and appreciate your answers rather than gain confirmation of my own views.
  6. I am aware of what I am saying, how I am saying it and the effect it is having on you.
  7. I am not afraid to say I am unsure or that I do not understand.
  8. I am saying what is on my mind and what you need to know rather than what I think you want to hear.
  9. I am aware that I do not have all the answers; that is why I am talking to you.
  10. I am working hard at unearthing and challenging my long held assumptions about you and our work.
(Acknowledgement to

Thursday 3 October 2013

Look out for signals of discontinuity and change

The rise of the Internet is signalling a move away from information and products broadcast at passive people to information and products created with the involvement of active people. The Open Source Movement is recognising these signals and creating platforms for the development and sharing of high quality, user generated, freely available software. (The Apache Software Foundation is a good example.)

The technology driven reduction in mid-skilled jobs is signalling a shift away from traditional middle-class office or factory based jobs towards careers in high technology areas or specialist manual areas, such as caring and hospitality, that technology cannot automate. Collaborations that help people into work are recognising these signals and looking for ways to make high technology and specialist manual jobs more accessible. (The Anita Borg Institute is an example of an organisation that works with partner businesses to help women and under-represented minorities into high technology careers. The Opportunity Partnership helps young people gain the skills necessary for specialist manual work in the care and hospitality industries.)  

The retirement of the 'Baby Boomer' generation is signalling a change to the look, feel and nature of later life and the potential contributions older people are willing and able to make to society. Collaborations focused upon the needs of older people are recognising these signals and looking for ways to enhance the contributions older people can make to society. ( is an example of an organisation that works with others to enhance the contributions and quality of life of older people.)

The achievement of a critical mass of qualified, graduate women is signalling a change to the look, feel and nature of the workplace and the amount of influence women are willing and able to have upon it. Collaborations that promote the interests of working women are recognising these signals and seeking to use the influence of the growing number of well-educated working women to encourage and support the ambitions of all women within the workplace. (The previously mentioned Anita Borg Institute, with its support for the mentoring of women in high tech industries, is a good example of this.)

Increasingly easy access to information is signalling a change in our relationship with Governments and businesses and in the amount of influence we can have over their activities. Collaborations focused upon changing the nature of Government and citizens' relationships with it are recognising these signals and seeking ways of encouraging people to use their newly acquired powers. (Wiki Leaks is a high-profile example of a global collaboration that is changing the relationship and power dynamics between Governments and citizens.)

Smart Mobile technology is signalling a change in the way we communicate and go about our day to day work; it is immeasurably increasing the flexibility, scope and versatility of our interactions with not only other people but also the systems we use and need. Collaborations working to enhance the health and quality of life of people in the developing world are recognising these signals and seeking ways to exploit mobile technology to enhance the effectiveness of their work and support the achievement of their goals. (Vodafone's collaboration with private, public and 3rd sector partners that uses mobile technology to save lives through vaccination in sub-Saharan Africa is a good example).

The above are recognised signals of discontinuity, signals that point towards radical and significant changes that are happening to a greater or lesser extent all over the globe. As you can see, clever collaborations have sought to align themselves with the direction of travel of these signals, so strengthening the effectiveness of their activities.

What signals of discontinuity and change does your collaboration need to look out for? How can it take advantage of them to further its cause and achieve its aims? How can it effectively align its strategy and goals with the new directions and priorities these signals are pointing towards, so enhancing its relevance, credibility, influence and effectiveness?

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

Stop Press! 3rd Edition now out: click on the link to your top right... 

Friday 20 September 2013

Feedback and change!

Feedback is important to any group of people working together. This is especially so when people from separate businesses and organisations come together to collaborate.

The following model can help partners identify the type of feedback they may need to deliver and address; it will also help them think in a focused way about its purpose and effects:

(Copyright Charles M Lines)

Unspoken feedback is sometimes felt and at best hinted at through partners' actions and reactions. It could be significant or trivial but because it remains unsaid there is no way of knowing. It will, however, sometimes create ‘an atmosphere’ that if not addressed can cause problems between partners. (This type of feedback is likely to appear during a partnership's latency phase). If there are problems between partners or 'an atmosphere' within the collaboration it could be because ‘things need to be aired’. Look out for partners' actions and reactions. Do not be hesitant about asking partners why they are acting or reacting in a particular way. You may find out something very valuable that could lead to reinforcing, modifying or transforming feedback, or you could be reassured that any concerns are merely trivial or ‘passing’ and easily dealt with. 

For example, partners may be having doubts about their ability to contribute to the collaboration's work but be reluctant to admit this. This may lead to them becoming more and more hesitant and withdrawn during meetings and other activities. Taking these partners to one side and respectfully asking why this is happening could encourage them to express their concerns. You can then reassure them as to the value of their contribution and/or explore ways in which they could be helped and supported in their role.            

Passing feedback is not significant in terms of partners' and the collaboration's effectiveness. For example, people often suggest areas for improvement that are in fact expressions of personal preferences. It is true that taking personal preferences into account can sometimes be crucial to the activities of a collaboration and the delivery of its services, but on other occasions it is not. Carefully consider how valuable such feedback is to partners and the collaboration. Do you really need to share and address this feedback? What purpose will be served by doing so? Will acting on it only result in wasted time and effort?

Reinforcing feedback takes the form of positive comments or compliments about partners' and/or the collaboration's effectiveness. How can you encourage partners and the collaboration to build upon these? Could any shortcomings in other areas be addressed by building upon this positive, reinforcing feedback? For example, a partner may have received feedback about their strong communication and PR skills. How could these skills be used to enhance the collaboration's overall image and visibility?

Modifying feedback points out potential areas for improvement within otherwise acceptable levels of performance. For example, people may be very happy with the quality of a service or product but occasionally frustrated by what they see as unnecessary delays in providing it. Will addressing this issue improve the effectiveness of partners and the collaboration? How will it improve things? What options can you identify and discuss with partners' to address it?

Transforming feedback is crucial to partners' and the collaboration's effectiveness. For example, changes in Government policy and cuts in funding may require a collaboration that is charity and volunteer based to receive hard messages about becoming more business focused and efficient. This feedback must be given and addressed in a clear and unambiguous way and separately from any other. You will need to think carefully about how and when you deliver and discuss this feedback. What style of feedback would suit the partners receiving it? Are you sure that you have all the facts relating to it? Are you clear about what you want to say? What are your own feelings about the issue and could they affect the way you give the feedback? What are the partners' views and  feelings concerning the issue? What do they think should be done to address it?

Keep in mind that feedback implying a significant need for change on the part of partners and the collaboration can be perceived as threatening and lead to defensiveness and resistance. So think carefully about the level and type of feedback you need to give, explore and discuss. What type of feedback would best suit the issues, collaborative context and partners involved? Sometimes emphasising strengths and suggesting and exploring options can be more effective than ‘reading the riot act’ or over-enthusiastically championing change. Always think about the partners on the receiving end of your feedback. What will work best for them, you and the collaboration overall?    

Thursday 12 September 2013

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

I have been familiarising myself with the work of Daniel H. Pink, who has identified the above three aspects as crucial to motivation.

It strikes me that these aspects are also crucial for effective collaborative working.


Is your collaborative initiative sufficiently independent to ensure it has a separate identity? Can it make decisions and implement actions without having to gain unnecessary approval from others? Can it go about its business and achieve its aims in ways that it, rather than anyone else, believes to be the most suitable and effective?  


Does your collaboration have access to the expertise, knowledge, skills and qualities it needs to achieve its goals effectively? Is it able to develop and add to these to meet the changing demands of its environment and those of the people it is seeking to support and help? Does it encourage its members to stretch and challenge themselves and master new skills and new ways of doing things?


Is the overall purpose or vision of your collaboration clear? Is it inspiring? Do people buy into it? Are people clear about how their various activities (and any money the collaboration may make) support and enable the collaboration to achieve its aims?

In short, if you want to be motivated get involved in collaborative working and use the above three aspects to help guide its development!

Monday 2 September 2013

Friday 23 August 2013

Be purposefully transformative

The future will be knowledge and experience rich but increasingly, the current fracking bonanza not withstanding, resource and materials poor. There will be more people and organisations able to do good in the world but also more conflict about what exactly 'good' is. All these extra people with have immense potential but they will also need to be fed and housed.

So the future can be summed up as both hopeful and scary, and it is people working effectively in collaboration that will help realise the former and avoid the latter.

In order to survive and thrive in this increasingly complex and demanding future world partnerships and collaborations will need to be:

  1. Pioneering pathfinders
  2. Masters of the paradox
  3. Challenging and disruptive
  4. Influential players
  5. Socially enterprising
  6. Populated by a new breed of collaborative worker
  7. Purposefully transformative

Be purposefully transformative

Most partnerships exist to create transformational change, to solve complex problems that no one individual or organisation can do alone. To create this transformational change partnerships need to be transformational within themselves; they need to be able to mutate rapidly into shapes, systems, networks and layers that will best meet the challenges they face.

To do this effectively they need to do it purposefully, to have a clear guiding stimulus that will encourage them to transform both themselves and the areas they are focusing upon in ways that will ensure enhanced effectiveness and outcomes. They will also need to allow form to follow function, to allow their guiding stimulus and the demands of their context to dictate their partnership's architecture and shape.

Given the complex nature of the problems partnerships seek to solve this architecture will need to be multi-layered and multi-faceted; it will need to glitter like a diamond. It will also need to be modular and flexible, allowing it to splice, recombine and mutate easily according to the varying demands placed upon it.


Have a clear guiding stimulus

The Apache Software Foundation, which provides support for open source software projects, has a strong and straightforward mission that encourages both it and its collaborators to work continuously towards transforming and improving both its own activities and the quality of open source software available to people.     

The following 'mission statements' are at the top of its home page:  

  • We consider ourselves not simply a group of projects sharing a server, but rather a community of developers and users.
  • The Apache Software Foundation provides support for the Apache community of open-source software projects, which provide software for the public good.
  • The Apache projects are defined by collaborative consensus and a desire to create high quality software that leads the way in its field.

These statements make the purpose and aspirations of Apache clear. Additionally, by using phrases such as 'community of developers and users' and 'collaborative consensus' they make it clear how they expect those collaborating with them to behave. This concise mix of purpose, aspirations and behavioural values provides the guiding stimulus for Apache's probably perpetual transformation into an ever more effective global collaboration that produces publicly accessible software of ever increasing quality.

Allow form to follow function

UK health, housing and social services have begun forming partnerships of service providers around people's key life events and the outcomes they require, so putting function before form and allowing structures to grow out of the mix and types of services people need. Similarly, UK community planning has begun to form itself around communities and populations rather than according to organisational boundaries.

Be multi-layered and multi-faceted

A Community Planning Partnership in Fife, Scotland, added a local layer of evaluation to its processes that encouraged local people to contribute their comments and ideas. It then created a process for ensuring that these local contributions could be fed into its strategic decision making, adding an anecdotal 'evidence based' facet to its policy making.

A Community Health Partnership added a valuable facet to its activity by placing a broad mix of key public services in one place and within easy reach of those that needed them. This enabled the partnership to engage more effectively with those who were 'hard to reach', more easily identify crossovers in responsibilities and eliminate duplications in support and services. Additionally, the multi-faceted nature of the services available (for example a library was housed in the centre) enabled the partnership to engage with non-users of health and social services who would probably need to access them in the future.

A partnership between youth services and police added a mobile facet to its approach. It made use of a mobile youth and information centre that could reach out to hard to reach young people, so enhancing the flexibility and depth of its engagement work.

Be modular and flexible

Aberdeen City Alliance created a series of Challenge Forums to focus on specific problems and needs. The list of teams could be lengthened, shortened, 'spliced and recombined' according to need, allowing the alliance to respond flexibly to the varying challenges and changing priorities presented to it. 

A regeneration company/partnership in Liverpool, adopted a flexible 'patch partnering' approach to its work, selecting the most suitable team of partners for specific projects from the pool of available partner organisations.

A flexible approach to the leadership structure of a collaboration was demonstrated by an initiative tasked with procuring digital hearing aids for the NHS. When a more effective and affordable approach to procuring the aids was required those with the most relevant expertise, passion, motivation and credibility were given the appropriate leadership responsibilities, regardless of their organisational status.

The NHS has a wide variety of relationships and bilateral partnerships with local and national organisations that have specialist knowledge and/or specific interests. This approach, although complex, does give the NHS multiple options and flexibility with regard to how it goes about its work. (It also adds additional facets and layers to the structural network through which it engages with people and patients.)

A North of England Regional Improvement Partnership demonstrated flexibility of approach by encouraging the formation of 'self-initiated and directed networks'. These would form in response to some shared interest or problem and consist of people with the relevant knowledge, experience or simply motivation to explore and/or address it. For example, a group of drainage engineers formed and facilitated their own network to discuss, explore and address the serious problems associated with heavy flooding within their region.   


Friday 16 August 2013

Populate your partnership with a new breed of collaborative worker

The future will be knowledge and experience rich but increasingly, the current fracking bonanza not withstanding, resource and materials poor. There will be more people and organisations able to do good in the world but also more conflict about what exactly 'good' is. All these extra people with have immense potential but they will also need to be fed and housed.

So the future can be summed up as both hopeful and scary, and it is people working effectively in collaboration that will help realise the former and avoid the latter.

In order to survive and thrive in this increasingly complex and demanding future world partnerships and collaborations will need to be:

  1. Pioneering pathfinders
  2. Masters of the paradox
  3. Challenging and disruptive
  4. Influential players
  5. Socially enterprising
  6. Populated by a new breed of collaborative worker
  7. Purposefully transformative

Populate your partnership with a new breed of collaborative worker

Our human society is no longer simply evolving slowly over time. Technological progress and the globalisation it enables are forcing it to mutate at ever increasing speed into ever more complex, diverse and interdependent  networks of people, organisations and nations.

The time is fast approaching, if it has not already arrived, when any one individual will find it impossible to comprehend the world humanity has created. We must all become collaborators in order to attempt to understand and take advantage of the immense opportunities we have created for ourselves. We will need to transform ourselves into collaborative workers that are: 

  • Innovation ready
  • Culturally, socially and politically intelligent
  • Rich communicators
  • Assertively selfless
  • Agile analysts
  • Creators of collaborative processes and systems

Be Innovation ready

To be innovation ready we will need to be triple thinkers with umbrella shaped knowledge. As well as being able to think logically we will need to develop and value the ability to identify and act upon our intuitive responses to things. We will need to move beyond thinking in a logical binary way about what is good or bad about something towards thinking in an intuitive triple way about what is good or bad or intriguing about something. Additionally, we will need to have not only a deep understanding of one or two subjects (the long handle of the umbrella) but also a wider knowledge of a good number of others (the umbrella itself). This will enable us to make creative and helpful connections across diverse disciplines and activities. 

The social enterprise Elvis and Kresse works with the UK waste industry and the Fire Fighters Charity. It has demonstrated its innovation readiness by finding a new way to perceive and use waste. It takes waste from landfill sites and creates top of the range accessories such as handbags, so linking the waste and luxury item industries in an intriguingly new way; their principle range of products is made from de-commissioned fire hoses. The ability to make this linkage between two such different areas of activity demonstrates a wide umbrella of knowledge and expertise. It also demonstrates the ability to identify and act upon new possibilities: to find a third 'intriguing' perspective.     

Be culturally, socially and politically intelligent

To be culturally intelligent we will need be able to identify, appreciate and work with differing organisational, racial and national cultures. To be socially intelligent we will need to be able to notice the subtle nuances of personal interactions and comprehend the fluctuating dynamics within and between groups of people. To be politically intelligent we will need to be able to identify and exploit our own and others' sources of power and influence.

Peter Holbrook, the Chief Executive of Social Enterprise UK, has demonstrated the above types of intelligence through his achievements so far and how he has positioned himself within the wider social enterprise sector. He has been appointed as a UK Social Enterprise Ambassador. He is also a board member of the Big Society Trust, the body that oversees the work of Big Society Capital, the social enterprise bank. Another significant achievement was his role in helping form the Social Economy Alliance, a group of 15 leading UK Social Enterprises that will seek to influence mainstream Political Party policies during the run up to the next UK Election in 2015. All these things could not have been achieved without well developed cultural, social and political intelligence.         

Be rich communicators

To be rich communicators we will need to be able to express ourselves through diverse media. We will need to become 3 dimensional rather than 2 dimensional communicators. We will need to be fluent in online communication and the use of social media and able to express ourselves not only through words but also pictures, sound and video. We will need to become multi-literate in diverse communication approaches. As the people we seek to influence tailor their communication channels to their needs and preferences we will need to mirror and keep pace with them, so ensuring our messages are not crowded out by the multitude of communication and media options available.

Peter Holbrook has a strong social media and online presence. He uses twitter to keep people abreast of his views and he also maintains a blog.

Another person who demonstrates a strong awareness of the importance of rich communication is Lucian J. Hudson, Director of Communication at The Open University, who also works hard at maintaining a varied and strong online presence.

Be assertively selfless      

We will need to work hard at being assertively selfless. In the past it was perhaps enough for us to stand up for our own rights whilst respecting those of others. Now and in the future the concept of assertiveness needs to develop and mature into one that more fully embraces the greater good, the fact that it is sometimes necessary for us to choose to allow others to win at our expense and for us to carry on helping and supporting them none the less. How we use our assertiveness will need to be guided by what is best for the collaboration and the achievements of its aims, rather than what is best for us and our organisations. To be collaborative in an increasingly complex and interdependent world we will all need to be assertive with ourselves and others and work hard at dampening down the power of individual and organisational ego.

Game designer Jane McGonigal has done some interesting work exploring the nature of mass collaboration and what happens when those killed within a game are required to carry on playing in support of their killers' strategy and goals. It is too early to say what conclusions can be drawn from this gaming experiment, but perhaps they will suggest that the nature of human interaction and collaboration is subtly changing to take account of the increasingly complex, ever expanding, interdependent and fast paced world we live in. Perhaps from now onwards we will increasingly need to find ways of meeting our own needs through willingly collaborating in support of others' aims.

Collaborative learning is increasingly being used within education. At the Victorian College of the Arts in Australia Dr. Mark Elliott set up a Collaborative Learning initiative called the Collaborative Contract. This involved encouraging students to work with each other on self-identified projects that cut across departments and disciplines. The majority of the learning was done through participation and by sharing experiences within the student groups, aided and supported by tutors. The nature of the learning meant that the traditional relationship between student and tutor was levelled out. Students had a significant say in how their learning and projects developed and the tutors had to take a step back, allowing students the space to explore and learn for themselves. Tutors took on the role of additional collaborators with expert knowledge that could be used to support the strategies and goals of the students. This change of role meant tutors had to alter how they perceived themselves as educators. Their more facilitative and supportive role meant they needed to suppress both their 'need to educate' and the sense of ego that comes of being a recognised and established source of knowledge and expertise. The key learning for tutors can be summed up by this heart felt comment from Dr Mark Elliott: 'Don't prescribe the nature of collaboration to artists!'

Be agile analysts

To be agile analysts we will need to be able to sort the intelligence wheat from the information chaff quickly and accurately. Doing this is less about becoming fluent in the use of analytical software and techniques and more about building a large easily accessible network of contacts and then trusting its judgements about what information is useful, significant and important. For this reason agile analysers also tend to exhibit strong networking and collaborative leadership traits. Key amongst the latter traits is a willingness to trade the reassurance that comes of judging things ourselves for the agility we gain by allowing and trusting others to do it for us.

In creating (or co-creating) Wikipedia Jimmy Wales demonstrated why he is an agile analyst who can focus on what will become significant. This ability has been recognised by the UK Government, which uses him to advise it about the future use and distribution of research and how policy making could be opened up to the wider population. By assembling an extremely large network of wiki contributors and then trusting them to make judgements about the quality and importance of an immense amount of information, Wales provided himself (and the rest of us) with an immense sea of wisdom that can be dipped into to inform thoughts and actions. 

Be creators of collaborative processes and systems

We will need to begin to see collaboration as a worthwhile skill and activity in itself and become expert in creating collaborative systems and networks that people can join, engage with and develop. Much as a composer writes a piece of music for others to interpret and perform, the collaborative worker of the future will need to be expert in creating collaborative systems within which people can interpret problems in their own unique ways and collaborate to create innovative approaches and solutions.

Dr Mark Elliott and his ground breaking work on mass collaboration, as demonstrated by the activities of his company Collabforge, is a good example of someone who perceives the creation of collaborative vehicles and systems, such as online accessible websites, wikis and social media, as valuable ends in themselves. 

The United Nations is valued as an institution because it is essentially a global collaborative theatre within which the majority of the world's nations have the opportunity to act together.

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

Thursday 8 August 2013

Be socially enterprising

The future will be knowledge and experience rich but increasingly, the current fracking bonanza not withstanding, resource and materials poor. There will be more people and organisations able to do good in the world but also more conflict about what exactly 'good' is. All these extra people with have immense potential but they will also need to be fed and housed.

So the future can be summed up as both hopeful and scary, and it is people working effectively in collaboration that will help realise the former and avoid the latter.

In order to survive and thrive in this increasingly complex and demanding future world partnerships and collaborations will need to be:

  1. Pioneering pathfinders
  2. Masters of the paradox
  3. Challenging and disruptive
  4. Influential players
  5. Socially enterprising
  6. Populated by a new breed of collaborative worker
  7. Purposefully transformative

Be socially enterprising

Firstly, you will have noticed in previous posts that I have tended to talk about social enterprise businesses as if they are collaborative initiatives. I need to explain this. When you examine how most social enterprises go about their business it becomes obvious that partnership and collaboration are essential to their approach and success. They will readily partner with recognised charities relevant to their activities and seek out other mutually beneficial partners from the private and public sector, as well as from within their own social enterprise network. Added to this, the predisposition of those that start up and lead social enterprises tends to be heavily biased towards a collaborative approach. This is further strengthened by the diversity of those working within and leading social enterprises, which necessitates a collaborative and participative style of management and communication in order to get things done.


  • Belu, the bottled water social enterprise, partners with and donates 100% of its profits to the charity WaterAid. It has also partnered with other businesses to create new ethical products. Furthermore, its predisposition towards a collaborative, sharing approach is demonstrated by its willingness to share the products it develops with other companies and businesses, so creating ethical capital that is steadily being converted into monetary capital for its partner charity through the attraction of morally motivated customers.
  • The Boards of Big Society Capital, the first mainstream social enterprise bank, consist of people from backgrounds and sectors that are quite diverse when compared with those of the board members of mainstream banks. This helps ensure that a wide variety of interests and perceptions are sort and taken into account during leadership discussions and decision making.

In the future partnerships will need to do more with less and compete for, protect and share ever diminishing resources. To do this they will need to adopt the social enterprise model and adapt it to their requirements. They will need to add a hard-headed business approach to their key activities to ensure continued funding and access to adequate resources. They will need to assimilate business continuity and resiliency planning into their overall collaborative and partnering approach to safeguard their people, resources and activities. They will also need to think carefully and systematically when selecting partners and forming collaborations, 'partnership proofing' collaborations to ensure their rationale and goals and the collaborative and business readiness of partners are consistent with that required for success.  Lastly, they will need to tap into the power and opportunities derived from their fusion of collaborative and business approaches, using them to go where other businesses dare not go and do what other businesses dare not do.


  • An enterprise, employment and training community interest company  (CIC) used a professional future proofing service to assure its business continuity and resilience. It also, as is common practice for social enterprises, ensured that its various partners and members could gain access to future proofing, so helping ensure their collaborative and business readiness.

  • The Heathrow Express Rail Link Project was a large-scale mainstream business project that exhibited some characteristics of the social enterprise approach, mainly through the way it sort to engage with and involve local businesses, so helping develop the economies of the areas within which it was working. The project initiated an on-going series of 'Scouting Meetings'. The purpose of these meetings was to identify and engage with potential partners who would be able to help the project address the challenges associated with specific stages of its work. The meetings explored the fit between the needs of the project and the knowledge, skills and resources of the potential partners. Additionally, they would have enabled the project to identify the level of collaborative readiness of potential partners and whether or not help and support were needed to increase it. Potential partners' organisational culture, style of communication and decision making, and approach to conflict resolution and problem solving would have been examined to find out if they were conducive to effective collaborative working.

  • Barefoot Power is a social enterprise that has gone and done things in areas where other mainstream businesses may fear to go. It combines its collaborative approach,  specialised knowledge and business savvy to work flexibly and innovatively with low income populations in developing countries, providing them with affordable renewable energy to power light sources and charge mobile phones. It does what the social enterprise movement does best: reduce poverty and create new markets.

Look out for future posts that will deal with the 2 remaining aspects listed above.

Follow on Twitter @charles_lines

Friday 2 August 2013

Be influential players

The future will be knowledge and experience rich but increasingly, the current fracking bonanza not withstanding, resource and materials poor. There will be more people and organisations able to do good in the world but also more conflict about what exactly 'good' is. All these extra people with have immense potential but they will also need to be fed and housed.

So the future can be summed up as both hopeful and scary, and it is people working effectively in collaboration that will help realise the former and avoid the latter.

In order to survive and thrive in this increasingly complex and demanding future world partnerships and collaborations will need to be:

  1. Pioneering pathfinders
  2. Masters of the paradox
  3. Challenging and disruptive
  4. Influential players
  5. Socially enterprising
  6. Populated by a new breed of collaborative worker
  7. Purposefully transformative

Be influential players

Collaborations and partnerships will need to become adept at exploiting their unique positioning, status, knowledge and expertise to gain influence with and get things done through key people, organisations and institutions. They will need to emphasise the value of the trust and credibility they have developed with the people they represent and serve, clearly demonstrating how these can be useful in the achievement of mutual goals. They will need to build strong alliances of like-minded people and organisations that will work towards ensuring the improvements and successes realised through collaborative efforts are thoroughly embedded within the main stream of organisational and institutional best practice. In achieving all this they must not be timid about exploiting the 'conscience capital' they have accrued through consistently championing ethical behaviour and doing the right things in the right way.

An employment and training project had problems with office security and threatening behaviour towards its staff, until a local partnership that was representative of the community and well known within the area offered to assist with the running of the local office. Security concerns and problem behaviour quickly diminished, thus demonstrating the usefulness of gaining trust and credibility within a local area.

15 UK Social Enterprises have formed the Social Economic Alliance to act as a powerful lobbying group that will champion the cause of social enterprise and seek to influence mainstream party political policy during the run up to the next UK General Election. The first social enterprise bank Big Society Capital has been created, so making a significant step towards embedding the collaborative social enterprise approach within the key mainstream institution of banking and finance. 

Social enterprises are further exploiting their collaborative approach by creating commercially focused partnerships and networks of like-minded businesses. These will gradually form a global eco-system of social enterprise businesses that will rival the power and influence of traditional private sector companies.

Ethical Glass is a partnership between Belu, the bottled water social enterprise, and Rawlings the glass packaging specialist, that makes good use of its conscience capital to increase its influence within the bottled water industry. The partnership makes clear that the bottles it provides are the most ethically and greenest produced in the UK. Belu also generates useful ethical capital by publicly donating 100% of its profits to the charity WaterAid.

So, what are you doing to increase the influence of your partnership with those that matter? How can you demonstrate the value and usefulness of your local knowledge and expertise and/or the trust and credibility you have built up with local people and communities? What powerful alliances can you help create and/or join to increase the influence of your activities and approach upon mainstream organisations and institutions? What commercially focused partnerships and networks can you form with like-minded businesses and other groups to widen the scope and influence of your activities. How can you make your ethical credentials clear and use them to progress your work and achieve your objectives?                              

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

Follow on Twitter at charles_lines


Tuesday 23 July 2013

Be challenging and disruptive

The future will be knowledge and experience rich but increasingly, the current fracking bonanza not withstanding, resource and materials poor. There will be more people and organisations able to do good in the world but also more conflict about what exactly 'good' is. All these extra people with have immense potential but they will also need to be fed and housed.

So the future can be summed up as both hopeful and scary, and it is people working effectively in collaboration that will help realise the former and avoid the latter.

In order to survive and thrive in this increasingly complex and demanding future world partnerships and collaborations will need to be:

  1. Pioneering pathfinders
  2. Masters of the paradox
  3. Challenging and disruptive
  4. Influential players
  5. Socially enterprising
  6. Populated by a new breed of collaborative worker
  7. Purposefully transformative

3. Be challenging and disruptive

Partnerships must challenge the accepted ways of doing things to create an interdependent world where coordination, cooperation and creative collaboration are the default positions for action. They will need to challenge traditional roles. They will need to level relationships and disrupt hierarchies. They will need to challenge who leads and how? They will need to disrupt well established markets. They will need to challenge traditional approaches to collaboration.

A wiki approach to the creation of an Australian Bill of Rights has given ordinary Australian citizens a role in creating a key aspect of Government policy, so challenging the traditional way Government operates. The Future Melbourne Project achieves a similar thing with regard to community planning. 

New collaborative approaches to learning are challenging and levelling out the traditional teacher/student hierarchy. The world of sport is beginning to embrace the concept of 'collaborative coaching' where player, coach and other specialists work together on a more equal footing to enhance skills and performance.

The social enterprise movement is challenging and changing the nature of organisational leadership by diversifying leadership teams, making them more representative of the people and communities they serve.

Social enterprises are also collaborating with suppliers, manufacturers and consumers to disrupt traditional big business markets. For example, the social enterprise Fairphone is seeking to disrupt the established mobile phone market by designing and selling an 'ethical phone' manufactured by unexploited workers using ethically sourced materials. 

A vast array of cutting edge information and communication technology (ICT) is not only challenging but also melding with traditional 'face to face' collaboration to create powerful  virtual/real world collaborative hybrids that can respond to problems fast, gain information instantly and realise outcomes quickly.

In what ways is your partnership or collaboration being challenging and disruptive? What new roles and responsibilities is it creating for its people and its customers? What traditional approaches is it seeking to challenge? How does it need to change its existing relationships and what new ones does it need to create? What communities of interest does it represent and how can it best ensure that their views, needs and people are heard and recognised? What markets is it working within and how is it seeking to disrupt and change them? How can you splice cutting edge ICT into the procedural DNA of your collaboration to enhance its overall performance?

Look out for future posts that will deal with the four remaining aspects.                     

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

Follow on Twitter @charles_lines