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Friday 26 April 2013

Partnerships need flock thinking


Click Here to see a short introductory video about this post.  

Flock thinking occurs when:

‘Every individual within a group is influential and can have an effect upon decisions reached, but (for various and variable reasons) certain individuals are more influential than others and the rest of those present accept this.’ 

Flock thinking can also be likened to the formation and flight of a flock of birds. Recent research indicates that when birds flock and fly together they do so using a decision-making process that is not exactly democratic but, then again, not exactly autocratic either. Each bird has an influence upon the direction of flight of the rest of the flock, but some birds (perhaps because they possess greater motivation and skill) have more influence than others.

Why flock thinking is important for partnership working

Flock thinking is important for partnership working because it offers an effective way of managing less hierarchical and more flexible ways of working that rely upon influencing and persuading rather than command and control.

An example of flock thinking

A good example of flock thinking can be found within the collaboration that took place to create the computer socket into which we all plug our memory sticks: the ubiquitous USB port that enables easy connectivity between differing IT devices.

One influential company (Intel) decided that a USB initiative was necessary, but they knew that they could not make it happen alone. For the initiative to be successful others would need to join in and have an influence upon developments.

Intel therefore decided to consult with the rest of the IT industry, ensuring that those with a significant interest in a USB initiative were encouraged to air their views and influence its direction of travel.

These consultations were done in a methodical and unhurried way that gave each individual involved the opportunity to reflect upon the wider context of IT development and, importantly, their position and influence within it relative to the others being consulted.

This type of consultation was central to the group’s (or flock’s) effective formation. Some people, finding themselves at the fringes of the flock, realised that they had much more to gain from being associated with its direction of travel than from following their own flight paths. They therefore became willing to accept having less influence than some others had within the flock.

Other people began to appreciate that they possessed more influence than they had previously assumed, finding themselves nearer to the heart of the flock’s purpose than they had expected. They therefore proceeded, usually with the acceptance of the rest of those involved, to place themselves towards the front of the flock where they could more easily point out the direction that they felt it should take.

Hence through a partly intuitive, partly rational process the flock formed and decided upon a final direction of travel that culminated in the creation of the USB port. Each individual within the flock having more or less influence, but always some influence, dependent upon the needs of the flock and what was required for it to survive and thrive.       

How to encourage flock thinking 

Flock thinking can be encouraged in the following ways: 
  • By providing each individual with a ‘perch’ upon which they can place their ideas in full view of the rest of the flock.
  • By providing each individual with ‘flying space’ within which they can explain, explore and develop their ideas.
  • ‘Dovetailing’ individual ideas into discussions and/or future actions.

Click Here for specific techniques that will help you apply flock thinking to
partnership discussions.


Friday 19 April 2013

More about inwardly and outwardly orientated cultures: cultural pull and push

More about inwardly and outwardly orientated cultures: cultural pull and push

This is the last in the current series of posts exploring the dynamics of the Culture Triangle.

See a previous post for descriptions of the above cultures.

Inwardly orientated cultures pull you in

An inwardly orientated culture will seek to pull potential supporters and stakeholders inward. It will then find ways to incorporate them advantageously into the internal networks of its organisation, projects and partnerships. A dynamic entrepreneurial business, such as an IT or software company, will behave in this way. It will scan its environment for people and organisations that could add value to its business and then encourage them to engage with its processes, products and services. This enriches its network of relationships, helps to enhance its processes, products and services and increases its influence within its sphere of activity.              

The stakeholders an inwardly orientated culture seeks to pull towards itself will not always be supporters. For example, when a past Mayor of New York wanted to legalise gay marriage he made a point of inviting one of the most significant critics of the idea, a powerful religious organisation, into the relevant consultations and working groups. Having been drawn into the initiative and having had meaningful opportunities to air their views and influence developments, the organisation found it increasingly difficult to continue opposing gay marriage without being perceived as unreasonable or out of touch with current opinion. In this way the Mayor's Office not only enriched its network with diverse and opposing views but also increased its ability to influence and manage them.

So, the preference of political cultures is to pull inwards. Artistic and functional cultures will also do this from time to time. 

Outwardly orientated cultures push towards you

Whereas an inwardly orientated culture will seek to pull people and organisations towards itself, so enriching its internal relationships, growing its network and increasing its power and influence, an outwardly orientated culture will seek to push itself outwards towards the people and organisations that could act as conduits through which its support and services can reach those in need, so increasing the scope and depth of its activity.  

Incorporating these people and organisations too closely into internal networks and relationships would make them less effective as conduits. For example, an organisation providing learning opportunities to disadvantaged or hard to reach young people will piggyback upon the existing networks and resources of local religious, community and sports groups in order to advertise and increase the accessibility of its services. The independence, unique identities and local reputations of these groups are what make them valuable. If someone is happy using services provided by a known and trusted organisation, he or she will be more inclined to take advantage of the supplementary services available from other less well-known providers associated with it.

The individuals and organisations that an outwardly orientated culture will use as conduits can be very diverse and sometimes unexpected, from the faith and sports groups mentioned above to rock stars and other celebrities. The United Nations uses globally recognisable film stars to promote its initiatives and services because it knows its messages will be more readily accepted from trusted and popular actors than from unknown politicians or bureaucrats from a distant, inaccessible and perhaps intimidating organisation.

So, the preference of passionate, pragmatic and expert cultures is to push outwards. Artistic and functional cultures will also do this from time to time.

Click here to read the first post in the series.

Friday 5 April 2013

The dark side alliance

The dark side alliance (see a previous post for descriptions of the above cultures) 

To stretch the wild animal analogy used in my previous post and venture into the realms of the fantastical, a partnership that includes only political and pragmatic organisations can be likened to the coming together of (political) wolves and (pragmatic) chameleons. The chameleons, however, are magic ones that over time will not only change their colouring to fit in and survive within their environment but also seemingly change wholesale into wolves.

Pragmatic cultures are by their nature outward looking, analysing their environment and then identifying how they need to adapt to it in order to survive and thrive. Here lies the danger in their pairing with political cultures. If the interests of a pragmatic organisation become intimately entangled with and dependent upon those of its politically focused partner it can eventually adapt completely to its partner’s perceptions and ways of working. Over time it will adopt a political mindset and focus increasingly upon developing and exploiting the internal relationships and dynamics of the partnership and gaining additional external allies that will support and strengthen both its own and the partnership's position. Any differences between the initially pragmatic organisation and its political partner will eventually become very hard to discern. 

Reflect upon the way banks and other large businesses are now so intimately connected with national governments; consider the opaque lobbying that goes on between them. It is not surprising that it is becoming increasingly hard to discern where boundaries of interest and responsibility lie.

Also, ask yourself whether the recent proposed raid on small depositors’ savings in Cyprus would have happened if social and community organisations (passionate cultures) and independent advisers (expert cultures) had been more involved in the consultation and decision making process? Only governments, financial institutions and banks were involved and they made a decision that suited their purposes but not those of the majority of people in Cyprus. The fact that these institutions seemed surprised by the strength of public reaction in Cyprus is a sure sign they are gradually becoming an unhealthy dark side alliance that is beginning to lose its external perspective and its ability to understand or appreciate the needs of the world beyond its boundaries.

Once the above transformation is complete the political/pragmatic partnership will have become a mature ‘dark side alliance’. The vast majority of people involved in it will be inwardly focused, seeking to manipulate the projects they are involved in to improve their position and influence within both the alliance and their own organisations. A tightly knit and probably secretive cabal will have formed with its own unique laws and logic based upon the exploitation of internal relationships and external allies. During its transformation it may even have appropriated a darkly exotic or even slightly sinister name, such as 'Troika'.
A dark side alliance requires an urgent transfusion of new thinking from the other cultures of the Cultural Triangle, especially the passionate and the expert, and it will probably have to be administered by force, as those within the partnership turned cabal will not welcome any threats to their carefully established positions.

Click here to read the next post in the series. 

Thursday 4 April 2013

Inwardly and outwardly orientated cultures

This week I will identify the one key issue to look out for and address when organisations from different cultures come together to form a partnership.

The key thing to identify is whether a partnership is likely to have an inwardly or outwardly orientated perspective. 

Those involved in an outward looking partnership will tend to focus upon the environment that surrounds them and seek to make the maximum positive difference to it. They will also seek to push out towards and make contact with people and organisations that could act as conduits for the partnership's services, so increasing the scope and depth of its activities. These activities could be about raising the standard of living of a locality, improving the health and well being of individuals or improving some other aspect of the environment relevant to the work of the partnership. Personal gains such as enhanced personal development and credibility or organisational gains in terms of power and influence will not be entirely ignored, but they will take a back seat. 

Those involved in an inward looking partnership will tend to focus upon the relationships and dynamics within the partnership and between the organisations involved. They will also seek to pull useful people and organisations into the partnership's network, so enhancing its capabilities and increasing the partnership's overall power and influence.

They will seek to ensure that both they and their organisations maximise the gains they obtain from the partnership's work, be these increased opportunities for personal development or enhanced organisational reputation, power and influence. The benefits the partnership's work realises in the surrounding environment are of course important, but their value will tend to be measured in terms of the added credibility, power and influence (and often profit) they can provide to individuals, their organisations and the partnership, usually in that order of priority.      

Whether a partnership will tend to be more inward or outward looking is dependent upon its cultural make up. For example, a partnership consisting of passionate, artistic and expert cultures (perhaps a health and well being partnership involving community and arts groups and medical experts) will tend towards a more outward focus (please see the diagram above), whereas a partnership consisting of political, artistic and functional cultures (perhaps a performing arts partnership involving private entrepreneurial sponsors, artistic institutions like the Royal Opera House and Government Departments like the DCMS) would tend, if a little less so, towards being more inward looking (again, please see the diagram above).

As the next 'dark side alliance' post will describe in detail, pragmatic cultures can 'change their colours' in certain situations, most markedly when paired with a strong political partner. In these circumstances they can lose their outward focus and become a mirror image of their politically motivated partner, making the partnership completely inward looking in character.

Overall, because most organisational cultures tend to be at least partially outward looking, the most common and significant problem partnership's experience is a lack of inward focus and overall political awareness. How well a partnership can develop and exploit the internal relationships and dynamics between individuals, partners and their organisations and pull in useful support from elsewhere will determine a partnership's ultimate success or failure.     

It follows that most partnerships will need to ensure that at least one of their partners comes from a politically astute organisation. These are most likely, although not exclusively, to be found within the private entrepreneurial sector, the public sector and the creative industries, all of which tend to possess at least a partial inward focus (please see the diagram above).

Click here to read the next blog in the series.