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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.


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