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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.    

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