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

Friday 31 May 2013

Avoid relational lock-in

Given enough time and collaborative activity even the fiercest of rivals can become that little bit too comfortable with each other for decency. At the very least, partners that have invested a great deal of time, money and resources in each other can be very unwilling to admit that their relationship is past its sell by date, persisting with it and investing ever increasing resources in return for ever decreasing benefits. In these circumstances they will very quickly find themselves experiencing unhealthy and unproductive 'relational lock-in'.
Toyota’s practice of using senior and junior supplier partners is a good example of how to keep partner relationships healthy, flexible and dynamic, so minimising the risk of 'relational lock-in'. The junior partner will always be keen to impress; the senior partner can never become complacent about their status (whilst simultaneously having to treat the junior partner with fairness and respect, taking into account their mutual relationship with the client).

Various Local Government Authorities now maintain and indeed publish listings of potential partners and suppliers, demonstrating an awareness of the wider network of businesses and organisations that surround them and broadcasting their willingness to take advantage of the opportunities presented by new and innovative partnerships and relationships.
The most successful IT and Biotechnology companies continually scan the wider network of activity in their sector, looking for new blood with which to infuse their existing innovation platforms, partnerships and alliances.

Identifying and taking advantage of new partnering opportunities will help avoid relational lock-in and help maintain and enhance organisational flexibility, one of the key advantages of collaboration. It will facilitate the timely exit from stale, non-productive collaborations and the swift creation of fresh, dynamic and achieving ones.

Friday 24 May 2013

How do you know if your partnership is likely to make any difference?

This is a question I have been trying to answer for the past few weeks (if not years!).

Whilst doing some research I found the following resource from the University of Wisconsin:

Even though it was written 15 years ago it is one of the best pieces of guidance I have come across for evaluating partnerships and collaborations. Have a look.

Two of the areas covered by the manual stick in my mind:
  1. The use of 'if/then' modelling to plan out what your partnership is going to do and the effects you expect it to have, which can then be compared with what actually happens as your partnership progresses and goes about its work.
  2. Breaking down the concept of outcomes, the effects you want your partnership to have on people, the environment and situation, etc., into immediate, intermediate and long-term outcomes. This creates and highlights an audit trail of effects that can be traced back to the activities of your partnership, so adding credibility to your claims that they are directly contributing to positive impacts.

Friday 10 May 2013

How to encourage flock thinking

As promised in my previous post, here are a couple of tools that can be used to encourage flock thinking during partnership discussions.
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. 

Tools to develop flock thinking

To ensure that the three aspects above are effectively integrated into discussions and decision-making, it is advisable to use thinking and problem solving tools that provide both clear structure for discussions and space for individuals to explore their ideas and how they could be integrated into decisions. 

Two tools that provide the above mentioned structure and space are:
  • Two-circle thinking
  • Edward de Bono ’s six thinking hats

Two-circle thinking

Two-circle thinking ensures that each individual’s ideas are acknowledged, explored and given the opportunity to influence actions and decisions (the flock is able to try out different directions of travel before deciding upon the journey it will take). 

It consists of drawing or marking out two large circles, one within the other. The circles need to be big enough to enable a few people at a time to move around, within and between them.

As individuals consider an issue or problem, they are asked to write down their ideas for addressing it on large pieces of card or post its (one idea per card/post it). They are then asked to place their ideas face-up within the inner circle.

When everyone has contributed as many ideas as they can, each person is asked to review all the contributions. When they identify an idea they feel unsure of (perhaps they feel it needs clarification or that it will not work) they are asked to place it within the outer circle.

When the above stage of the process is completed, there will be ideas within the inner circle upon which everyone can agree. These can be incorporated within the final decisions reached by the group.

The contributions in the outer circle, however, can still influence the group’s actions. These ideas are discussed and considered again, with clarifications sort as necessary.

As a result of this process some ideas will be put back into the central circle and some ideas may be adopted in part, certain of their aspects proving of value. Other ideas may not be adopted, but they will influence the overall scope and direction of the discussions and perhaps raise interesting aspects that might prove important to the group at a later date. In this way all ideas will, to a greater or lesser extent, influence the group’s discussions and decision making.

Edward de Bono’s six hat thinking

Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats technique encourages individuals within a group to hold differing ideas and perceptions in parallel (to fly together but along their own paths). This helps ensure that all contributions are examined, appreciated and woven into the discussions of a group. For this reason it is particularly suited to the development of flock thinking.

Each of the six thinking hats represents a specific type of thinking:
  • The Blue hat is about being purposeful and structuring and organising thinking and discussions.
  • The white hat is about asking questions and collecting facts.
  • The green hat is about generating new ideas and different ways of looking at things. 
  • The Yellow hat is about identifying positive aspects.
  • The black hat is about identifying negative aspects.
  • The red hat is about expressing feelings and hunches.
A group uses the six hats by systematically applying the thinking associated with each hat to the problem before it.

The group applies each hat in turn: 
  • It may start by thinking about what it wants to achieve and the order in which it wants to use the hats (Blue Hat).
  • Then it may ask questions to gain more information about the problem (White Hat).
  • Once the group has all the information it needs it may ask itself if there are any other ways of looking at or dealing with the problem (Green Hat).
  • It may then look at the pluses and minuses of the differing ideas it has identified (Yellow Hat followed by Black Hat).
  • Next, it may explore how it feels about the process it has gone through and the ideas it has explored (Red Hat).
  • Finally, it will need to return to Blue Hat thinking and make some decisions based upon the discussions it had whilst working through the fore-mentioned process.
As the group thinks about the problem before it in the ways dictated by the various hats, differing and opposing viewpoints and ideas will emerge. It is important that these are acknowledged and explored in parallel and that the temptation to debate their relative strengths and weaknesses is resisted.

This is because when the group nears the end of the process and revisits Blue Hat thinking it will need to be able to look back along the entire journey of its discussions, so giving all the ideas and opinions it explored the opportunity to influence its final decisions. In this way, each person within the group will have had a chance to influence its final direction of travel.
End note
I used a version of two-circle thinking recently with a client.  It worked very well, encouraging discussion, mutual interest in each participant's ideas and a real sense of meaningful involvement in the group's decision-making process.