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

Thursday 22 May 2014

The 3 levels of sharing and why they are important

During a lecture for the Cooperation Project at Stanford University Steve Weber, Professor of Political Science, Berkeley, identified three levels at which an organisation might need to open up, collaborate and share. 

The three levels he identified (the first level ever so slightly altered by me) are:

  1. At the level of its genome, its deep DNA, or put more straightforwardly: its gut values and beliefs about its vision and purpose.
  2. At the level of its processes and activities, or put more straightforwardly: how it goes about its day-to-day life and activities.
  3. At the level of its products, services and knowledge, or put more straightforwardly: the stuff it produces.

Anyone working in collaboration needs to consider these three levels very carefully. This is because they help collaborations not only focus upon the right things at the right times but also identify why there are problems and failures to deliver.

Often, the focus a collaboration needs to have is obvious and straightforward: mining companies need to share their geological and technical data with others to improve their processes and the yields from their mines; oil companies need to collaborate with each other to develop new processes for getting hard to reach oil out of the ground; health, social and law enforcement agencies need to share their processes with each other in order to better wrap their services around mutual clients (for example, drug users and people with mental health issues). Banks need to align their policies with those of governments to improve the economic and social well-being of citizens. IT companies need to collaborate with each other to create new products that complement their existing platforms.      

But this bright, spotlight obviousness of focus can blind a collaboration to other areas that, if not also addressed, will impede progress and the achievement of goals: mining executives will be half-hearted in their sharing of geological and technical data if they and their companies believe in competing for scarce resources rather than collaborating to increase the abundance of resources (similarly for oil company executives and their organisations); doctors, police and social workers will not effectively wrap their services around mutual clients if they and their organisations do not deeply believe they have a social role that reaches out beyond their traditional institutional boundaries. Banking executives will pay no more than lip-service to improving the social well-being of citizens if they and their organisations believe in the creation of monetary wealth at the expense of social wealth. IT executives will miss out on new products that complement their existing offerings if they and their companies believe that technical knowledge about their hardware and software is to be hoarded for commercial advantage rather than shared for the greater good of their sector.  

If a collaboration is failing to deliver despite the obviousness and clarity of its focus and goals, the three levels above provide a strong clue as to where the problem may lie; namely, within one, some or all of the collaborating organisations' cultural DNA: their gut values and beliefs about what they are, what they stand for and what they do. 

In these circumstances each organisation needs, with the help of its collaborators, to focus upon its deep cultural values and beliefs and its assumptions about its role in the world, and then identify and address those that are creating barriers to the collaborative development of enhanced knowledge, processes, services, products or other outcomes. 

Using a tool like Johnson's Cultural Web can provide a non-invasive first step towards achieving this. It works by enabling organisations to identify specific organisational attributes that contribute to their overall cultures and influence how they view themselves and how they operate in the world.

In a collaborative context, the cultural web is best used with partner organisations. Each organisation completes a web for each of its collaborators, capturing its perceptions of its partners' cultures and beliefs and preferred ways of being viewed and doing things. It also completes a web analysis of its own culture. These webs are then compared and analysed to identify specific values, beliefs and assumptions, and preferred ways of viewing and doing things, that could be creating obstacles to progress. Once problem areas have been identified each organisation, with the help of its collaborators, can find ways of addressing them, so removing the obstacles they cause.

Splicing new cultural DNA into the existing cultural genome of an organisation is a more invasive but also more effective way of overcoming cultural blind spots and collaboration averse values and assumptions. It is achieved by injecting people from external collaborating groups and organisations into the body of an organisation and giving them meaningful control over some of its major decision-making organs and processes for getting things done. A good example is a Department of Health/NHS project focused upon introducing digital hearing aids on the NHS, which gave an influential leadership and management role to a national charity for the deaf.

So, there are three levels at which an organisation may need to open up, collaborate and share: 1. its cultural gut values, 2. its day to day activities, 3. the stuff it produces. Often the focus of collaboration is clear and obvious and easily associated with the second and/or third levels, but this can blind collaborators to other areas that may be blocking progress. These are likely to be associated with a lack of sharing and collaboration at the first level. This can be addressed by sharing perceptions of an organisation's culture, analysing them and then identifying and dealing with the areas that are causing problems. It can also be addressed by integrating people from external collaborating organisations into internal decision-making and implementation processes.

Monday 19 May 2014

Collaboration Club of Great Britain - The Big Issue!

Click on the following link to see a short video of the Collaboration Club of Great Britain's latest meeting, and highlights of a presentation from Stephen Robertson, CEO of the Big Issue:

 This club will be of interest to anyone with a passion for collaboration.

For more about collaboration go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition and download it for free.

Sunday 11 May 2014

The Collaboration Club of Great Britain

If you have a passion for collaboration you will be interested in joining the Collaboration Club of Great Britain:

If you have talents, knowledge and skills you are willing and able to share for mutual benefit and the benefit of the wider community (and indeed the world!), just click on the above link to find out more about the Collaboration Club of Great Britain and how you can get involved. I know the Chairman, Allan Willis, will be very pleased to hear from you.

And maybe I will see you at future events or talk to you via the LinkedIn group (a link to which you will find on the website).


For more about collaboration go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition and download it for free.

Thursday 1 May 2014

How to avoid 'doing a Justine'

Just before Christmas 2013 Justine Sacco, a PR executive, lost her job because of an offensive tweet. To see the full story click here:

This story is important because it demonstrates not only the power of modern social media to affect individual lives but also the inherent risks involved for any activity, including partnership and collaborative working, that uses diverse and multiple communication pathways, be these virtual or indeed face-to-face.

The key lessons from Justine's story 

Specifically, the key lessons we can take from this story are:

  • Information travelling through and between multiple communication pathways will not only travel quickly but also gain increasing power and influence over people's thinking and actions. This is especially the case when the information is damaging or offensive.
  • As it travels through the communication pathways the offensiveness of information is not only magnified in power but also focused back upon its source; it is associated with and projected tenfold onto the person who provided it, so causing him/her damage of various kinds (for example, reputational, professional, financial, etc.).
  • Where there is no significant personal contact or relationship between those who are the source of the problematic information and those receiving and passing it on a 'game-playing' mentality will quickly form within the communication pathways; people will have fun finding creative ways to ridicule those who communicated the original message. In the above example a game of 'Has Justine Landed Yet?' was quickly initiated and thousands of people enthusiastically began to play.
  • Once the original damaging information has been extensively communicated, shared and explored the information and communication pathways will become proactive; people will keep digging in the same direction for new examples of damaging and/or offensive information. And you can trust that they will eventually find them.
  • One person's idea of humour can be another person's offence. (This is at the core of Justine's story.)  
  • The source of the offensive information is judged and summarily punished on the basis of an ever-growing informal grapevine of negative gossip.
  • When the damage has been done, traditional ritualistic apologies are ineffective.
  • Eventually, after the damaging or offensive information has been widely communicated and its source extensively ridiculed, after the game has played itself out, some positive aspects of the situation will be identified and acted upon.

The above lessons have obvious significance for those involved in collaborative working, which relies on effective communication with and between multiple players who have diverse connections and wide-ranging communication pathways. If bad news travels fast within the informal grapevine of a single organisation think how quickly and widely it will travel through multiple networked organisations, how powerful and influential it will become, how damaging.

How to avoid 'doing a Justine' 

The way to avoid the above problems, the way to avoid 'doing a Justine', are implied within the hard learnt lessons themselves, and they can be summed up as follows:

  • Help people to get to know something of the real person. Build personal relationships and meaningful connections with the people you are communicating and collaborating with. This is perhaps difficult to do effectively or safely through social media, but steps towards achieving it can be taken even here. You need to do your best to align everything you say and write, including passing comments, quick tweets and  Facebook posts, with your personal beliefs and values. Put more simply, ask yourself what you are passionate about, what you really care about, and always align your communication with it. People will then begin to know you and trust what you stand for. They will also be more willing to forgive the occasional slip-up you may make (something we are all guilty of from time to time). 
  • Do not rely on ritualistic apologies. If you are going to apologise do so with a meaningful act that will reverberate through the communication pathways, encouraging positive rather than negative gossip. For example, perhaps Justine could have set up a website for donations to an Aids charity, posted her apology on it and started donating money herself. What actually happened was that someone else did this, so Justine lost that particular opportunity. (There were, however, some concerns expressed about the authenticity of the website that was set up - such is life on the web!)  
  • The above leads to this next point: if the worst happens remember that somewhere down the line there will be some positive consequences. Try to identify what these positive consequences will be and do your best to make them happen before anyone else does. This will help you rebuild your credibility as quickly as  possible.
  • Avoid jokes of any kind until you know your network and collaborators. Always avoid obviously offensive jokes; Justine's experience makes the importance of this self evident. Remember that there is a difference between being pleasantly informal and friendly and trying to gain attention and popularity through being humorous. The latter is seldom effective, and if it is the effects are not long lasting.
  • Accept that the boundaries between formal and informal and public and private worlds are becoming increasingly blurred. Remember that all of us are potentially on show all of the time. Not a nice thought perhaps, but more and more of a reality none-the-less. Bring this thought to the front of your mind as you say or write that comment, make that telephone call, post that tweet or Facebook comment.
  • Be honest and open. If there are more skeletons in the cupboard shake them out in front of people before you hear the death rattle of someone else discovering them. Demonstrated honesty will slow down the negative gossip about you, quicken the consequences of additional bad news (which means they will be over with that much sooner than otherwise), and provide a small but firm platform of positivity upon which you can start to rebuild your reputation and relationships.       

A final thought 

Most of the above can be summed up by the following phrase:

 'Always think carefully before you say or write anything.' 

But no one is capable of this, not all the time; we are not robots. So if 'doing a Justine' cannot be avoided one other thing is needed: forgiveness.

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