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Wednesday 7 September 2016

Make it simple: a lesson from Myanmar

The more we know the more we can over-complicate things.

More often than not, the way to encourage and strengthen partnership working is to make the process simple for people.

This fact was strongly emphasised to me during a workshop I recently delivered in Myanmar.

The workshop was part of an ongoing project seeking to strengthen partnership working between key stakeholders within the public and private sectors in Myanmar: government officials, leading business people and others involved in their country's economic and social development.

The workshop's approach was deceptively simple: a mix of key public and private sector stakeholders were invited to attend and given the opportunity to work together whilst learning about and practising presentation skills and techniques. Small groups of public and private sector attendees were given the task of researching, designing and delivering a presentation to their colleagues which highlighted and explained their various roles, responsibilities, challenges and priorities.

Obviously, this required attendees to not only prepare a presentation but also listen to and learn from each other: to find out about each other's lives and work and the particular and diverse demands placed upon people from differing sectors.

The focus upon learning about and practising presentation skills proved to be a very effective catalyst for encouraging and strengthening collaboration. Requiring attendees to design and deliver a presentation about topics that were new to them not only concentrated their minds but also encouraged them to listen to and learn from each other. Also, the focus on clear and concise presentation of information drew attendees' attention towards how well they were communicating with each other during the workshop. This led to people more readily asking questions and seeking clarification and becoming clearer in their communication with each other overall.  

Over the five days of the workshop (the length of the event also played a significant part in helping attendees enhance their communication with each other), the improvement in the relationships between public and private sector participants was marked, as was the level and effectiveness of the cooperation apparent between them. Two things in particular stood out: 1. the relationships between attendees became more informal and relaxed; 2. the attendees became more willing to challenge each other's perceptions, thinking and approaches.

The change in the relationships between people is most effectively demonstrated by comparing people's behaviour at the beginning of the workshop with that observed at its end. At the beginning of the workshop attendees behaved very formally, with the public sector attendees brigading themselves at one side of the classroom and those from the private sector doing likewise at the other. Five days later, at the end of the event, people who had not known each other before the workshop were willing to mix freely and participate (enthusiastically) in a karaoke evening!

The relationships between people had transformed, and informality between people was no longer considered a threat to status (or indeed anything else). Also, people's increasing willingness to challenge each other's thinking and perceptions did not diminish or inhibit these enhanced relationships; it was, in fact, a characteristic of them.

So, remember to make it simple. When seeking to encourage and strengthen collaboration between people identify an essential skill or fundamental focus you can use as a catalyst to make it happen. Then place it at the centre of people's thoughts and actions - and watch collaboration grow.

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