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Monday 31 July 2017

This is how a collaborative person works: 27. do not allow engagement to morph into being all things to all people

(This post draws heavily upon the experiences of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which chronicles his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. To read more posts in this series go to the March to August 2017 Blog Archive on your right.)

'Jo asked me to sit down at the piano and talk on camera about the NYOI. We did two takes: my story of how it all began in take one, and then the version Jo asked me to adapt, which painted Zuhal as a fairy-tale heroine who singlehandedly created the orchestra. This, I felt, rather confirmed my doubts.'

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

The above quotation is short but telling: it demonstrates that the ability to engage with different partners in different ways at different times can easily morph into being all things to all people. Individuals can quickly lose themselves within the multiple worlds and contexts of their partners: their words, actions and the way they present themselves twisting and fragmenting into often uncomfortable positions and shapes in response to the perceived needs and demands of others.

Integrity and sense of self dissolve; the uniqueness of an individual's mission and activities become increasingly diluted within others' needs and whims. 

This is not an outcome anyone seeking to challenge the status quo and create something new and innovative wants to realise. There is no surer way of becoming part of the thing you are seeking to change than by being blown here and there by the whimful winds of others who, for the most part, will belong to the established way of thinking and doing things.

As discussed in an earlier post, the way to avoid becoming lost within others' worlds is to become a social and cultural sponge: to be able to soak-up and adopt some of the surrounding social and cultural ways of doing things but at the same time avoid the uniqueness of your role and the clarity of your purpose being dissolved as a consequence.                        
Lastly, individuals possessing more or less power than those with which they work also contributes to loss of integrity and some people becoming chess pieces or even playthings within others' worlds. This aspect and its consequences for the health and effectiveness of collaborative initiatives is explored here.        

Friday 28 July 2017

This is how a collaborative person works: 26. plan before and around committed time to personally engage with supporters and potential supporters

(This post draws heavily upon the experiences of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which chronicles his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. To read more posts in this series go to the March to August 2017 Blog Archive on your right.)

'In the couple of hours before the concert, I met the Music Director of the British Council, Cathy Graham, and Dr Al Shaikhly, Chair of the British Iraqi Friendship Society. They had come over from London to hear us and see how to take next year's UK visit forward. I then went to a hotel foyer round the corner, where I met Pierre Barrois, Director of the Orchestre Francais des Jeunes and Dominique Bluzet, Director of the Grand Theatre de Provence. They were checking us out for an invitation in 2013, when Marseilles-Provence became Cultural Capital of Europe.'

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

A couple of hours before a high profile concert, Paul is busy meeting with important supporters and potential supporters of the NYOI.

To make this happen, Paul had to do the following:
  • Identify the opportunity in advance.
  • Adopt a medium to long-term view, thinking years rather than weeks or months ahead.
  • Make use of the time immediately before and around a big chunk of committed time, in this case a concert, when many supporters and potential supporters were likely to be present and available for meetings.  

Even though Paul was going to be conducting an NYOI concert in a mere few hours, he made the effort to meet with people. If he had (perhaps understandably) dedicated the last few hours before the concert to his personal preparation, the meetings would have been covered by a deputy or not have happened.

The latter outcome would have resulted in important relationships not being maintained and developed. The former outcome would have had even worse consequences.

The implicit default message that accompanies the sending of a deputy to a meeting with supporters and potential supporters is as follows: 

'I have better and more important things to do than meet with you.' 

In many cases, the probable effect of the above message is likely to be far from advantageous. In the above example, Paul and the NYOI would have not only failed to maintain and develop key relationships but also succeeded in planting seeds of resentment within the minds of previously enthusiastic supporters and seeds of doubt within the thoughts of potential supporters.   

This is how a collaborative person works: 25. put your ego to one side

(This post draws heavily upon the experiences of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which chronicles his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. To read more posts in this series go to the March to August 2017 Blog Archive on your right.)

'A deeper blow came from the German Friends themselves, who decided to pay Gudrun, a former orchestral manager, ten times more to run this project than they had paid me for running the NYOI. It wasn't even as if anyone had done any fundraising. The British Council in London had put up all the cash. I sat in our final board meeting before departure, staring out of the window and trying my best to hold onto my integrity in this emotional smorgasbord.'

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

The above quotation describes Paul's feelings upon finding out that someone was to be paid ten times more for managing a ten-day tour of Kurdistan than he had been paid for managing the NYOI. Understandably, Paul found this news somewhat indigestible, and he would not have been human if he had not been sorely tempted to respond to the demands of his no-doubt outraged ego.             

But Paul did not respond to his ego's demands. Instead, being aware of the emotions fermenting within him, he sought to manage them as best he could; through a conscious effort of will he put his ego to one side.

Being aware of the influence of one's ego and being able to put it to one side for the greater good and (arguably) your own long-term interests, is invaluable to those who need to do any work that requires significant collaboration with others.    

If Paul had given in to the demands of his pained ego and sought to right the perceived wrongs that had been done to him, the consequences would have begun eating away at the foundations of trust and tolerance upon which all successful collaborations are built.

Eventually, sensing the increasing damage and knowing who seemingly had caused it, Paul's partners' would likely have blamed and eventually punished him for his lack of generosity and inability to selflessly put the higher goals of the project first.  

Tuesday 18 July 2017

This is how a collaborative person works: 24. recognise, acknowledge, reward and offer in-kind contributions

(This post draws heavily upon the experiences of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which chronicles his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. To read more posts in this series go to the March to August 2017 Blog Archive on your right.)

'We added $10,000 for security to the budget to put everyone's mind at rest. Elgin Youth Orchestra had indeed generated a lot of in-kind sponsorship, and this seemed only fair.'

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

Non-monetary 'in-kind' contributions can take many forms. They can be tangible resources: equipment, transport, accommodation, etc. They can be less tangible resources: people's time, knowledge and experience, contacts and influence.

Recognising, acknowledging, rewarding and offering in-kind contributions enhances collaborative working in the following  ways:
  1. It helps avoid the negative consequences of the 'Bingo Effect' and encourages involvement and contributions from a wide variety of partners and stakeholders.
  2. It changes people's perspectives about what they are doing and why they are doing it.     
The 'Bingo Effect' (click here to see a previous post that describes it in detail) occurs when obviously game-changing contributions are acknowledged and rewarded at the expense of others that have also, often just as significantly but more quietly and routinely, supported and enabled success. These latter contributions also tend to occur earlier rather than later upon the lifeline of a collaborative project, which can cause them to become at best half-remembered and at worst forgotten. 

The effect can be likened to the shouts of 'House' at the end of a game of bingo, where the last number called elicits shouts of celebration and the other numbers that contributed to the completion of the card or row are instantly (at least for that memorable moment) forgotten.

Diverse partners and stakeholders contributed at different times and in different ways to the founding, formation and development of the NYOI. If the attention grabbing game-changing contributions and those who made them had been valued and rewarded at the expense of the less headline making but equally significant contributions made by others, the NYOI would have quickly eroded the rich network of supporters upon which it relied. 

Instead, the NYOI maintained its diverse support system by acknowledging all contributions and taking them into account when making its own. 

Also, by acknowledging and valuing all contributions (including those made in-kind) the NYOI sent a strong message to potential partners and supporters: it told them that the contributions they were capable of making would at least be taken seriously and acknowledged and at best be embraced and rewarded.

In addition to the benefits gained from valuing and accepting in-kind contributions, there are important benefits associated with offering them:

'As is the norm in all national youth orchestras, performing without a fee shifted players' attitudes, because it taught them how to simply give with love and, in doing so, reconnect them with the reason why they were making music.'

Within a collaborative environment, where much of what is achieved is dependent upon the intrinsic motivations and driving passions of the partners, encouraging an attractive and enlightened attitude towards the tasks and activities people do is essential. Requiring people to give in-kind contributions, in the above instance performing without a fee, is a very effective way of providing this encouragement.

In so doing, people are strongly reminded of the essential value of their individual and combined efforts: what is fundamentally important about what they do.

Friday 7 July 2017

This is how a collaborative person works: 23. search for and use small town solutions

(This post draws heavily upon the experiences of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which chronicles his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. To read more posts in this series go to the March to August 2017 Blog Archive on your right.)

'From the word go, I felt good about this small town solution, which I'd already seen work in Bonn, Edinburgh and Aix. Elgin, with some 110,000 people, lay about 70 kilometres west of Chicago, Illinois. Talking to the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra team, I felt the warmth and generosity that we needed to carry the orchestra to America and look after us. I also heard the same clear-headed problem-crunching and local connectivity I'd experienced in previous years. Most importantly, I heard women with passion and nous. Elgin presented itself as a solution I could believe in, and my relentlessness began to reboot. Elgin had found the pioneering spirit the big cities had lost.'       

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

The above quotation emphasises the advantages of the 'small town solution' when choosing partners for a collaborative project: the benefits gained through engaging with small rather than large communities. It also begins to reveal some the traits that make small town solutions particularly beneficial: warmth and generosity, clear-headed problem-crunching, local connectivity, tapping into the talents and expertise of women, and a pioneering spirit.

It is not that the above traits do not exist within large communities, of course they do, but that they are more likely to be consistently identifiable and accessible within small communities. This is because small communities tend to be more joined-up than large communities (which means someone is likely to 'know someone who knows someone'), have a well-developed sense of family (which not only deeply enriches relationships but also inevitably enhances and encourages the involvement of women in the community), and possess a hands on practical approach to problem solving that is unencumbered by bureaucracy.   

Being a small American City with a settler history, Elgin emphasises the last trait mentioned by Paul: the pioneering spirit. Arguably, it is this pioneering spirit that, if present, can turbo-charge the effectiveness of a small town solution. The risk-taking associated with the pioneering spirit can add creativity and innovation to practical clear headed problem-crunching. The reciprocity and enlightened self-interest crucial to successful pioneering, where everyone by necessity needs to be able to rely on everybody else, encourage warmth and generosity and a feeling of family and community that enable easy access to needed resources and expertise. The stories of pioneering and achievement, and the shared social history they create, further strengthen the feeling of family and community and help build the mutual trust needed to take risks and give and receive help and support.

Lastly, small communities make it relatively easy to put not only a name but also a face to key local officials and other valuable people. This helps create enhanced working relationships: ones which are not only suitably formal and professional but also appropriately informal and personal. 

These well balanced holistic relationships increase the enjoyment and attractiveness of working with people and, again, encourage the building of trust between people. Also, as well as enabling easy and timely access to needed resources and expertise, they encourage a strong tolerance and even enthusiastic encouragement of differing perceptions and approaches. This increases the flexibility, creativity and inventiveness of the work people do together.

Small town solutions, however, have one major weakness: they are vulnerable to infection from rapidly spreading group-think:

'Then, on 18th March, we hit another road block, this time from Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra itself. Two board members had flagged security concerns around the visit, and their President had run these past a consultant. The inflammatory tone pressed all the wrong buttons for me.'

The above quotation describes the first expression of security concerns about the NYOI's visit to Elgin. Despite repeated and reasoned attempts to discuss the basis of these concerns (which was never clearly defined) and reassure people about the security and safety of the visit and precisely who would be involved and how, the above concerns continued to spread and grow:

'The string players we select to join your students, since they must be over the age of 18, will be our alumni and friends, not current students. Though I've expressed this multiple times, board members still come to me and say, 'Well, I wonder if I would feel safe having my children in that environment,' to which I say, 'Keep them at home.'

(Quotation from Rachel Elizabeth Maley: Local Coordinator for the NYOI's visit to Elgin.)

Very soon, this increasingly influential 'group-think' began adversely affecting the arrangements being made for the tour:

'We reached the next road block on 1st April, when Elgin City Council delayed the motion that allowed NYOI to use the school which Mayor Kaptein had committed to us.'

Even though the NYOI received assurances that the above motion was delayed for reasons other than security concerns about the tour, it is hard to believe that these concerns did not play some part in the decision. It is also important to note the time between the first expression of concern and the delaying of the motion: less than two weeks. This shows how group-think can very quickly grow, take hold and begin affecting actions and decisions.

In the end, the concerns of some within the Elgin community about the tour did not prevail. The community's local warmth and generosity and 'can-do' attitude won the day and alternative accommodation for the NYOI was found. This demonstrates how small town solutions can be very resilient in the face of difficulties and opposition, even when these are generated internally. Their feeling of community and tolerance of differing perspectives, along with the many options made available by their deep connectedness, enable small town solutions to survive and thrive in spite of many setbacks.

So, search for partners who offer small town solutions. Use their warmth, deep connectedness and 'can-do' attitude to mutual advantage. Whist doing so, however, look out for the emergence of rapidly growing group-think that could endanger your work. If the group-think is spreading rapidly take action to address it. Do this by working through and with your partners' network of rich and influential relationships. 

But make sure any action is considered rather than reactive. Remember that you will usually be able to trust the innate resilience of the small town solution to overcome many problems, even those generated from within.