Monday, 31 December 2018

Secrets of successful collaboration: 11. do not equate growing informality with diminishing respect and loss of credibility

Representatives of national and local governments and agencies, members of professions, masters of trades: all of these and many others often associate growing informality with diminishing respect and loss of credibility. The degree to which they do this depends on their traditions, cultures, perceptions of themselves, and their expectations about how they should be treated (and how much these things are perceived to be at risk from increased informality).

Where the above degree of association is marked, it will strongly affect the interactions between people: in an attempt to safeguard respect and credibility, the majority of interactions will be consistently and reassuringly formal.

The language you use when speaking to others (and the language others are expected to use when speaking to you); the way you approach and address others (and the way others are expected to address you); the way you manage meetings and discussions (and the way others are expected to manage meetings and discussions); whom you have access to and when and how you have access to them (and who has access to you and when and how they have access to you): where growing informality is associated with diminishing respect and loss of credibility, all these things (and more) will construct a bulwark of formality.  

Additionally, where there is a significant power difference between people, the association of informality with diminishing respect and loss of credibility can eventually develop into a "Status Trap". To find out more about this trap click here.

However, as the beginning of this post makes clear, the common association made between growing informality and diminishing respect is often inaccurate. In fact, through enabling increased understanding between partners and encouraging them to collaborate not only professionally but also personally, the well-balanced and appropriately managed growth of informality is likely to increase mutual respect and enhance each partner's credibility.

Do not, therefore, allow habitual insecurities about loss of respect and diminished power to rule your thinking and actions.


To read the full post click here.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Secrets of successful collaboration: 10. discover and try to assimilate hidden informal relationships

Informal "of the record" relationships will always exist within and beside formal collaborative relationships and will often be hidden from formal sight, as this example shows. These hidden relationships can be between partners within the collaboration, existing as informal shadows to formally agreed relationships (as was the case in the given example), or they can be between partners within the collaboration and people outside the collaboration: additional relationships officially unknown to the collaboration that, never-the-less, walk quietly beside it. 

As either of these types of hidden informal relationships have the potential to significantly affect the decisions and actions of a collaboration, it is important to find and manage them (if necessary, assimilating them into a collaboration's acknowledged inter and extra-relational fabric). Doing this will achieve the following two things:
  1. It will lessen the probability of understandings and decisions originating from informal hidden relationships adversely affecting the progress of a collaboration (as was the case in the above mentioned example).
  2. It will increase a collaboration's resilience: it will enable a collaboration to identify and adapt quickly to changing contexts and partners' differing interests by blending the idealism and reassuring structure of formality with the realism and pragmatic flexibility of informality.
Doing the following two things will help a collaboration discover, manage and/or assimilate hidden informal relationships:
  1. Identify pre-existing relationships. Hidden informal relationships within a collaboration are often the continuation of pre-existing relationships between partners (as was the case in the example given above). A very natural and acceptable way of discovering pre-existing relationships is to meet with partners on their home turf. Photos, past project reports, staff stories and chat; your partners' meetings with long-term associates; chance meetings in corridors and canteens: all these things and more will point you toward pre-existing relationships that could continue within a collaboration, colouring partners' perceptions and attitudes and affecting their behaviour and decision making. 
  2. Bring informality in from the cold. Create opportunities for hidden informal relationships to become visible and, if it is advantageous, assimilated within a collaboration. Holding regular and informal "scouting meetings", which invite a wide range of potential partners and others with an interest in a collaboration's work to attend and mix with each other, can often surface pre-existing relationships that can then be managed or assimilated as the need arises.
To read the full post click here.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Secrets of successful collaboration: 9. welcome informal offers to share

As well as creating formal agreements to share resources and expertise, etc., look out for and welcome informal offers to share. Often, these will be relatively small offers: a pair of helping hands, a useful piece of equipment, a room, a helpful snippet of knowledge, a little timely expertise or advice, a word in someone's ear... Their smallness and apparent insignificance, however, can be useful in five specific ways:
  1. They can provide quick and timely assistance, filling in and repairing the cracks that often form within a collaboration's formal structures and ways of working.
  2. They can be of unexpected and/or critical value to those who receive them; what is lowly valued and easily offered by one partner may be highly valued and sought-after by another.
  3. They can help all partners, regardless of their level of power and access to resources, feel valued and able to contribute.
  4. They can signal that trust is beginning to develop between partners: people only make personal and informal offers to help when they trust, or are at least are beginning to trust, those to whom they are making the offers.      
  5. They offer small, informal and non-threatening opportunities to connect with people and build upon the above mentioned trust.
To read the full post click here.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Secrets of successful collaboration: 8. identify and exploit the relationship tipping point

During informal interactions, relationship tipping points occur. If these tipping points are identified, they can be reinforced and then built upon to encourage trusting and readily reciprocal relationships. Here is a colourful example of a relationship tipping point (plus my detailed analysis of how it was identified and exploited).
  
As my analysis makes clear, not all manifestations of relationship tipping points will be as colourful and dramatic as the one described: their exact nature will depend on the type and mix of partners involved, the context, and expectations about behaviour arising from the prevailing background culture.

For example, relationship tipping points that appear within many business and professional contexts are likely to be less energetic and "in your face" than the youth orchestra example. They will, however, be visible to those who look for them. They will appear (perhaps somewhat subtly) during the previously mentioned informal gatherings placed before and after formal meetings, within the previously mentioned informal timeouts, and within informal get-togethers planted beside conferences and training events, etc. They may even appear during informal social media group interactions (although these will be quite difficult to identify due to lack of physical proximity and reduced opportunity to notice behavioural cues).     

Whatever the context, doing the five things described within the above mentioned analysis will help you identify relationship tipping points and then exploit them to your collaboration's advantage.

To read the full post click here.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Secrets of successful collaboration: 7. ensure there is space and opportunity for social interaction

Build space for informal social interaction into a collaboration's systems, structures and processes. Make sure the space is defined, comfortable, familiar and safe. For example, make time and space for informal interaction before and after formal meetings. Make sure this informal interaction takes place in a relaxed space away from the meeting room and prepare for it carefully. How will you encourage people to feel relaxed? How will you encourage people to interact? How will you encourage people to interact with those outside of their usual social, professional and organisational spheres? How will you encourage people to move around and mingle? Remember that encouraging opportunities for repeated unplanned interactions is the key to successful informal social interaction.

Call regular informal intermissions or "time-outs" during the progress of a collaboration's work. Make sure these happen at different times and places from formal meetings and conferences, etc. Again, prepare for them carefully and ask yourself the above questions. Give these "time-outs" a clear purpose but ensure it is appropriate to an informal, relaxed setting and you can achieve it with a light touch.

For example, you might want to call for additional partners to help with the work of your collaboration. You could deliver a short presentation explaining why additional partners are needed and the skills, expertise, experience and resources they would need to contribute. At the end of the presentation you could provide your email address or mobile telephone number and ask people, as they mingle and chat, to email or text you their suggestions for new partners.

The above example demonstrates a simple way in which information and communication technology can be used to achieve valuable outcomes as part of informal interactions.

Identify additional ways in which ICT can be used informally, unobtrusively and intuitively. Make sure these approaches are simple and their purposes clearly focused and defined. Ensuring these things is essential because too much complexity and a lack of focus and definition re. their use will cause ambiguity and confusion and hinder an atmosphere of relaxed informality.

Find ways to blend social media into ongoing informal interactions, but be careful how you blend it in. Facebook closed groups, group messenger chats (together with some light-touch and mutually agreed good practice guidelines which ensure safety and appropriate privacy) will ensure that social media can quietly oil the wheels of informal conversation and relationship building rather than cause unwanted misunderstandings and personal frictions.

Lastly, do not bind partners to legal agreements too early in the life of a collaboration. Instead, begin by seeking informal understandings that can naturally evolve into Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) that can then lead to legal agreements. This will not always be easy to achieve, given the high profile nature of many collaborations and stakeholders' and sponsors' understandable demands for clear accountability and measurable outcomes. However, achieving this informal breathing space at the beginning of a collaboration's life will pay significant future dividends: when the going gets tough and the collaboration experiences difficult times and unexpected problems, partners will be able to overcome their challenges by calling upon the personal understandings and associated willingness to offer mutual support that were developed previously.

To read the full post click here.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Secrets of successful collaboration: 6. balance formality with informality

It is important that collaboration's strike the right balance between formality and informality. Formal agreements and processes help a collaboration not only operate efficiently and effectively but also lay the foundations upon which partners can begin to build trusting and mutually supportive relationships. Informal interaction encourages partners to do this building: it offers a safe and sheltered space within which partners can sound each other out on a personal level, form "off-the-record" relationships with each other and eventually develop personal networks and back channels that can oil the wheels of formality. This lubrication is essential; without it, the complexity of the issues and problems being addressed (plus the subtle intricacies of interpersonal and inter-organisational dynamics) will make it inevitable that the formal agreements and processes of a collaboration will at some point shudder and stall under the stress and strain of the diverse and competing demands placed upon them.

Also, seeking a balance between formality and informality redresses the widespread imbalance in favour of formality built into the culture and fabric of many collaborations. Understandably, and with good reason, partners' parent organisations and other sponsors of collaborative working demand the tangible reassurance of formal systems and the accountability and measurability they enable. All too often, however, these formal systems fill almost all of the collaborative space. They preoccupy the minds and dictate the actions of partners and occupy the physical, virtual and perceptual spaces where informal interaction could have taken place: meetings are always formal, IT is always used for official purposes and people see people managed by systems rather than systems managed by people.

To read the full post click here.

Monday, 17 December 2018

How to develop collaborative meta-relationships 2

I have described meta-relationships and why they are essential to effective collaborative working in a previous post.

Here, I will describe how you can develop meta-relationships.

Meta-relationships can be developed by doing the following things:
  • Being inclusive
  • Balancing formality with informality
  • Focusing on people and relationships
  • Focusing on process
  • Developing supportive personal habits of thinking and behaviour
  • Developing a supportive culture

Balancing formality with informality

It is important that collaboration's strike the right balance between formality and informality. Formal agreements and processes help a collaboration not only operate efficiently and effectively but also lay the foundations upon which partners can begin to build trusting and mutually supportive relationships. Informal interaction encourages partners to do this building: it offers a safe and sheltered space within which partners can sound each other out on a personal level, form "off-the-record" relationships with each other and eventually develop personal networks and back channels that can oil the wheels of formality. This lubrication is essential; without it, the complexity of the issues and problems being addressed (plus the subtle intricacies of interpersonal and inter-organisational dynamics) will make it inevitable that the formal agreements and processes of a collaboration will at some point shudder and stall under the stress and strain of the diverse and competing demands placed upon them.

Also, seeking a balance between formality and informality redresses the widespread imbalance in favour of formality built into the culture and fabric of many collaborations. Understandably, and with good reason, partners' parent organisations and other sponsors of collaborative working demand the tangible reassurance of formal systems and the accountability and measurability they enable. All too often, however, these formal systems fill almost all of the collaborative space. They preoccupy the minds and dictate the actions of partners and occupy the physical, virtual and perceptual spaces where informal interaction could have taken place: meetings are always formal, IT is always used for official purposes and people see people managed by systems rather than systems managed by people.

Here are some ways to achieve a balance between formality and informality (and redress the common imbalance in favour of formality):              

Ensure there is space and opportunity for social interaction

Build space for informal social interaction into a collaboration's systems, structures and processes. Make sure the space is defined, comfortable, familiar and safe. For example, make time and space for informal interaction before and after formal meetings. Make sure this informal interaction takes place in a relaxed space away from the meeting room and prepare for it carefully. How will you encourage people to feel relaxed? How will you encourage people to interact? How will you encourage people to interact with those outside of their usual social, professional and organisational spheres? How will you encourage people to move around and mingle? Remember that encouraging opportunities for repeated unplanned interactions is the key to successful informal social interaction.

Call regular informal intermissions or "time-outs" during the progress of a collaboration's work. Make sure these happen at different times and places from formal meetings and conferences, etc. Again, prepare for them carefully and ask yourself the above questions. Give these "time-outs" a clear purpose but ensure it is appropriate to an informal, relaxed setting and you can achieve it with a light touch.

For example, you might want to call for additional partners to help with the work of your collaboration. You could deliver a short presentation explaining why additional partners are needed and the skills, expertise, experience and resources they would need to contribute. At the end of the presentation you could provide your email address or mobile telephone number and ask people, as they mingle and chat, to email or text you their suggestions for new partners.

The above example demonstrates a simple way in which information and communication technology can be used to achieve valuable outcomes as part of informal interactions.

Identify additional ways in which ICT can be used informally, unobtrusively and intuitively. Make sure these approaches are simple and their purposes clearly focused and defined. Ensuring these things is essential because too much complexity and a lack of focus and definition re. their use will cause ambiguity and confusion and hinder an atmosphere of relaxed informality.

Find ways to blend social media into ongoing informal interactions, but be careful how you blend it in. Facebook closed groups, group messenger chats (together with some light-touch and mutually agreed good practice guidelines which ensure safety and appropriate privacy) will ensure that social media can quietly oil the wheels of informal conversation and relationship building rather than cause unwanted misunderstandings and personal frictions.

Lastly, do not bind partners to legal agreements too early in the life of a collaboration. Instead, begin by seeking informal understandings that can naturally evolve into Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) that can then lead to legal agreements. This will not always be easy to achieve, given the high profile nature of many collaborations and stakeholders' and sponsors' understandable demands for clear accountability and measurable outcomes. However, achieving this informal breathing space at the beginning of a collaboration's life will pay significant future dividends: when the going gets tough and the collaboration experiences difficult times and unexpected problems, partners will be able to overcome their challenges by calling upon the personal understandings and associated willingness to offer mutual support that were developed previously.                    

Identify and exploit the relationship tipping point

During informal interactions, relationship tipping points occur. If these tipping points are identified, they can be reinforced and then built upon to encourage trusting and readily reciprocal relationships. Here is a colourful example of a relationship tipping point (plus my detailed analysis of how it was identified and exploited).
  
As my analysis makes clear, not all manifestations of relationship tipping points will be as colourful and dramatic as the one described: their exact nature will depend on the type and mix of partners involved, the context, and expectations about behaviour arising from the prevailing background culture.

For example, relationship tipping points that appear within many business and professional contexts are likely to be less energetic and "in your face" than the youth orchestra example. They will, however, be visible to those who look for them. They will appear (perhaps somewhat subtly) during the previously mentioned informal gatherings placed before and after formal meetings, within the previously mentioned informal timeouts, and within informal get-togethers planted beside conferences and training events, etc. They may even appear during informal social media group interactions (although these will be quite difficult to identify due to lack of physical proximity and reduced opportunity to notice behavioural cues).     

Whatever the context, doing the five things described within the above mentioned analysis will help you identify relationship tipping points and then exploit them to your collaboration's advantage.
             
Welcome informal offers to share

As well as creating formal agreements to share resources and expertise, etc., look out for and welcome informal offers to share. Often, these will be relatively small offers: a pair of helping hands, a useful piece of equipment, a room, a helpful snippet of knowledge, a little timely expertise or advice, a word in someone's ear... Their smallness and apparent insignificance, however, can be useful in five specific ways:
  1. They can provide quick and timely assistance, filling in and repairing the cracks that often form within a collaboration's formal structures and ways of working.
  2. They can be of unexpected and/or critical value to those who receive them; what is lowly valued and easily offered by one partner may be highly valued and sought-after by another.
  3. They can help all partners, regardless of their level of power and access to resources, feel valued and able to contribute.
  4. They can signal that trust is beginning to develop between partners: people only make personal and informal offers to help when they trust, or are at least are beginning to trust, those to whom they are making the offers.      
  5. They offer small, informal and non-threatening opportunities to connect with people and build upon the above mentioned trust.           
Discover and try to assimilate hidden informal relationships

Informal "of the record" relationships will always exist within and beside formal collaborative relationships and will often be hidden from formal sight, as this example shows. These hidden relationships can be between partners within the collaboration, existing as informal shadows to formally agreed relationships (as was the case in the given example), or they can be between partners within the collaboration and people outside the collaboration: additional relationships officially unknown to the collaboration that, never-the-less, walk quietly beside it. 

As either of these types of hidden informal relationships have the potential to significantly affect the decisions and actions of a collaboration, it is important to find and manage them (if necessary, assimilating them into a collaboration's acknowledged inter and extra-relational fabric). Doing this will achieve the following two things:
  1. It will lessen the probability of understandings and decisions originating from informal hidden relationships adversely affecting the progress of a collaboration (as was the case in the above mentioned example).
  2. It will increase a collaboration's resilience: it will enable a collaboration to identify and adapt quickly to changing contexts and partners' differing interests by blending the idealism and reassuring structure of formality with the realism and pragmatic flexibility of informality.
Doing the following two things will help a collaboration discover, manage and/or assimilate hidden informal relationships:
  1. Identify pre-existing relationships. Hidden informal relationships within a collaboration are often the continuation of pre-existing relationships between partners (as was the case in the example given above). A very natural and acceptable way of discovering pre-existing relationships is to meet with partners on their home turf. Photos, past project reports, staff stories and chat; your partners' meetings with long-term associates; chance meetings in corridors and canteens: all these things and more will point you toward pre-existing relationships that could continue within a collaboration, colouring partners' perceptions and attitudes and affecting their behaviour and decision making. 
  2. Bring informality in from the cold. Create opportunities for hidden informal relationships to become visible and, if it is advantageous, assimilated within a collaboration. Holding regular and informal "scouting meetings", which invite a wide range of potential partners and others with an interest in a collaboration's work to attend and mix with each other, can often surface pre-existing relationships that can then be managed or assimilated as the need arises.
Do not equate growing informality with diminishing respect and loss of credibility

Representatives of national and local governments and agencies, members of professions, masters of trades: all of these and many others often associate growing informality with diminishing respect and loss of credibility. The degree to which they do this depends on their traditions, cultures, perceptions of themselves, and their expectations about how they should be treated (and how much these things are perceived to be at risk from increased informality).

Where the above degree of association is marked, it will strongly affect the interactions between people: in an attempt to safeguard respect and credibility, the majority of interactions will be consistently and reassuringly formal.

The language you use when speaking to others (and the language others are expected to use when speaking to you); the way you approach and address others (and the way others are expected to address you); the way you manage meetings and discussions (and the way others are expected to manage meetings and discussions); whom you have access to and when and how you have access to them (and who has access to you and when and how they have access to you): where growing informality is associated with diminishing respect and loss of credibility, all these things (and more) will construct a bulwark of formality.  

Additionally, where there is a significant power difference between people, the association of informality with diminishing respect and loss of credibility can eventually develop into a "Status Trap". To find out more about this trap click here.

However, as the beginning of this post makes clear, the common association made between growing informality and diminishing respect is often inaccurate. In fact, through enabling increased understanding between partners and encouraging them to collaborate not only professionally but also personally, the well-balanced and appropriately managed growth of informality is likely to increase mutual respect and enhance each partner's credibility.

Do not, therefore, allow habitual insecurities about loss of respect and diminished power to rule your thinking and actions.


To read the next post in the series click here.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Secrets of successful collaboration: 5. include women

To encourage inclusiveness in a collaboration include women. Statistically, more women than men are good at social sensitivity. Social sensitivity is about being aware of others' views, feelings, contexts and situations and how our own and others' words and actions can impact upon these things.

At the very least, through ensuring an effective balance of conversational turn-taking, a good level of social sensitivity within a collaboration will enhance the inclusivity of discussions and decision-making.

To read the full post click here.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Secrets of successful collaboration: 4. refashion your weapons of exclusion into tools of inclusion

Either intentionally or (arguably most damagingly) unintentionally, a collaboration can exclude potentially helpful partners and contributors by using weapons of exclusion. By far the most damaging of these is language.

The language a collaboration uses is often heavily influenced by the predominant cultures, professions and disciplines of its most powerful partners. Words and phrases habitually used by these partners to describe key concepts and activities will often become the default currency of a collaboration's communication. This means that those unfamiliar with the concepts and assumptions underpinning their powerful partners' languages will quickly become disadvantaged, and likely feel excluded from the ongoing discussions and work of a collaboration. Habitual and unquestioned habits of speech will have become powerful weapons of exclusion.

To decommission these weapons, partners must be prepared to reboot their language. They will need to explore each other's key concepts and expertise, focusing on those aspects which intersect their professions and interests and are most crucial to their collaboration, and create mutually understood ways of describing and speaking about things.

Other (often inadvertent) weapons of exclusion lie in plain sight within and around the structures, processes and approaches of many a collaboration. Formal and traditionally managed meetings; large-scale conferences and the expectation of presentations; business style communication updates and consultation approaches (and the language they use and the form they take); assumptions and expectations about using and accessing email and other information technology; unshared and vigilantly guarded history and traditions; unfamiliar ceremonies and rituals; the long shadow of an overwhelming culture and assumptions about "the way things are done around here"; travelling to imposing institutional ivory towers or visiting other powerful establishment monoliths within usually inaccessible or inhospitable locations: all these things (singularly and in various combinations) can erode the confidence of partners unfamiliar with them, shrinking involvement and edging the least confident towards and through a collaboration's exit doors.   
           
Refashion your weapons of exclusion into tools of inclusion

Many of your tools of inclusion are, in fact, your decommissioned weapons of exclusion refashioned for benign use: language, refashioned as described above, becomes a powerful tool of engagement; meetings, tailored to the needs of partners and attended by partners trained and supported to participate and contribute, become tools of inclusive discussion and decision-making; communication updates, styled and tailored to the needs of all partners, encourage helpful reaction and response; practical, affordable, accessible, non-intrusive and intuitive information technology becomes a supportive platform for making formal connections and informal ties; sharing of history and traditions creates the possibility of a merged history that safeguards and builds upon the best of all partners' cultural worlds; sharing rituals and the reasoning and beliefs underpinning them helps reveal their power to reassure and unite people and encourage joint efforts towards achieving a shared vision; a powerful culture that exhibits humility and the willingness to embrace difference can become a strong role model for inclusive collaboration; moving out of your comfortable ivory towers or secure fiefdoms and setting-up-shop within the kingdoms and hideouts of your partners encourages respect that evolves into trust that encourages people to risk becoming involved.

To read the full post click here

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Secrets of successful collaboration: 3. mix it up

Mixing it up is another way of increasing the inclusivity of a collaboration. It also helps realise some other benefits of inclusiveness: the freshening-up of perceptions and approaches and the enhancement of creativity and innovation.

This mixing-up and freshening can be built into a collaboration's systems and structures by using matrix management

Matrix management creates teams and management structures that bring together people from different functions and specialisms from across an organisation or organisations within a collaborative initiative.

Within a collaboration, the matrix approach is certain to happen (at least to some extent) by default. However, the natural mixing of partners within a collaboration does not automatically guarantee the best possible mix of people from multiple levels and disciplines from across organisations; it will not address existing relationship blind spots, for example. For the best mix, there needs to be intention and design: intention and design that focuses upon ensuring habitually excluded and potentially valuable partners are given the opportunity to become appropriately involved in a collaboration's work. 

Taking steps to avoid the "Carousel Syndrome" can also help a collaboration "mix it up". This syndrome appears when a collaboration forms the habit of calling upon the same old faces over and over and over again.  Indeed, it is often not confined to individual collaborative initiatives: it spreads easily across multiple collaborative initiatives covering multiple issues; the same old faces become tagged with the search words "collaboration" or "partnership" or "joined-up working" and come round time and time again upon local, regional and national collaborative merry-go-rounds. Over time, the same old faces repeating the same old things will spiral a collaboration towards the depths of languid mediocrity.  

The Carousel Syndrome can be avoided by creating the previously mentioned "easy access points" and arranging the previously mentioned "scouting meetings". Additionally, a collaboration can minimise the negative effects of the Carousel Syndrome (and freshen-up its thinking and approaches) by compiling and regularly dipping into a wide-ranging and frequently updated database of potential partners and other contributors.

To read the full post (and read more about "easy access points" and "scouting meeting") click here

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Secrets of successful collaboration: 2. reach in

Inclusiveness is about not only reaching out but also reaching in: reaching deep into a collaboration and its partners' parent organisations.

Ensure that all levels of a collaboration and all levels of partners' parent organisations are aware of a collaboration's work and have appropriate opportunities to comment and become involved. Strongly encourage staff at all levels of partners' organisations to collaborate with those above and/or below them and with their peer groups and opposite numbers within partner organisations. This will help ensure a collaboration does not become marginalised and eventually trapped within the cracks and spaces between partners' organisations, bereft of understanding and support and uncomfortably squeezed for time and resources.

Whenever a team is tasked with encouraging others to collaborate, check it is collaborating well within itself; ensure the team is modelling effective collaborative working to those it is seeking to influence. Is it sharing knowledge, insights and experience between team members? Are team members given opportunities to comment on and add value to each other's work? 

Once again, identifying and addressing relationship blind spots can help ensure a collaboration effectively reaches into and engages with itself and its partners' parent organisations. Are any of a collaboration's (or partners' parent organisations') people repeatedly overlooked or forgotten? Are they repeatedly excluded from meetings and other events? Are these people from particular organisational levels or professions? Or are they from specialisms that are perceived (often incorrectly) as isolated from the mainstream of a collaboration's or partners' organisations' activities.

To read the full post click here.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Secrets of successful collaboration: 1. reach out

Reach out to potential partners who could contribute to a collaboration's work. When doing this be prepared to take a leap of faith and speculate.

To do the latter two things effectively, it is important to think imaginatively about what potential partners may be able to contribute to a collaboration; they may be resource poor in a traditional sense but able to offer other things of value (e.g., personal experience of an issue, credibility within a community, or expertise in an historically under-valued occupation).     

Here are some specific approaches you can use to reach out to potential partners:
  • Use the Snowballing Technique: always ask existing partners and contacts if they can identify other people or organisations that could contribute to a collaboration's work. Reach out to not only potential partners but also the "families" of potential partners: their surrounding networks of contacts. (Also see creating ever-increasing triangles of trust and influence).
  • Ask the following questions: Who is not being invited to work with a collaboration? Are there any people or organisations that existing partners feel very uncomfortable about including in a collaboration's work? Why is this? Are the reasons valid? Or are they based upon unhelpful ways of thinking and reacting (e.g., adherence to outdated traditions, an instinctive need to maintain power, inaccurate stereo-types, false assumptions, etc.)? Should these unhelpful ways of thinking and reacting be challenged? Would reaching out to these previously "untouchable" people and organisations provide significant benefits to a collaboration (e.g., enhanced perceptions of a collaboration's inclusivity and credibility)? (Also see challenge taboo triangles
  • Search for a collaboration's relationship blind spots. Sometimes, potential partners and other possible contributors are hidden within unacknowledged relationship blind spots that cause people and organisations to be consistently forgotten and overlooked (e.g., not consulted, not asked to contribute, not offered a seat at the table). These blind spots are often the outcome of unspoken "ugly laws": unspoken negative perceptions of others (based upon inaccurate assumptions and superficial prejudices) that strongly encourage the exclusion of specific people, communities and organisations, etc. Find these blind spots and bring them to the attention of a collaboration. Explore why they exist and how curing them could be beneficial for all concerned.            
  • Create easy access points. Create real-world and virtual access points that partners and potential partners can access easily and feel comfortable using. Place real-world access points in areas convenient for and known to the people you are trying to reach. Also, ensure that access points are staffed by credible people who can offer accurate information and reliable services. Locate your virtual access points within social media and other areas of the Internet that your partners and potential partners use often. Create a regular series of scouting meetings that offer potential partners and others with an interest in a collaboration's work the opportunity to attend, gain updates about a collaboration's work, offer observations and suggestions for improvement, and contribute ideas about how they may be able to help.
Doing the above things will increase the likelihood of creating or recognising opportunities for mutually beneficial collaboration. They will also help a collaboration avoid relational lock-in.

To read the full post click here

Monday, 19 November 2018

How to develop collaborative meta-relationships

I have described meta-relationships and why they are essential to effective collaborative working in a previous post.

Here, I will describe how you can develop meta-relationships.

Meta-relationships can be developed by doing the following things:
  • Being inclusive
  • Balancing formality with informality
  • Focusing on people and relationships
  • Focusing on process
  • Developing supportive personal habits of thinking and behaviour
  • Developing a supportive culture

Being inclusive

Being inclusive is about ensuring that potential partners and others who could add value to a collaboration's work have the opportunity to become suitably involved. It is also about ensuring these people feel comfortable and confident about being involved.

To develop the inclusiveness of your collaborative initiative do the following things:

Reach out

Reach out to potential partners who could contribute to a collaboration's work. When doing this be prepared to take a leap of faith and speculate.

To do the latter two things effectively, it is important to think imaginatively about what potential partners may be able to contribute to a collaboration; they may be resource poor in a traditional sense but able to offer other things of value (e.g., personal experience of an issue, credibility within a community, or expertise in an historically under-valued occupation).     

Here are some specific approaches you can use to reach out to potential partners:
  • Use the Snowballing Technique: always ask existing partners and contacts if they can identify other people or organisations that could contribute to a collaboration's work. Reach out to not only potential partners but also the "families" of potential partners: their surrounding networks of contacts. (Also see creating ever-increasing triangles of trust and influence).
  • Ask the following questions: Who is not being invited to work with a collaboration? Are there any people or organisations that existing partners feel very uncomfortable about including in a collaboration's work? Why is this? Are the reasons valid? Or are they based upon unhelpful ways of thinking and reacting (e.g., adherence to outdated traditions, an instinctive need to maintain power, inaccurate stereo-types, false assumptions, etc.)? Should these unhelpful ways of thinking and reacting be challenged? Would reaching out to these previously "untouchable" people and organisations provide significant benefits to a collaboration (e.g., enhanced perceptions of a collaboration's inclusivity and credibility)? (Also see challenge taboo triangles
  • Search for a collaboration's relationship blind spots. Sometimes, potential partners and other possible contributors are hidden within unacknowledged relationship blind spots that cause people and organisations to be consistently forgotten and overlooked (e.g., not consulted, not asked to contribute, not offered a seat at the table). These blind spots are often the outcome of unspoken "ugly laws": unspoken negative perceptions of others (based upon inaccurate assumptions and superficial prejudices) that strongly encourage the exclusion of specific people, communities and organisations, etc. Find these blind spots and bring them to the attention of a collaboration. Explore why they exist and how curing them could be beneficial for all concerned.            
  • Create easy access points. Create real-world and virtual access points that partners and potential partners can access easily and feel comfortable using. Place real-world access points in areas convenient for and known to the people you are trying to reach. Also, ensure that access points are staffed by credible people who can offer accurate information and reliable services. Locate your virtual access points within social media and other areas of the Internet that your partners and potential partners use often. Create a regular series of scouting meetings that offer potential partners and others with an interest in a collaboration's work the opportunity to attend, gain updates about a collaboration's work, offer observations and suggestions for improvement, and contribute ideas about how they may be able to help.
Doing the above things will increase the likelihood of creating or recognising opportunities for mutually beneficial collaboration. They will also help a collaboration avoid relational lock-in. 

Reach in
 
Inclusiveness is about not only reaching out but also reaching in: reaching deep into a collaboration and its partners' parent organisations.

Ensure that all levels of a collaboration and all levels of partners' parent organisations are aware of a collaboration's work and have appropriate opportunities to comment and become involved. Strongly encourage staff at all levels of partners' organisations to collaborate with those above and/or below them and with their peer groups and opposite numbers within partner organisations. This will help ensure a collaboration does not become marginalised and eventually trapped within the cracks and spaces between partners' organisations, bereft of understanding and support and uncomfortably squeezed for time and resources.

Whenever a team is tasked with encouraging others to collaborate, check it is collaborating well within itself; ensure the team is modelling effective collaborative working to those it is seeking to influence. Is it sharing knowledge, insights and experience between team members? Are team members given opportunities to comment on and add value to each other's work? 

Once again, identifying and addressing relationship blind spots can help ensure a collaboration effectively reaches into and engages with itself and its partners' parent organisations.  Are any of a collaboration's (or partners' parent organisations') people repeatedly overlooked or forgotten? Are they repeatedly excluded from meetings and other events? Are these people from particular organisational levels or professions? Or are they from specialisms that are perceived (often incorrectly) as isolated from the mainstream of a collaboration's or partners' organisations' activities.          

Mix it up

Mixing it up is another way of increasing the inclusivity of a collaboration. It also helps realise some other benefits of inclusiveness: the freshening-up of perceptions and approaches and the enhancement of creativity and innovation.

This mixing-up and freshening can be built into a collaboration's systems and structures by using matrix management

Matrix management creates teams and management structures that bring together people from different functions and specialisms from across an organisation or organisations within a collaborative initiative.

Within a collaboration, the matrix approach is certain to happen (at least to some extent) by default. However, the natural mixing of partners within a collaboration does not automatically guarantee the best possible mix of people from multiple levels and disciplines from across organisations; it will not address existing relationship blind spots, for example. For the best mix, there needs to be intention and design: intention and design that focuses upon ensuring habitually excluded and potentially valuable partners are given the opportunity to become appropriately involved in a collaboration's work. 

Taking steps to avoid the "Carousel Syndrome" can also help a collaboration "mix it up". This syndrome appears when a collaboration forms the habit of calling upon the same old faces over and over and over again.  Indeed, it is often not confined to individual collaborative initiatives: it spreads easily across multiple collaborative initiatives covering multiple issues; the same old faces become tagged with the search words "collaboration" or "partnership" or "joined-up working" and come round time and time again upon local, regional and national collaborative merry-go-rounds. Over time, the same old faces repeating the same old things will spiral a collaboration towards the depths of languid mediocrity.  

The Carousel Syndrome can be avoided by creating the previously mentioned "easy access points" and arranging the previously mentioned "scouting meetings". Additionally, a collaboration can minimise the negative effects of the Carousel Syndrome (and freshen-up its thinking and approaches) by compiling and regularly dipping into a wide-ranging and frequently updated database of potential partners and other contributors.                   
          
Identify and decommission your weapons of exclusion, including your language.

Either intentionally or (arguably most damagingly) unintentionally, a collaboration can exclude potentially helpful partners and contributors by using weapons of exclusion. By far the most damaging of these is language.

The language a collaboration uses is often heavily influenced by the predominant cultures, professions and disciplines of its most powerful partners. Words and phrases habitually used by these partners to describe key concepts and activities will often become the default currency of a collaboration's communication. This means that those unfamiliar with the concepts and assumptions underpinning their powerful partners' languages will quickly become disadvantaged, and likely feel excluded from the ongoing discussions and work of a collaboration. Habitual and unquestioned habits of speech will have become powerful weapons of exclusion.

To decommission these weapons, partners must be prepared to reboot their language. They will need to explore each other's key concepts and expertise, focusing on those aspects which intersect their professions and interests and are most crucial to their collaboration, and create mutually understood ways of describing and speaking about things.

Other (often inadvertent) weapons of exclusion lie in plain sight within and around the structures, processes and approaches of many a collaboration. Formal and traditionally managed meetings; large-scale conferences and the expectation of presentations; business style communication updates and consultation approaches (and the language they use and the form they take); assumptions and expectations about using and accessing email and other information technology; unshared and vigilantly guarded history and traditions; unfamiliar ceremonies and rituals; the long shadow of an overwhelming culture and assumptions about "the way things are done around here"; travelling to imposing institutional ivory towers or visiting other powerful establishment monoliths within usually inaccessible or inhospitable locations: all these things (singularly and in various combinations) can erode the confidence of partners unfamiliar with them, shrinking involvement and edging the least confident towards and through a collaboration's exit doors.   
           
Refashion your weapons of exclusion into tools of inclusion

Many of your tools of inclusion are, in fact, your decommissioned weapons of exclusion refashioned for benign use: language, refashioned as described above, becomes a powerful tool of engagement; meetings, tailored to the needs of partners and attended by partners trained and supported to participate and contribute, become tools of inclusive discussion and decision-making; communication updates, styled and tailored to the needs of all partners, encourage helpful reaction and response; practical, affordable, accessible, non-intrusive and intuitive information technology becomes a supportive platform for making formal connections and informal ties; sharing of history and traditions creates the possibility of a merged history that safeguards and builds upon the best of all partners' cultural worlds; sharing rituals and the reasoning and beliefs underpinning them helps reveal their power to reassure and unite people and encourage joint efforts towards achieving a shared vision; a powerful culture that exhibits humility and the willingness to embrace difference can become a strong role model for inclusive collaboration; moving out of your comfortable ivory towers or secure fiefdoms and setting-up-shop within the kingdoms and hideouts of your partners encourages respect that evolves into trust that encourages people to risk becoming involved.      

Include women
 
To encourage inclusiveness in a collaboration include women. Statistically, more women than men are good at social sensitivity. Social sensitivity is about being aware of others' views, feelings, contexts and situations and how our own and others' words and actions can impact upon these things. At the very least, through ensuring an effective balance of conversational turn-taking, a good level of social sensitivity within a collaboration will enhance the inclusivity of discussions and decision-making.

To read the next post in the series click here.    

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Micro bite-size piece.

Mutual trust is founded upon each partner's ability to predict accurately what their collaborators will say and do (rather than predict these things inaccurately based upon stereotypical views and misunderstandings).

To read the full post click here. 

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Bite-size piece: create a shared history and an associated healthily rated "personal credit history" of collaboration

The close personal and professional interactions intrinsic to meta-relationships build a unique and mutually valued shared history between partners that, together with the previously mentioned enhanced empathy and trust, creates a healthily rated "personal credit history" of collaboration for each partner: each partner is perceived as a "safe bet" for any loan of resources or other support; it is believed that the partner making the loan and/or the collaboration overall will, sooner or later, realise a healthy return on any investment made.

To read the full post click here.
 

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Bite-size piece: be challenging

The deep mutual understanding and trust achieved through meta-relationships provides partners with the confidence to challenge each other's opinions, beliefs and actions. The personal commitment they demonstrate towards each other encourages partners to be tolerant of challenges they make to each other's long held-assumptions and preferred ways of doing things. Additionally, and crucially, the knowledge partners have shared and the insights they have gained about each other enable challenges to be based upon firm foundations of understanding rather than fragile flimsies of assumption. This mutual challenging tests and enhances the efficacy of the decision-making and intended actions of a collaboration and helps define the best path towards success.

 To read the full post click here.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Bite-size piece: share rather than pass

Meta-relationships' emphasis upon personal attention and face-to-face interaction (whether this be physical or virtual), helps partners develop sufficient confidence in one another to share and explore key information with each other rather than simply pass key information to each other (for it to be interpreted and acted upon as the receiver sees fit). This enhances the quality of collaborative decision-making and the effectiveness of subsequent joint action.

 To read the full post click here.
 


Friday, 26 October 2018

Bite-size piece: be inclusive rather than exclusive

Meta-relationships grow and expand; the act of creating, maintaining and developing multi-faceted holistic relationships becomes a habit of interaction. Partners who have experienced the benefits of meta-relationships within a collaboration will seek to share similar benefits with those on the periphery of or outside a collaboration (e.g., potential and future partners, partial partners, dormant partners, beneficiaries of a collaboration's work, other interested or influential stakeholders). This ubiquitous development of meta-relationships often leads to the rapid formation of influential webs of support that weave into, around and out of a collaboration. These webs increase the sustainability of a collaboration and significantly enhance its ability to make progress towards achieving its goals. 



   To read the full post click here.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Bite-size piece: act upon what partners not only make explicit but also imply

Meta-relationships' emphasis upon empathy, mutual understanding, physical attention and face-to-face interaction super-sensitises partners' awareness of each other. This enables partners to not only clearly understand each other's explicit words and actions but also accurately interpret what lies between, within and around these words and actions. This advanced empathy lessens the likelihood that a collaboration's decisions and actions will be undermined by unforeseen reactions and resistance from partners.

To read the full post click here.