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Friday 30 March 2018

Interested in time travel? Identify collaborative time interlocks and carefully plan your approach to them

(To see the other posts in this series go to the March and April 2018 Blog Archive.)

There are predictable and identifiable crucial moments that occur during the development of a collaboration. Seeing these through the lens of time, and because they occur at moments of transition from one stage of a collaboration's development to another, they could be called 'Collaborative Time Interlocks'.

Specifically, these interlocks are most likely to occur between the following stages of a collaboration's development:
  • Informal contacts and discussions.
  • Forming clear understandings (often leading to the creation and agreement of Memorandums of Understanding).
  • Planning and agreeing what the collaboration will do and how it will do it.
  • Expanding the collaboration through increasing the number of partners and agreeing contracts.
  • Implementing the collaboration's plan.
  • Different phases of a collaboration's implementation that occur because of additional and unforeseen pressures and demands.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the collaboration.
  • Ensuring the collaboration's legacy
And they usually take the following forms:
  • Public announcements that signal a collaboration's progress from one of the above stages to another.
  • Extraordinary General meetings called to address urgent and significant issues connected to the purpose, work and development of a collaboration.  
  • Regular formal meetings that coincide with a collaboration's progress from one stage to another (e.g., regular planning and review meetings or AGMs, etc.)
  • Conferences, workshops, presentations, training and other events that coincide with progress from one of the above stages to another.    
  • Calls for new partners.
  • Meetings which bring old and new partners together.
  • Drafting and agreeing contracts and other legally binding documents.
  • Announcing changes to priorities and strategies and amending contract agreements in response to pressures and demands that occur during the implementation phase. (These become additional time interlocks between often quite different phases of implementation.)
  • Interim evaluation meetings that coincide with changes to the work of a collaboration (Again, these become additional interlocks between one phase of implementation and another.)
  • Final evaluation meetings and announcements and presentations/publications of reports re. evaluation findings.
  • Post collaboration meetings that seek to safeguard legacy by ensuring achievements are adopted and adapted more widely and within mainstream practice and institutions.          
The above will range from being high profile within a collaboration to being high profile publicly. This high profile nature, together with the increased scrutiny that accompanies it, can lead to the previously mentioned mix of time perceptions and preferences and time speeds (and any tensions and conflicts they create) becoming more clearly apparent than during a collaboration's routine activity and progress.      

If (through exploration and discussion) these time perceptions and preferences and time speeds have been identified and managed well during the everyday work and progress of the collaboration, it is likely the above time interlocks will act as catalysts that help the collaboration grow and transform into something even more relevant and effective than previously thought possible.

But if these time perceptions and preferences and time speeds have not been identified and managed well, it is likely the above time interlocks will act as anticatalysts that stall progress and cause the collaboration to regress into something less relevant and effective than expected. 

Indeed, in the worst of cases, the time interlocks can become the sites of intense time battles: battlefields where conflicts between differing time perceptions and preferences and between differing time speeds will play themselves out in a chaotically injurious way and result in winners and losers.

The winners will impose their will upon the collaboration: activity may speed-up or slow down; immediate results may take precedence over long-term innovation (or vice versa); maybe past or even future achievements will be promoted as the collaboration's potential 'legacy objects' (and it will be these that the collaboration seeks to promote and develop and have adopted and adapted within the mainstream of established institutional and societal practice).

Meanwhile, the embittered losers of the time wars will not fade away. They will still be very active within the timelines of the collaboration and seek to reset its history and/or change its future by conducting guerrilla time warfare against the ruling 'Time Lords'.
This will power an absurd 'warping of times' within which people use the same evidence as proof of incompetence or competence (dependent upon their beliefs and motivations).

Losers of the past times will persist in travelling back to and focusing upon past times and agreements that support their causes and motives. Original agreements that were changed because of new demands and pressures will be held up as sacrosanct and unchangeable moments in time that should retake their rightful place upon the present and future timelines flowing through the collaboration and its work.

The losers of past times will construct an alternative view of the collaboration's much vaunted future legacy objects, presenting them as irrelevant and worthless white elephants even before they are made reality.   

Losers of the future times will do similar in reverse. They will focus on the future to expunge unwanted aspects of the past. They will focus upon future times and potential new agreements that support their causes and motives. New demands and pressures will be unequivocally emphasised as reasons to dispense with and replace old inflexible agreements that should no longer influence the present and future timelines flowing through the collaboration and its work.

Losers of future times will construct and present an alternative view of the collaboration's much vaunted past legacy objects, presenting them as irrelevant and worthless white elephants that should never have been made reality (and which, consequently, must be urgently demolished and replaced).
The above time rebels will seek to gather partners and other allies who support their cause and who would normally and naturally be separated by the flow of time. The combined presence and cries of these allies will add credibility to the anti-establishment view of the collaboration's achievements and potential.  

The rebels will present risky and crucial moments in the past or future development of a collaboration as actual or potential 'panic points' where bad decisions were or could be made (and where those who made or will make them did or could do more harm than good). 

So, what happens during time interlocks has the potential to transform adequacy into excellence and average into outstanding. It also has the potential to turn tension into conflict and, on occasion, conflict into war: it can lift the collaboration to another level of mutual support and effectiveness -- or plunge it deep into internecine conflict.

A collaboration can increase its chances of realising the above positive outcomes by continuously working to identify and manage the mix of partners' time preferences and perceptions and creating a shared sense of 'collaborative or partnership time' that all involved are comfortable with and willing to maintain. This has been explored in previous posts herehere and here. 

In addition, a collaboration can increase its ability to identify crucial time interlocks and plan their approach to and through them by creating an 'interlock map': a map that not only identifies the key time interlocks but also places them in time and space (what they will be and when and where they will happen).
The project plan will be the foundation and starting point for creating a map of a collaboration's time interlocks. The plan will identify key activities and milestones and their order and timing. It will also identify dependencies: activities that have to be done and milestones that have to be passed before additional activities can be started and further milestones reached.
To create an interlock map, collaborations need only do the following four things:
  1. Identify (from the project plan) the activities, milestones and dependencies that are most likely to coincide with transitions between the previously described stages of a collaboration's development. (These will be the sites of a collaboration's time interlocks.)
  2. Identify, as specifically as possible, the most probable form and nature of the events that will function as interlocks. Will they be announcements? If so, what kind of announcements will they be (e.g., face to face, through the press, online, a mixture of different kinds)? Will they be meetings and/or presentations? If so, what kind of meetings and/or presentations will they be (formal or informal, public or private, etc.)? Will they take the form of other events (e.g., launch events, conferences, workshops, training days, etc.)? Again, what kind of events will they be?          
  3. Focus upon and carefully plan for these time interlocks. Identify who will be (or should be) affected by and/or involved in the time interlocks and what has been done to manage these people's perceptions of the collaboration and their preferences for how it does its work (including their perceptions and preferences about time's passing and use). Identify what else could be done to ensure that passing through the time interlocks will lead to positive outcomes. Make sure that an interlock's form, feel and style are appropriate to its purpose and the needs and interests of those affected by and/or involved in it.       
  4. Regularly review and revise the time interlocks you have identified. Add or remove (or alter the timing, placement and form) of the time interlocks in response to changing pressures and demands, etc. Pay particular attention to changes and interim evaluations that occur during the implementation phase of a collaboration's work
Probably the simplest and most straightforward way to create an interlock map is to add it as an overlay or supplement to the project plan (with a summary of the key points incorporated into the Gantt chart).

The importance of carefully planning one's approach to the events that act as interlocks between a collaboration's stages of development is illustrated by the following examples:
  • Canadian collaboration working to enhance the way police dealt with those living with mental illness sought to move effectively from informal contacts and discussions to clear understandings (which would, in turn, quickly lead to information sharing and joint planning). It did this by focusing upon and carefully preparing for its first major collaborative interlock: a three-day conference which brought together 320 participants representing the police, those living with mental illness and those who supported them. Careful thought was given to the purpose and approach of this conference. Crucially, the leaders of the collaboration ensured that the discussions and information sharing begun at the conference would keep going via a virtual space that could be accessed by all interested parties. This fused the conference interlock to the collaboration's next stage of development, consolidating the transition from informal contacts and discussions towards clear understandings (which quickly led to joint planning).
  • A carefully timed and thought through interlock served a similar purpose in bringing together the bitterly opposed sides in the long-running conflict in Northern Ireland, UK. In the late 1990s Mo Mowlem, the then Northern Ireland Secretary, attended some carefully timed and stage-managed meetings with Loyalist and IRA prisoners at the Maze Prison. These meetings were controversial at the time, but they moved cooperation between the parties involved from informal 'off the record' discussions (and disagreements) towards 'on the record' understandings (and the potential for agreements). They started the process that eventually led to the Good Friday Agreement and two decades of peace in Northern Ireland.
  • The creation of an Australian Bill of Rights provides an example of an interlock that moved a collaboration from the planning stage to the expanding (and beyond this the implementing) stage. The interlock was in the form of a 'call for contributions'. Careful thought was given to the mode and manner of this call and the decision was made to do it online using the 'wiki' approach. This approach to the 'call for contributions' interlock was particularly effective because it not only ensured the collaboration expanded, gaining contributors from across the Australian population, but also increased the chances of creating a 'legacy of rights' that would become part of mainstream society's expectations. An additional and significant factor in the effectiveness of this 'call interlock' was its careful division into two parts: the first was a call to the general public for contributions; the second was a call to the legal profession to clean-up the contributions and make them legally compliant. This helped ensure the quality, credibility and sustainability of the Bill of Rights that was produced.
  • The collaborative effort that created the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq progressed successfully from the planning stage to expanding its membership and then performing by paying detailed attention to its 'audition process interlock'. This process was carried out using YouTube, which helped increase access to the auditions. Eventually, these auditions were independently assessed and made available for public viewing. This supported the NYOI's aspiration of being as open and transparent as possible in its dealings with musicians and others wanting to support and become involved in its work. The audition process was also carefully monitored so that if anything did go wrong it could be dealt with quickly. This was invaluable when some unsuccessful applicants did not receive their rejection letters because of incorrect email addresses: email addresses were quickly checked and a courteous and beautifully worded rejection letter was sent to those who needed it.
  • A collaboration that helped Columbian coffee growers enhance the quality of their lives through improving their farming and business approaches ensured that the training provided to coffee growers and their families became an effective interlock between planning and implementing. The training not only provided the knowledge and skills people needed to participate fully in the collaboration's work but also, because of its informal and family focused approach, ensured that women and children became influential in how and when this work was done. This achieved two important and interlinked things: 1. it ensured that vital knowledge, skills and experience were shared as widely as possible within communities; 2. it ensured (through the involvement of children) that vital knowledge, skills and experience were carried into future generations. These two things, through enhancing the sustainability of the results and benefits achieved (embedding them deeply into many people's everyday and future lives), ensured the collaboration's legacy.

Monday 19 March 2018

Interested in time travel? Vary and balance your time speed

(To see the other posts in this series go to the March and April 2018 Blog Archive.)

Collaborations need to vary and balance their 'time speed': they need to work within slow 'evolutionary' time and fast 'urgent' time.

Slow evolutionary time slows apparent progress but increases innovation. It encourages people to think transformationally and plan strategically: to reflect, to create and share knowledge, and seek lasting consensus inside and outside a collaboration that will ensure effective and lasting results.

Fast urgent time quickens apparent progress but decreases innovation. It encourages people to think transactionally and plan tactically: to cut quick, often bilateral, deals inside and outside a collaboration that will immediately gain demanded results.

The need to vary and attain a balance between these time speeds is illustrated by the experiences of Regional and Local Strategic Partnerships in the UK. When these partnerships were first created, a strategic planning cycle of three years was imposed. This created an imbalance in the time speeds applied to the partnership: fast urgent time was emphasised at the expense of slow evolutionary time; deals were cut to ensure short-term wins rather than knowledge created and shared to realise superior and lasting results. When the effects of this imbalance were recognised, they were addressed by increasing the planning cycle to five years. This encouraged partnerships to invest in slow evolutionary time to enhance the quality of their results.

The tensions created by the need to work in both slow and fast time further complicate the mix of clashing time perceptions and preferences present within a collaboration. (The most significant ones have previously been described here and here.) People often feel pulled in one direction or another by the demands of one or other of these time speeds, and people's perceptions about how quickly things need to be achieved and preferences for specific periods of time (e.g., the past or the future in general, or past or future agreements and actions) will often subtly influence the direction they favour.

Those who favour the past will demand things slow down so the collaboration can reflect upon the achievements of the past and how they can be safeguarded and built upon. Those who favour the future will not hesitate to create a feeling of momentum that will carry the collaboration speedily towards the demands of the urgent new challenges they have identified as important. Those who perceive the collaborative 'watched pot never boiling' will obviously embrace the demands of fast urgent time; those not watching or caring about the collaborative pot's rate of temperature increase will be content to let 'evolution' take its cause'.

Behavioural cues of a preference for slow evolutionary time or fast urgent time are virtually the same as those previously described here. However, the motivations for these preferences are different. The motivations for preferring particular time periods or having specific perceptions of time are based upon personal habit and experience and/or influenced by the interests, cultures and priorities of organisations, etc. The motivations for preferring evolutionary slow time or urgent fast time are more fundamental: the former is based upon the motivation to be effective above all else; the latter is based upon the motivation to be efficient above all else. In this sense, the respective motivations for preferring either slow evolutionary time or fast urgent time could be said to be 'purer' than those driving preferences for specific time periods or specific ways of perceiving the passing and pace of time.

Why is this significant?

It is significant because the more fundamental motivations that lie behind slow evolutionary time and fast urgent time are likely to exist within and influence the behaviour of all partners, regardless of partners' or partners' organisations' preferences for specific time periods (e.g., the past or the future) or habitual ways of perceiving the passing and pace of time. This means that tapping into these fundamental motivations can be a powerful way of creating a pulse or feel of time that all those working within a collaboration are comfortable with and willing to help maintain.

And an important aspect of the above 'pulse and feel of time' is attaining a balance between slow evolutionary time and fast urgent time that is appropriate and effective for the collaboration.

The previously described mix of time preferences and perceptions will still rub-up against and tangle with each other, causing external scaring and internal conflicts and damage, but the fundamental need for effectiveness (through investment in slow evolutionary time) and efficiency (through application of fast urgent time) will ensure the vital organs of the collaboration remain intact and that its heart continues to power the flow of the collaboration's activity and progress.

To tap into partners' fundamental need to be efficient (through applying fast urgent time) and effective (through investing in slow evolutionary time) two things need to be done: 
  1. The clutter of time perceptions and preferences that partners bring with them based on their habits and experiences and work with other organisations need to be temporarily put to one side.
  2. Partners need to be encouraged to see the collaboration they are working within as an independent entity with its own unique needs and potential.       
A practical way of achieving this is to make partners aware of the collaborative conundrum and then use 'Doughnut Thinking' to emphasise the independence and uniqueness of the collaboration.

The collaborative (or partnership) conundrum states the following:

'Partnerships are formed to achieve new things and transform situations. Exactly what these can and will be, however, cannot be known until the partners have come together and begun communicating and sharing their opinions, experiences, knowledge and skills, etc.'

Drawing partners' attention towards this conundrum will create a necessary gap between the demands and goals of the collaboration's work and partners' responses to them.

Without this gap, partners will likely respond with their habitual ways of seeing and doing things (including the way they perceive and manage time); the shadow of old thinking and doing will be cast over the new demands and unique potential of the collaboration, limiting its efficiency and effectiveness. Most crucially, the collaboration's ability to innovate will be significantly diminished.                     
With this gap, however, partners will be able to collect their immediate reactions (including their habitual ways of perceiving and managing time) and put them to one side for a while. They will then increase their openness to new ideas and approaches and their motivation to use them to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the collaboration. Most crucially, the collaboration's ability to innovate will be significantly increased.

Once this gap has been created, 'Doughnut Thinking' (which has previously been described here) will help partners address the collaborative conundrum. Doughnut Thinking will encourage partners to not only see the collaboration as an independent entity possessing its own unique mix of people, experiences, knowledge, expertise, skills and potential, etc., but also identify those things that can be done and achieved that could not be done and achieved (or, most probably, even thought of) before the collaboration formed. 

To encourage partners to gain a balance between effectiveness (slow evolutionary time) and efficiency (fast urgent time) that is most appropriate to the collaboration, partner's Doughnut Thinking must focus on not only what the collaboration can do but also how it will do it. (When and where will it do it and, importantly, how will it invest and use the time needed to do it effectively and efficiently?)

By creating a gap between the stimulus of the collaboration's demands and goals and partners' responses to them, the chance is created to clear away partners' habitual and often limiting ways of thinking and doing. 

When partners grasp this chance and begin to see the uniquely challenging and opportunity rich nature of the collaborative work before them, it is likely they will appreciate the need for (and be motivated to find) new ways to be efficient and effective. These will include finding new ways to manage the balance between slow evolutionary time and fast urgent time rather than favouring one above the other and, through this imbalance, failing to achieve the collaboration's potential.