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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.
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