Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Make it simple: a lesson from Myanmar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Get the most out of a partnership's latency phase: think about it differently

I have previously written about what I call a partnership's Latency Phase. Essentially, it is a period during a partnership's development within which progress towards results seems very slow or indeed non-existent.

This happens because partners' attention and energy becomes focused upon specific questions about the partnership's interests and goals, its overall credibility and resourcefulness and the competing needs and expectations of partners.        

I identified five ways in which partners can address these questions and effectively manage the latency phase, using it as a springboard for achieving their partnership's potential. (To read the full article, which is also a chapter in my book 'Sleeping with the Enemy', click here.)

The five ways identified focus mainly upon addressing trust and relationship issues between partners, acknowledging and addressing partners' differing needs and expectations and managing perceptions about what constitutes progress and what needs to be done by when.    

Recently, I read How to Create an Exponential Mindset by Mark Bonchek. This article highlights that as well as addressing the above issues and changing perceptions, partners also need to change the way they think.

Most of us, because of our education and training, think in in an incremental way: we think logically and methodically about how we can make things better; we seek to see steady straight-line progress towards our goals.

When steady progress cannot so readily be seen, as during a partnership's Latency Phase, an incremental mindset can quickly lead to frustration. This frustration can then cause partners to rush through the Latency Phase without dealing with its issues. In more extreme cases partners may dismiss the worth of the partnership and make a swift and probably premature exit from it.

The incremental way of thinking creates an expectation gap between what the partnership seems to be achieving and what we perceive it should be achieving.   

To effectively negotiate our way through a partnership's Latency Phase we need to develop what Mark Bonchek calls an exponential mindset or way of thinking: a way of thinking that accepts and works with initial uncertainty and apparently slow progress in order to achieve increasingly speedy and significant progress later on.   

Many partnerships are formed to address issues that are messy and difficult and which no single organisation has been able to address effectively using traditional mainstream approaches. Therefore rather than finding ways to make things better, the partners are expected to find ways to do things differently.

Doing things differently requires finding different people to work with in different ways, finding different ways of combining new, existing and sometimes unexpected resources, and being open to different and probably unforeseen opportunities, activities, outcomes and solutions which appear 'as-and-when' and sometimes in parallel. (It requires creating ever increasing triangles of trust and influence and speculating in new partners and apparent side issues.)

Rather than seeking to see steady progress towards foreseeable goals, partners need to see their way through the apparent lack of straight line obvious progress. This process takes time and its outcomes are unpredictable. If, however, partners do see it through they can eventually find themselves travelling increasingly speedily up an ever-widening exponential curve leading towards a vast array of new and innovative ways of doing things.

The exponential way of thinking encourages us to accept very slow initial progress as a necessary precondition for eventually achieving things increasingly quickly, effectively and, most importantly, innovatively.

(To find out how to develop an exponential mindset read Mark Bonchek's article, the link to which is given above.)

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Clearing the filters and joining the dots: encouraging experts to work collaboratively

Groups of experts can often find it a challenge to think across sectors and work collaboratively.

This is because, very understandably, their training and experiences condition them to see other sectors related to and impacting upon their work through the biased filters of their own expertise and specialisms.         

Here is a great example of how to encourage a group of experts to adjust their filters and begin seeing and 'joining the dots' between the differing sectors that impact upon their work:    

The example is from part of the IMPARTS Project, which seeks to integrate mental and physical healthcare in research, training and clinical services in several major London hospitals.
The example highlights three key things:
  1. The power that one strong and emotive issue has to increase awareness and catalyse collaboration and action.
  2. The importance of introducing and analysing strong and emotive issues in a ways that are credible for the intended audience.
  3. Reinforcing key messages with personal experiences, case studies and role-plays. 
The strong and emotive issue selected for attention was the effect of mental illness upon physical health and life expectancy. 

The audience, consisting of experienced and expert health professionals, was presented with research which suggested that, on average, people suffering from mental illness would suffer more physical illness and die ten years earlier than others in the population.

Very importantly, this expert audience was encouraged to look beneath the shocking headline statistics and analyse and assess the research supporting them. A widely accepted and credible assessment tool from was used to do this. 

The process of methodically and objectively analysing the research, identifying its strengths and weaknesses and then assessing the validity of its findings greatly enhanced the confidence the health professionals had in it.

Once this confidence in the research had been created, its key messages and recommendations could be reinforced through the sharing of personal experiences (which, having been convinced of their relevance and importance, people were now willing to share) and the use of participative case studies and role-plays (which, again having been convinced of their relevance and importance, people were now willing to do).

So, to encourage expert audiences to think across sectors and behave collaboratively:
  • Focus upon a strong and emotive issue.
  • Make it credible and believable in their eyes.
  • Reinforce key messages with personal stories and memorable case studies and role-plays.
This will help clear the filters and join the dots!

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Getting the most out of a partnership's latency phase

What is the latency phase?

To start with a scientific example:

When water is heated gradually towards boiling point, there is a period of time, just before it boils, when its temperature stops rising and remains constant. During this phase the energy from the heat applied is being used to change the internal state of the water, to loosen up its molecules in readiness for its transformation into water vapour and steam. Once this internal, hidden activity is completed the temperature of the water begins to rise again, until it reaches 100 degrees and vapours and steam rise into the air. The period of constant temperature observed just before the water begins to boil is called its latency phase.

Many Partnerships experience their own version of the latency phase.

Working in partnership with other organisations can be time consuming and resource intensive. Sometimes, a partnership can seem like a gigantic black hole, pulling in all the time and resources around it without any glimmer or shimmer of a reaction. It can feel as if an eternity is passing, with more and more resources disappearing into the abyss and increasingly frenetic activity observable around its edges that is focused upon managing and slowing the flow.   

Eventually, however, after the partnership black hole has spent ages sating its enormous appetite, the seemingly impossible happens. The black hole transforms into an intensely bright globe that radiates energy to all corners of its universe. Also, where previously it seemed to pull time and resources greedily and violently into itself like a gluttonous ogre, it now attracts them without effort because of its magnetic dynamism and the unselfish sharing of its innate brilliance.

When is a partnership’s latency phase most likely to occur?

The latency phase is most likely to manifest itself several weeks or months into the life span of the partnership, depending on how often the partners get together. The initial coming together of the partnership will usually be characterised by lots of enthusiasm, fuelled mainly by the newness and novelty of the project and the meeting of new and interesting people. This enthusiasm will carry the development of the partnership forwards for a while: an overall purpose or vision will be agreed upon, and an initial plan of action drawn up. Both during this process, however, and the related process of agreeing roles and responsibilities, partners will start to think more deeply about their place within the partnership and the nature of their relationships with others around the table. They will begin to notice and analyse the internal and interpersonal dynamics of the partnership. The latency phase will probably begin soon after partners begin to think in this way.                 

Whether or not the latency phase leads to the positive transformation of a partnership depends very much upon how it is perceived.  

If the latency phase is perceived negatively, as a source of delay and inactivity, then it will cause frustration and people will want to battle through it as quickly as possible. If this happens it is likely that the partnership will not put sufficient energy into the formation of its internal processes and relationships and consequently experience difficulty in transforming itself into an effective, results rich enterprise. If, however, the latency phase is perceived positively, as a phase that can, if given time, work some powerful magic on the internal workings of the partnership, significant attention and energy is likely to be devoted to it, making the previously described transformation much more likely to happen. 

What, specifically, is going on during the latency phase of a partnership?

Individual partners are trying to find answers to seven important, fundamental questions:

1.   How can we begin to trust each other?

2.   How can we effectively manage the social and cultural differences between us?

3.   How can we balance the core goals and interests of the partnership with those of the individual partners involved?

4.   How can we effectively address the issues and problems related to partners’ differing environments and localities?

5.   How can we effectively manage the expectations we have of each other and the partnership in general?

6.   What are our individual communication needs and how can we communicate with each other most effectively?

7.   How can we build an attractive, accessible and resourceful platform or foundation for the partnership that will act as an effective focus for its activities?

All the above questions are centred upon a partnership’s internal needs, processes and relationships, and because almost all of them involve the facilitation and management of interpersonal relationships, they can take time to explore, understand and address effectively. Any stakeholders observing a partnership during this time could be forgiven for thinking that it had ground to a halt and become nothing more than a talking shop. In fact, this talk is laying the foundations for future success.   

How can we ensure that a partnership’s latency phase becomes a catalyst for effective partnership working?

If we want to ensure the latency phase becomes a catalyst for transforming a partnership into a bright, unselfish beacon of achievement, we need to manage its fragile dynamics very carefully. Five specific things we can do are: 
Perceive the latency phase positively, acknowledging the crucial role it plays in helping a partnership develop and realise its potential.

Explicitly explore and address the seven fundamental questions partners tend to ask
during the latency phase (as described earlier).
Factor in enough time for the effective management of the latency phase. It is helpful
to remember that a complex partnership arrangement can take a lot longer to achieve
results than a single organisation working on similar tasks. This time will be added to even
further if the complex dynamics of a partnership’s latency phase are not addressed

Hold regular, informal meetings between partners at differing locations and times.
An informal approach will help partners relax, form personal relationships and share their
wants, needs, hopes, fears, expectations and aspirations; it will lay the foundations for trust.

Meeting partners on their own patch and at times that fit in with their day to day activities can of itself go a long way towards building trust, gaining better social and cultural understanding, and appreciating differing expectations and communication needs. It will also highlight the practical challenges presented by the locality and environment within which the partnership is working. 
Create a shared sense of partnership time. This is perhaps the most abstract but in many ways one of the most powerful things a partnership can do to help ensure its safe and productive passage through the latency phase. We all perceive the passing of time in different ways. These perceptions are influenced by the cultures we live and work within and how important or central an issue or subject is to us. If we are used to working within a fast paced environment we will become frustrated if results are not achieved quickly. If we are used to a slower pace, then not achieving results quickly will not worry us so much. If an issue is important to us it can often, regardless of the actual amount of time involved, feel as if ages are passing before it is addressed. If an issue is not important to us then the amount of time passing before it is addressed is of little or no personal significance, so even long periods of inactivity can go by almost unnoticed.  

These differing perceptions of time and the significance of its passing will all be interacting with each other as a partnership comes together and goes through its latency phase. If these perceptions are not managed effectively they will cause mutual frustration, misunderstandings and perhaps even conflict. 

Encouraging partners to think explicitly about how they perceive, react to and use the time they spend working together will discourage unhelpful preconceptions about what should be happening by when. It will help create a new, shared sense of pace and time that is appropriate to a partnership, what it needs to achieve and how it needs to achieve it.

Discussions about partners' expectations and obligations, together with discussions about the balance and timing of rewards allocated to partners, are practical ways to create this shared sense of partnership time.  

For more about collaboration go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Creative collaboration is born

Here is an initiative from within the NHS which is seeking to encourage and enable collaboration across the broad community of services that provide and support maternity care:

MatExp - In Your Shoes

When I read Florence Wilcock's first-hand account of the initiative, I was immediately struck by the enthusiasm and energy leaping out at me from its words, images and videos. Then, I quickly noticed how much excellent collaborative practice the initiative contained. 

I will not describe the initiative in detail, I urge you to read Florence's very engaging article for that, but I will summarise the excellent collaborative practice I identified within it.

So far, I have I identified that the initiative:
  1. Created high profile time-limited actions and activities to encourage engagement, feedback and involvement.
  2. Created a sense of occasion and made events enjoyable and stimulating.
  3. Made materials enjoyable and stimulating to use.
  4. Used a very wide range of IT, Internet and social media not only 'after the event' to record and inform but also 'in real time' during the event to engage and involve.
  5. Created an ongoing and publicly available record of activities and achievements which not only informed and engaged but also provided a contextual and qualitative narrative which supplemented and enriched the initiative's ongoing and final evaluation.
  6. Created space to take stock of progress and achievements and identify ways to build upon them.
  7. Provided very easy ways to comment and get involved, both virtual and real world.
  8. Was aware of others' work and willing and able to build upon it.
  9. Was willing and able to not only pass on the baton but also allow others to run with it: to empower others to develop the initiative's ideas and activities in their own ways to meet their own needs and circumstances.
  10. Was open to change and the unexpected and willing and able to embrace and exploit them to advantage.
  11. Had a clear and written-down aim that evolved with and out of the initiative.
  12. Trained recruits and volunteers in the skills required for effective facilitation, consultation and collaboration.
  13. Expected and embraced a significant amount of messiness and chaos and was willing and able to work within in it to tease out valuable and unexpected perspectives, experiences, insights and ideas.
  14. Identified ways to maintain energy, pace, enthusiasm, momentum and progress.
  15. Encouraged and maintained a focus upon practical action and individual responsibility.
  16. Shared personal stories.
  17. Identified stories and scenarios that people not only understood but also wanted to engage with and comment upon.
  18. Ensured that those introducing and driving the initiative modelled enthusiasm, commitment and a collaborative approach.
  19. Continually looked for and created opportunities to widen influence and activity.

In terms of insights about collaborative working good practice, this is one of the richest accounts I have discovered. It is well worth a read.    

MatExp - In Your Shoes

Friday, 6 May 2016

Sleeping with the Enemy - Achieving Collaborative Success: 5th Edition Now Available at Amazon

'An excellent book that outlines the value and benefit of collaborative working...' 

This book is about collaborative and partnership working best practice. It will help you achieve the following:

  • Realise the potential of partnerships and collaborations;
  • Engage effectively with hard-to-reach stakeholders;
  • Lead partnerships and collaborations effectively;
  • Work well with competitors;
  • Identify differing organisational cultures and manage the interactions between them;
  • Manage partnership discussions effectively;
  • Encourage partnerships and collaborations to develop and move forward;
  • Deal effectively with the conflicting demands that lie at the heart of collaborative efforts;
  • Evaluate partnership processes and outcomes;
  • Appreciate and use the four principles that underpin effective collaborative working.

As well as including a chapter entitled 'Why Should the Devil Have All the Best Collaborations?', which explores what we can learn from the way criminals collaborate, the 5th edition offers two new chapters and a new appendix.

The first new chapter explores the concept of trading styles and how they evolve during the life of a collaboration. The second new chapter offers six principles for encouraging and gaining willing and able involvement from key partners and other stakeholders.

The new appendix offers some of the most popular posts from the author's 'Cutting Edge Partnerships' blog. 

'Sleeping with the Enemy' is full of tools, techniques and approaches that you can apply to your day-to-day collaborative activities, and many of the book's ideas are explained through the use of practical examples and short case studies. If you need to set up, maintain and develop a partnership or any other collaborative effort, this book is an indispensable and insightful companion.

To read more and get the book click here.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Bite-size piece from the new 5th edition of 'Sleeping with the Enemy': take risks and invest in apparent side issues

The Eugene Bell Foundation and other NGOs dedicated to eradicating TB from the world are taking the risk of collaborating with the North Korean Government, which is conventionally seen as untrustworthy and unreliable. They are investing considerable time and resources into helping the NK Government treat and cure those of its citizens who have the disease. This task is made even more challenging by the fact that many people are infected with a drug resistant strain.

The gamble of collaborating with the North Korean Government has paid off. All the partners involved have been able to co-ordinate effectively and the initiative has cured 70% of the patients it has treated.

Given the massive size of the above health problem, investing additional time in encouraging a small group of Harvard Undergraduates to raise $5000 to treat one North Korean patient seems laudable but somewhat insignificant (apart from to the patient concerned of course). However, encouraging this type of initiative, although seemingly insignificant within the greater scheme of things, will eventually help achieve the long-term aims of the NGOs and their North Korean partners. This is for two main reasons: 1. it makes the problem immediate, personal and memorable; 2. it raises awareness of the issues amongst (and encourages involvement from) those who are most likely to become valuable advocates and donors or become much needed aid workers and medical staff.

The 5th edition will be available at Amazon within the next few weeks.