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Agreeing your why is the ultimate steering towards understanding your common agenda and creates the momentum needed for the right actions! Nazanin Jenkin
Getting started - back to basics
(originally published on LinkedIn)
Collaboration is not necessarily suitable or wise for all projects and outcomes. It is best suited to complex problems that demand effort to achieve a change. So in the first instance take as much time as you need to agree what you are collaborating on. Having identified an "opportunity or issue", take time to go deeper and look at the identified "needs" from the variety of perspectives. Then re-think the early problem/opportunity definition. Is there one (or more) common big opportunity or issue that requires collaboration or a variety of small isolated matters that can be handled independently, supported by communication and coordination? Investing in this first stage will save time later, avoid re-work and duplication. Recently I have heard a re-occurring rhetoric, "don't talk - act", with an apparent agenda to drive quick and early action. The risk is, this becomes busyness for the sake of busyness, which is wasted effort, breaks down good will and trust, and builds frustration. So don't let consultants or managers or politicians fool you into thinking this early effort is wasted time.
Through my research I developed the iceberg model of collaboration, which showed that the problem definition usually gets buried deep down under other "noise". With the right approach and facilitation, once you have identified the needs and (usually revised) problem definition or opportunity - you can quickly develop an action plan. Recently, following some months of collective work with a variety of governance groups, the leadership team and managers across the organisation in the first stages, I facilitated a collective impact sprint session where integrated groups of kamahi, serving large customer segments across circa eighty service contracts, designed their collective action plans in four hours! In four hours we had agreed integrated plans for the next five years, because we had developed quality foundations first. Together we identified their "quick wins" and they will have their first collective projects completed before the close of 2018. Successful delivery of these early initiatives builds confidence for future investments and longer term projects - my recommendation would be to showcase early and often. Voilà, and there you have it, momentum and capability developed organically!
Do we understand each other
More often than not we just need to start with the basics, and giving careful attention to the language is so very important. Collaboration can mean different things to different people - even those sitting at one table. The Oxford dictionary’s definition is, “the action of working with someone to produce something”. A little limiting, I think. Selden et al. showed it is actually a continuum that spans “cooperation” through to “service integration”. They said, “On the one end is inter-organisational cooperation, supported by informal and personal relationships between management and staff of different organisations. On the other end is formalised service integration, in which two organisations work together to provide a new package of services to their mutual clients”.
In “Managing for Joint Outcomes”, a research project undertaken by the Victoria University School of Government on behalf of the New Zealand public service, Ryan et al. said collaboration entails not just “co-existence” (working alone), “communication” (talking together), “cooperation” (getting together) or “co-ordination” (working together), but something more: namely, “collaboration” (sharing work). Building on this, in a recent LinkedIn article (which I shared), Bill Ryan said collaboration is "..where participants drop their 'I' and become 'We', merging all into a set of common culture, processes, practices and resources. Responsibility and accountability are collective. Mature, effective co-design demands full collaboration between participants ('partners') and, in theory at least (there is some evidence to back this up but a fair amount of faith among believers), is the most likely means to achieve sectoral or whole-of-government goals and objectives (desired outcomes) sought in policy."
First steps - going beyond good intentions
Never assume that there is a shared understanding of the problem definition or opportunity being sought, the purpose for collaboration, the desired outcomes for collaboration or indeed what "collaboration" means or looks like. Take the time needed to explore and agree and keep those agreements as the anchor for the journey. Be prepared to adapt and allow some flexibility - life is not static and things change. We are working in complex adaptive eco-systems - so if you are just focusing on one aspect, it's likely something else is changing and impacting the whole, under the radar. But keep key touch points and use them to steer the way forward.
Moving forward we need to promote a culture that is comfortable with ambiguity and the unknowns; enable ongoing opportunities to learn from failures; and, embrace diversity of thought across portfolios. And, it's time to go beyond "good intentions". So going beyond good intentions, my suggestions are:
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Nazanin Jenkin is a Persian Kiwi - a Persian by descent and a diaspora by circumstance. She lives in New Zealand; along with her husband of thirty years and two surviving, adult children.