I'm thinking about...
An edict to collaborate doth not collaboration make. Nazanin Jenkin
Fill your kete
(originally published on LinkedIn)
An edict to collaborate doth not collaboration make...yet somehow, I see this sort of expectation again and again! The thing with collaboration is that folk think they get it and in some way many have some sort of an intuitive understanding of what it is. However, this in itself can be a problem and simply reduce collaboration to a buzzword! We've got to go beyond gut instincts and buzzwords and fill our kete (basket).
Collaboration doesn't just happen - it needs to be a strategic decision, supported by a change implementation programme. It seems so bizarre to expect folk to wake up one day with some renewed thinking that tells them how and when to collaborate, because politician(s) or senior leader(s) decided it was the way to go. Some effort is required to deliver successful collaboration and we have to understand the context, to fully comprehend the effort that is needed to deliver what is essentially a new way of working across the NZ pubic sector. Here I share a small sample of my research literature review where I looked at this context.
Trajectory of New Zealand Public Service Reforms
In the quest for better public services from the mid-1980s through to the mid-1990s almost every aspect of “public management in New Zealand has been redesigned, reorganised, or reconfigured in some way” (Boston & Pallot, 1997, p.382). Through the 1990s this change was heavily influenced by Hood’s work on New Public Management (NPM) (Hood, 1991,1995). It had a strong focus on changes in public accounting and was embraced at the time by many as a paradigm shift for the public sector from public administration and management (PAM) (Christensen & Lægreid, 2002; McLaughlin, Osborne, & Ferlie, 2002; Osborne, 2006). The New Zealand reforms through the decade 1986 -1996 were considered by some to be “a more severe approach” (Pollitt & Summa, 1997) and by others as being radical and progressive (Duncan & Chapman, 2010, 2012). In 1996, Schick undertook a review of the New Zealand reforms, which drew some constructive conclusions and highlighted a range of areas for consideration (see Duncan & Chapman, 2010). In 2008, two decades following the reforms Graham Scott (2008, p. 4) stated that: “After 20 years of experimenting the government should try again to get to grips with the real issues….and chart a course that is more promising than the one we are on.”
In broad brush summary, having "dabbled" in some way with New Public Management (NPM), New Public Value (NPV), and, New Public Governance (NPG), in 2011, the then National Government introduced Better Public Services (BPS). See trajectory summary below - from “Picking up the pace in the public services” by A. Morrison, 2014. The early reforms delivered some efficiency gains, largely through reduced headcount, but were unable to deliver increased effectiveness and the desired outcomes. As Andrew Kibblewhite, Head of Policy Profession (HoPP) indicated in a 2015 address to the Institute of Public Administration New Zealand (IPANZ) “the momentum they tantalisingly promised to deliver didn’t eventuate”.
Competition to Collaboration
Whilst I don't want to over simplify the complexities of reforms and policy making and I acknowledge that there are many scholars more learned than I in this field - it is evident that the move to BPS was essentially a move from a competitive model of service delivery to a collaborative model. We are now once again in a new era, with the introduction of the first New Zealand "Wellbeing Budget" by the current Labour-led Government and the "re-introduction" of the four-wellbeings for Local Government. Successful delivery of this approach is absolutely reliant on successful collaboration across some complex portfolios and issues. However, to date, despite many policy initiatives that require collaboration, on the whole the anticipated changes to a transformational collaborative public services delivery have yet to eventuate. We have definitely seen pockets of success (examples include: SmartStart, the Healthy Homes Initiative and the Kaikoura Harbour Remediation to name some); but we have yet to experience the anticipated transformational new way of working and integrated delivery approach across services for citizens, communities and whānau.
Having journeyed a pathway of "competition" for so many years, it seems it should be obvious that some effort is needed to turn the tide around to "collaboration". This is fundamentally a new way of working, requiring different skills, competencies and capabilities and undergirded by a "new" approach to leadership. We have a workforce trained in the old way of working and a system designed for essentially silo delivery across agencies and local authorities. As mentioned already, though we have seen some successes, often against all odds, overall we continue to work in a culture that has a dominant fear of failure, continues to struggle with diversity and rewards "known knowns". Even when we enable collaboration, we do not incentivise it and so the effort appears to be wasted. And, if delivering collaboration across teams and organisations in this environment wasn't challenging enough, “generation collaboration” brings four generations of employees together and has to be relevant to all. In short, bringing successful collaboration to fruition is no mean task for any leader. As one US politician is famously quoted as saying, "Collaboration is like cottage cheese. It occasionally smells bad and separates easily."
Fundamentally, collaboration is a strategic change programme that requires set-up, the right people, capability development, resource allocation, an implementation plan etc. Delivering complex portfolios of change across multiple organisations doesn't just happen because it's a good idea!
Filling our kete
Increasingly, my work with organisations takes us along the whole journey: why, what and how - strategy to implementation, supported by capability development. The lines between strategy and OD are blurred as we move into the collaboration arena.
Maybe as a nation of rugby lovers we can draw on some learning from the sport – a coach would not pick any individual club player and expect them to perform at test match level without appropriate training and practice: nor can leaders expect that of employees. It takes time, effort and investment to be ready on game day. Further, rugby players work and compete separately when members of a club team but, when they come together as the All Blacks – they are one. There has to be provision of environments for learning, in a controlled way, where we can fail safely and learn from that learning quickly. It’s exciting to see examples of these rising in NZ such as the Service Innovation Lab in Wellington and the Auckland Co-Design Lab, to name a couple. There are also workshops and seminars where folk share their learning working with collaboration, a number of which I have been privileged to be part of. The conversations are dynamic and the desire to learn palpable. However, even though there are enthusiasts for this new way of working, for the majority learning how and when to use these sorts of environments and the approaches they offer can be challenging enough. The transition from traditional old ways of working to dynamic and adaptable approaches has been slower than anticipated. We need to find ways to increase the momentum and grow the champions.
For those of us that want to work in this new way and lead in this arena, we have to own our own learning and fill our personal kete with tools and frameworks. It takes time and it’s an investment, but heck it’s worth it! After a number of years of research, practice and wānanga- one thing I am certain of: there is absolutely no “one” way or approach that is suitable for all situations. Each framework that I have looked at, trained in, and “played with” has some value to add – but the clever bit is learning how to mix and match and integrate for the specifics of the context and people and culture. Moving into the maturity of working in this new collaborative way will take time and we will make mistakes along the way, but that should not stop us taking steps in the right direction. The internet offers us unprecedented opportunities to learn with global communities and learning can be an exciting adventure.
In an earlier article I talked about some key collaborative behaviours and skills. Building on that, some collaboration frameworks and approaches that I have found useful include: Appreciative Inquiry, the Cynefin Framework, the Constellation Model, Collective Impact, ISO 44001, Twyford's Power of Co. and Design Thinking. I don't believe in "standards" per se - they're all tools and frameworks that can add value at any given point. Therefore, I choose not to be “an apostle” for any one approach, but rather to work with a portfolio – I am still on a journey and my learning has been to not hold on to any specific approach too tightly, to be open and to listen closely. In my work I design workshops and training to suit the needs of the context.
In my next article I will take you through the first steps of getting started with a collaboration initiative.
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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.