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Now here is a real challenge, how to lead when actually you don't have line authority, you don't necessarily have attendees who share the same priorities and goals.

So I thought a very personal view of leadership within collaborative partnerships, focused on leadership in times of dramatic change and from the perspective of complexity theory. Thanks also to Professor Ralph Stacey for his thought provoking insights into this arena which have informed my thinking.

Having 'consulted' for many years in a plethora of organisations from commercial through to public service and charity on areas from leadership, through team working and subsequently high performance cultures, I am left with some common threads that seem to always be present in those that work most effectively. These include;

What actually are organisations or indeed Partnerships?

Perhaps it's better to look at them as a 'system' constructed by its members through the interaction of its members. So to be a bit off-the-wall, an organization is just a thought, not a thing. An imaginary construct of what is happening. Fundamentally it works because on the whole people come to work each day to do tasks that, should they agree locally it is right to do, and this extends out throughout the whole group, it all works as a whole rather than by 'divine direction' from the top.

If leaders do decide what we do and set the vision, then why are we here now? Would they have designed the current position for any one of their organisations? NO.

So, the organisation emerges. The effective partnership emerges.

Ultimately, if individuals interact positively and agree what they do is right, this affects others near them and the overall thing creates patterns that appear coherent and effective – known therefore as emergence – though one has to accept somewhat unpredictable.

Ethics and the critical role it plays in leadership success.

One final facet to include of course is the issue of ethics – not so much ethics of the whole organisation, but the ethics of each person in the individual decisions at the most local of levels (1-2-1) through the individual actions we take.

Let's face it, one point I have talked about at the NPIA on this theme, is that ethics form the basis of trust, and trust is only gained through actions (I see what you do – so you mean it, but only believe you when you repeat it consistently over time).

So the big question is, what do you do if you know this or understand this construct and want to influence and effect good leadership?

Leadership therefore in our context is NOT a 'heroic figure', but more all about the local interactions between human beings.

Too many people are pre-occupied with the 'game' and not thinking how to decide what is best, so are engaged in 'politics, persuasion and negotiation' rather than what actually the whole thing is aiming to achieve. So for effective leadership we should stop thinking of pre-designed solutions or ultimate master plans, but more how to influence the 'group' in the 'right direction'.

Excellent leadership (which is in my mind a social phenomenon arising through the interaction between people) is where others recognise you lead and you recognise their roles. Leadership is therefore co-created.

Leaders therefore must:

  1. Interact locally (regularly)
  2. Communicate to large numbers of people. However remember the interpretation is how it is taken up by local interactions. Pronouncements are but gestures and the effect once again is through local responses – we can't control how it is interpreted.
  3. Understand how it works locally which ultimately is by 'conversations'. Conversations within groups and between individuals.
  4. Realise they are leaders, only if they are sensitive to the situation and able to articulate what is emerging, which helps the group move forward and on.

Leaders therefore have to:

  1. Widen and deepen communication to help the group move forward
  2. Try and explore what to do in change (options)
  3. Stimulate ordinary conversations in times of anxiety – why? Because if we don't, people jump to conclusions as they are looking for safety (or to meet their own agenda).
  4. Live longer with being anxious so they keep the conversations going longer so a solution arises that is far better than jumping to quick fixes and mundane solutions no one in the end believes really work.
  5. Be self-reflective to realise they should not be idealised as this can lead to ultimate denigration – let's face it, Barak Obama realises this when he says he is 'not the Messiah' or has all the answers.
  6. Help others take the next step.

So, I agree with those that say selection and training of leaders of partnerships is essential. That same training should open leaders' minds to all these insights and help them understand how to manage this uncertainty, while finding the way forward for themselves and for the group as a whole. Should you wish to know more, or even put something in place for your leaders please do not hesitate to drop me a line.

Following on from my earlier post in March around leadership in collaborative working with external partners, I just read the following extract from HBS written by Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer looking at the same challenges with collaboration within a company.

Riddle: What ubiquitous structure of contemporary organizations around the world makes for the best of times at work — and the worst of times, too? Answer: Collaboration.

We have written here about our project collecting daily work dairies from over 200 people to understand the effect of everyday events inside organizations on employee inner work life — emotions, perceptions, and motivations. When we analyzed the events that occurred on the very best days people wrote about, and contrasted those events with the very worst days, a peculiar thing happened.

Collaboration — working with others on a given day — didn't function like other work events. Nearly all of the events on the best days were exact opposites of events on the worst days — like making progress versus suffering setbacks. The good days had a much higher percentage of "good" events, like progress, than "bad" events, like setbacks; the bad days were the reverse. But, oddly, collaboration was prominent on both best days and worst days at work. In fact, we found that, although collaboration happened on 53% of the very best days, it also happened on 43% of the very worst days. Interestingly, average days were somewhat less likely to involve collaboration (38%). What does this mean? Is working with other people both a really good thing, and a really bad thing?

Actually, yes. It all depends. Collaboration across departments or units of the same company will likely be a good thing only if managers set up the conditions for what Morten Hansen — citing Procter & Gamble's collaborative innovation as a prime example — calls "disciplined collaboration." This includes getting buy-in toward a common goal. In the companies we studied, when cross-unit collaboration went terribly wrong, it was usually because the groups were working at cross-purposes. In fact, we saw conditions that actually pitted departments against one another. Listen to the words of a finance manager in a large consumer products company, whose efforts to improve his business team's profit margins were repeatedly undercut by people in the sales department:

"I learned that pricing for one of our key accounts has already been confirmed to the customer, without any prior approval or review. [...] It turns out that the pricing offered is [so low that] we will be losing money on this account."

We saw this sort of thing happening repeatedly to the business teams of this company, because salespeople were rewarded only on total revenue, while the business teams were judged on profit. The General Manager and his team seemed not to realize that these disparate goals were a fundamental problem — both for the division's performance and for employee inner work life.

Collaboration within a team can be a double-edged sword, too. As Richard Hackman has described, leading teams effectively requires setting the right team structure and then coaching the team to develop good processes. In one high-tech company, leaders got both pieces wrong: an R&D team's structure was fuzzy because goals and roles were never clearly defined, and no one intervened as teammates began squabbling over who was doing what and why. The VP of R&D had blundered in setting up the team to develop a radically new printer-scanner: He failed to define clear project goals, and he let two senior mechanical engineers each believe that they were going to lead the mechanical design of the product. From Day 1, the two tussled over their divergent visions. To make matters worse, the team leader avoided the building conflict between the two. After a while, the electrical engineers on the team found it impossible to collaborate with any of the mechanical engineers. Progress ground to a halt, crippling innovation.

To maximize the upside and minimize the downside of collaboration, exemplary leaders not only explicitly encourage collaboration, but also ensure clear goals and roles up front, anticipate potential conflict, and intervene when it arises. At the best company we studied, one director made a point of publicly recognizing collaborative achievements within teams and across units, modeling collaboration himself, and connecting people across the organization. Collaboration flourished. Another director wanted to enlist help from a key rival in another division, but understood that the rival might feel threatened. Recognizing the potential for friction, he first brainstormed with his team different ways of approaching and working with the "competing" colleague. The cross-division partnership worked out, and the project exceeded expectations.

In this company, where leaders understood and managed the positive and negative potential of collaboration, norms of cooperation, coordination, and mutual respect operated at all levels, down to small teams. As a result, innovation steamed ahead — and people across the company had many more good days than bad days.

So much of the content rings true and so many lessons for all of us working collaboratively. I have found explicitly addressing these issues through facilitation genuinely enhances not just the work, but also the time to execution and positive and sustainable results.

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