Friday, 16 January 2009

The Collaboration Health Check - Further Observations

A belated happy new year to you all, I hope you had an enjoyable and restful break. Having said that, for me at least the memory is already fading fast!

I did promise that I would continue to work on sharing my initial observations about the feedback I received from the completed Collaborative Working Health Checks. After receiving a number of additional health checks to consider I have now completed an initial review, but don’t forget; if you still want to submit a Collaboration Health Check and / or want to take part in the Inquiry Interviews let me know.

Consolidated Collaboration Health Check feedback

When I first started to consolidate the feedback I created a single profile that showed collectively, FAN Club members erred toward agreement that their collaborative working practice paid attention to all the attributes required for successful joint working.

As ever, the devil is in the detail and I was immediately drawn to the highest (Relationship Development) and lowest (Collaborative Working Process) ranked attributes. These collaborative working themes were also the ones with the greatest variance between minimum and maximum scores (Relationship Development) and the smallest variance (Collaborative Working Process).

Relationship Development

Feedback suggests that colleagues agree strongly that, “we are clear about the value to us of forming relationships with other stakeholders”. Agreement was less clear about having good quality relationships in place ahead of collaboration; about exploring further possible collaboration as part of the review of existing work; and the assumption that relationships improve through collaborative working.

But there was neither agreement nor disagreement with regard to the statements about paying specific attention to the relationship with potential partners and being clear about expressing wants and offers at the start of a collaborative engagement.

I would surmise that collectively we are clear about what’s in it for us, but reluctant to be truly transparent with potential partners, perhaps because of a desire to be the dominant partner and not prepared to give something (control?) up.

Collaborative Working Process

Collaboration happens; that’s clear from the completed Collaborative Working Health Checks. But feedback suggests that there is little agreement or disagreement with the statements around Collaborative Working Process, bringing into question the robustness with which collaborative working arrangements are adopted.

Collectively, we disagree that, “we always seek to review and where necessary revise our contract with our partner(s) during our collaboration.” Does the process we adopt provide scope for re-contracting? Interestingly, this statement attracted the lowest score of the exercise.

Highest scores indicating some agreement were attributed to taking collective responsibility - with our partner(s) - for maintaining our focus on achieving our mutually agreed goals and when reviewing a collaborative initiative, seeking to learn from the experience rather than attributing blame for things that went wrong.

Other research

Other research that I completed last year in healthcare suggests that it is the relationship between very few individuals that drive successful collaboration. Process - such as it is - tends to govern financial approval or allocation of resources in both organisations, and does not extend to effective assessment, qualification of opportunities and contracting. So, what are the potential disadvantages of this more informal way of working?

Analysis by stakeholder group

As well as looking at the information by collaborative working theme I was motivated to analyse the feedback by stakeholder group, given high scores attributed to the statements by colleagues working in consultancy compared to the Public Sector. In fact, the consultants scored the health check statements almost 20% above the Public Sector colleagues. I wondered why that might be, so here’s my hypothesis.

Many consultants claim to take a collaborative approach to client work, but is that truly collaboration or partnership? Or is it an inquiry based approach that helps the consultant get close to their client, develop a detail understanding of the client issue which in turn supports the development of client focussed solutions? Perhaps it depends on what definition of collaborative working you work to.

For example, when I think of collaboration I imagine a way of working between two or more parties which aims to achieve a shared goal that would be difficult to achieve alone. Collaboration is based on the sharing of rewards, resources, responsibilities and risks and respects the fundamental differences each part contributes.

Here are the consolidated collaborative working profiles for:

The Public Sector


Next steps

  • I will make the consolidated feedback detail available shortly. So you can view the average scores for each statement with the five collaborative working themes.
  • I have now conducted a number of inquiry interviews with the focus much more specifically on collaboration in futures work and will shortly start to work through these and pull out the main themes as part of an interim review of this phase.
  • As we head towards the next FAN Club meeting in February, look out for news about how you can get involved in this project. There will be an opportunity to contribute at the meeting in London and you can still submit a Collaboration Health Check, and take part in the Inquiry Interviews.
If you have any questions or comments then feel free to leave a comment to this post or better still email me directly.