Partnership and collaborative working are the cornerstone for good practice in any project or business activity. Working collaboratively happens well when two or more people join forces to achieve a result that is better than what would have happened if they had been working alone. In other words, it is all about the old adage: two (or more…) heads are better than one.” 

Collaborative working can be formal, via a network of organisations or a contractual agreement, or informally arranged between colleagues or peers: 

Type of collaborative working: 

Formal: Merger/partnership, Service Level Agreements or partnerships 

Informal/organisational setup: Resource planning/sharing, networks, interest groups or working together 

A collaborative working model can be described using a matrix based on time and location. First of all, we need to understand the timing and location of the collaboration in question (Matrix 1). This then helps guide the type of collaborative tools and methods that can be used to work together effectively (Matrix 2).

Matrix 1 

Matrix 2 

Benefits of collaborative partnership 

  • Enables participants to build capacity to complete task that one sole organisation would find difficult to achieve 
  • Eliminates fragmentation, duplication and mistrust 
  • Encourages the intelligent use and sharing of available resources, i.e. mutual skills and expertise 
  • Shares risk factors across multiple domains 
  • Enhances organisational motivation 

Mind The Gap

We now know that effective collaboration doesn’t just rely on implementing the right kind of information technology systems. As sociable beings who crave order rather than chaos and a good understanding of the tasks ahead of us, we need to be wary of a whole range of primary and secondary reasons that could cause collaborative working to fail: 

Primary reasons: 

  • Prerequisite work unavailable – internal and third party. Including ineffective or incomplete exchanges of information 
  • Lack of processes and control – i.e. ineffective handovers, guidelines and poor governance structures 
  • Skills deficiency that hamper the effective use of available technology 
  • Poor facilitation by the group leader – ill-judged focus on why something cannot be done, instead of actively finding solutions Pre-requisite work unavailable – internal and third party. Including ineffective or incomplete exchanges of information 
  • Lack of processes and control – i.e. ineffective handovers, guidelines and poor governance structures 
  • Skills deficiency that hamper the effective use of available technology 

Secondary reasons: 

  • Poor follow-up after discussions, inadequate preparation and lack of support 
  • A deficit of courage and trust within the team 

Key steps to help establish effective collaboration: 

  1. Establish the three core strategies of business, people and technology (these strategies may differ depending on the context of the proposed collaboration; they also may or may not exist at project and/or organisational level) 
  2. Address six separate areas in each of the three strategies: shared vision, engagement, trust, communication, processes and technologies 

In order to ensure collaborative working is successful, we must establish harmony and balanced alignment between our business, people and technology. To achieve this, we need to focus on six key areas: 

  • Shared Vision 
  • Engagement 
  • Trust 
  • Communication 
  • Processes 
  • Technologies Shared Vision 
  • Engagement 

We must reach a delicate balance between respecting organisational and cultural differences and making the best use of any available information technology systems. The next step in the process is to establish a strategy for each key area to ensure it works as flawlessly as possible under collaborative working conditions. 

  1. Set Vision and Expectation – all members of the collaboration must agree on the joint aims and objectives.
  2. Establish Engagement – collaboration leaders need to consult all key participants about the practices to be used throughout the project. This will encourage cohesive team and ensure inclusion.
  3. Build Trust –open and transparent – sufficient time and resources will enable participants to build trusting relationships. This area also includes issues around professional liability: such as
    • Who is responsible for information generated and its trustworthiness?
    • The correct balance between technology and professional liability is key to building trust.
  4. Agree on communication – all key participants must agree on a mutually acceptable means of communication.
  5. Setup processes:
    • Processes need to cover areas such as agreeing a common vision and priorities for collaboration. Including the project’s route map, methods of promoting trust in the collaboration and who is going to provide leadership and direction.
    • Standards must be determined that can facilitate interoperability between different software and systems. (People are fed up with having to learn a new system for every new project they encounter!)
    • Suitable (and appropriate) help templates/screens must be set up for users to familiarise themselves with system and software tools.
    • A more intuitive interface design for standard processes can reduce the requirement to train new members of a collaborative project/environment
    • Establishing the governance process right from the start will help set team expectations and ensure that the work is completed on time.
  6. Technologies – an agreement on which systems and tools are going to be used, to ensure the collaboration can be easily implemented and correctly maintained. 

Summary 

Establishing a collaborative environment is just the beginning of the story. For collaboration to work for the entire length of the project, it must be consistent and purposeful, with resources and recognition carefully planned and dedicated to its success. 

If you want to discuss this subject in more depth, please get in contact with us at: team@penmark.co.uk  

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