Collaboration as Superconductor

Matthew Taylor's excellent blog posting at the RSA website is of relevance to all of society, including the construction industry, where much greater collaboration is needed to adopt new technologies in the design and construction of new and existing buildings, to make them fit for the 21st century.

Matthew Taylor highlights the need to align objectives to make collaboration the superconductor of civic energy. A shared and strong vision is needed to bring about this alignment. I recognise this in the construction industry, which has a responsibility to make new and existing buildings fit for the social and environmental imperatives of the 21st Century. There’s a good understanding now about what we need to do, some significant examples with proven results, but national and international progress is slow, for the systemic reasons that are described in the piece. For positive change to happen quickly, we’re going to have to keep on building an exciting vision of what is within reach, and how this change will transform people’s lives for the better, now and in the future. 

Any ideas about how to get the government quickly on board would be much appreciated!

Here is an excerpt, but it's worth reading the whole of Matthew Taylor's piece on the RSA website.

<< Yet, in reality, local agencies - like weak conductors - dissipate available energy by failing to work together. Even when there is an explicit commitment to collaboration (as has been summoned up by the Government’s encouragement of new city regions) there is still huge resistance, with capacity and potential energy leaking out of the system at every stage.

Using the lens of three powers theory, three major forms of resistance can be identified:

In the hierarchical domain, the major problem is inertia. Deep collaboration is challenging for organisations and systems. Too often leaders approach collaboration without a genuine commitment to changing their own priorities and systems. Within organisations, there is often a recognition that to overcome departmentalism demands profound organisational change; for example, matrix management or devolving power to cross cutting teams. But too often, when it comes to inter-agency collaboration, leaders hope to bolt on new shared goals to existing organisational forms.

In the solidaristic domain a key barrier can be emotional inhibition. As a brave health service manager in Essex taught me a few months ago, asking for help can be tranformative.  People can easily commit in principle to working together but powerful things are much more likely to happen when an emotional connection is made. Deep collaboration involves openness, generosity, trust, friendship; leaders have to share doubts and vulnerabilities as they seek to rekindle and collectively personify the ethos of public service and commitment to place.

In the individualistic domain, misaligned incentives are a huge block to collaborative potential. Very often middle managers, front line workers, partners and citizens hear the rhetoric and good intentions of collaboration, but continue to experience a set of incentives aligned with guarded territories and narrow organisational goals. I am currently working with a university exploring how it might work better with other agencies so as to make a bigger contribution to the social and economic priorities of the part of the UK in which it is located. To be serious in this goal, I have argued that senior managers of the university need to have performance targets not just relating to collaboration, but to the wider flourishing of their locality. Deep collaboration is unlikely if employees at all levels are paid and judged only on their contribution to their own organisation’s success.

To achieve superconductivity all three forms of resistance need to be tackled together at a system level. Not only because each matters, but because acting on one domain but not in the other is at best ineffective and can even be counterproductive. For example, much time and effort can be expended on creating new structures and process, but this will be futile if it is not translated into a new collaborative culture and the right individual goals. >>

Justin Bere

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