We must obliterate the barriers to organizational collaboration.

Teams can no longer be handicapped by protocol, process and paper. It’s about living plans and getting stuff done, together.

New Zealand’s Public Sector Act 2020 has an engine of pure gold and that is the incentive to collaborate within and across agencies. I see this initiative as an anchor-of-sense in a world that desperately needs it.

Having spent half of my working career in the public sector I saw some first class examples of front-line collaboration very much in line with the Social Investment strategy espoused by Bill English. When practical people get together and tackle a problem then more often than not good solutions emerge. Targeting at-risk families as proposed in Social Investment is absolutely what we should be doing. I know there are teams in every public sector agency delivering great stuff; often unseen and unappreciated. Well, the new legislation will change that because collaboration cannot truly work without transparency, in this case, underpinned by the Spirit of Service. And that’s not just transparency at the organizational level, it’s transparency at the personal level.

Everywhere you look these days there are working parties looking to solve some big problems. And it’s probable they will come up with some inspirational outcomes. What they seldom back it up with is the plan to deliver. And that’s the issue. Big Strategy and Big Policy no matter how well thought through will come to nothing without the ability to deliver, test, modify and embed. And that’s where the Public Sector Act comes into it, and not just for New Zealand, but for any country looking to improve public service.

Big Strategy and Big Policy no matter how well thought through will come to nothing without the ability to deliver, test, modify and embed.

Collaboration, not surprisingly, has emerged as the way to work for every organization, private and public. It’s a critical enabler of teamwork irrespective of where and how teams want to work. And it’s bubbled to the very top of organizational change as a result of the global pandemic. But here’s the thing. For some reason we are just not very good at it. And that’s where we’ve got some work to do. It looks like there are two logical steps. The first is learning how to collaborate within your home organization…inside. The second is learning how to collaborate across your ecosystem of partner agencies…outside.

It looks like there are two logical steps. The first is learning how to collaborate within your home organization…inside. The second is learning how to collaborate across your ecosystem of partner agencies…outside.

At the moment we seem to be in a strange space typified by ‘we’re OK thanks’ or we-need-to-cut costs. The problem is organizations are cutting strategic and planning staff, and replacing integrated portfolio and programme capability with low-cost, point solutions, or very expensive technology platforms, that promise much but are largely unproven. It feels like we’re losing the plot and making short-term decisions due to the white noise of Covid-19 that no-one is really accountable for. Even more worrying are the management teams who don’t see the need to make any change, and are comfortable continuing with current strategies and tactics. This feels like face masks have been extended to cover the eyes.

This feels like face masks have been extended to
cover the eyes.

Opportunity is defined as ‘a time or set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.’ Surely now is the time to leverage our circumstances, develop our own thinking, create our own pathways, and innovate relentlessly.

We should put aside tired outdated management methodologies developed somewhere else offshore and which, if truth be told, have never delivered value or improved our workplaces. Let’s be blunt. If your success measures are linked to implementing excruciating levels of process and rules that immediately fall aside when your staff work-from-home then there’s something very wrong with this picture. Perhaps, from this point forward, we can be methodology-free zones.

I remember an agency that implemented a risk management system supported by an 80 page briefing and operations manual. And we all know this is a standard approach for management systems. And we all know those manuals sit in a document management filing system and seldom get used. Good management software will eliminate completely the need for hard-copy manuals. And there’s another positive aspect to working this way. Discipline specialists, are freed up from teaching people how to read manuals, to working directly alongside, and mentoring those who need help. This markedly improves the quality of whatever discipline this approach is applied to.

Perhaps, from this point forward, we can be
methodology-free zones.

Less that 30% of management teams successfully deliver to strategy and that was pre-Pandemic. This is a busted model and won’t be fixed with small, inconsequential changes. Management teams have largely been out of touch with the pulse of their organization but were able to operate this way because there was no real reason to change – no burning bridge. Now there is that burning bridge.

Why not give all your people a voice. Or rather recognize they already have it and start listening to those voices. Some talk about this as strategy-from-the-edge. It makes a lot of sense to plot a general direction for your business and then tune your strategies and tactics based on feedback from your front-line personnel who are after all closest to your stakeholders and customers.

Why not give all our people a voice…and start listening to the voices

If management oversight is directly reliant on hard-copy, historic reports that are out-of-date as soon as they are generated and which force senior managers to simply tag them as ‘noted’ or bring other staff to the table to interpret the reports then surely these reports are failing to inform, and certainly failing to inspire. Why not get rid of the reports and breathe life into your business.

Data is the lifeblood of any organization especially in times when we are working in distributed models, and when those models are clearly the way of the future. Management teams now expect financial information to be available to them online, in near-real time which generally means regular, end-of-month updates. The same can and, should apply, to every other management dimension. In fact, with the correct tool-sets, we can redefine ‘regular.’ Regular is the standard applied to conventional reporting. What we are talking about is data available when and whenever you want it at the flick of a switch. It’s time to retire ‘regular’ in favour of ‘immediate’.

What we are talking about is data available when and whenever you want it at the flick of a switch. It’s time to retire ‘regular’ in favour of ‘immediate’.

I was talking with a senior public sector delivery manager the other day. He is struggling with the management challenges of a significant programme of work and was excited about the prospect of using management software to turbo-charge this work and use data as an alternate to standard reporting. He could see the immediate value of ensuring all stakeholders were able to see the state-of-play in real-time, anytime they needed to see it. And this is where the conversation really got interesting. This manager realized that he’d have time on his hands. And then he realized that, as a bit of a storyteller, he could make good use of that time and add extra, unanticipated value to the business by fostering conversations around interesting events, observations and learnings. Not only would he help deliver a major programme of work but he could build a network of stories within, and across, the business. Stories accessible to everyone. Stories that paint a bigger picture. Stories that take your organization into some quite different spaces. Stories that excite and motivate in a world where these stories are a currency we can all live by.

If one storyteller can achieve this imagine what an entire organization of storytellers could achieve.

The bottom line is collaboration is a business imperative for all public agencies and private companies. Cross-organization collaboration is where the true value will be delivered. Many of our conventional management systems will not hack it. And we don’t have the luxury of time. As a starting point we should be using on-line programme and project management frameworks to provide a consistent way to collaborate across teams from different organizations. Each organization should own its work. Every participating agency should be able to see all of the work. In addition, policy and the potential delivery of that policy should be connected-up. The potential to tap into new value is enormous.

Collaboration is a business imperative for all public agencies and private companies. But cross-organization collaboration is where the true value will be delivered.

So let’s collaborate. All of us.

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