Developing Leadership and Partnerships
The world (culture and context) in which we operate is changing. no longer is there an acceptable level of differential performance between the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. Value for money is expected at every level.
Managers and providers of social and community care services have much on their minds, not least of which is the immediate demand to somehow deliver ‘more for less’. A challenge with a longer history is the productive use of partnerships – teaming up with other agencies to deliver collective results. And while the new government is busy culling the quangos, there is little sign that the demands of partnership working are about to diminish.
On the contrary, there is a clear signal that pooled budgeting, through authority-wide Total Place approaches, and at neighbourhood level through mini-Total Place, is an underpinning principle that will be applied with intensified zeal in the search for shared service provision, removing duplication in function, and delivering ‘more for less’.
Effective multi-agency partnerships are likely to become an increasingly important critical success factor in the tougher economic climate. What is the evidence for effective partnership working, and how can multi-agency teams be developed and led to achieve the desired results?
Local strategic partnerships, area and neighbourhood boards, and regeneration initiatives based on multi-agency collaboration proliferated during the final years of the previous government – and alongside came an abundance of toolkits and good practice guides on partnership working. Local Sure Start / Children’s Centres provide yet another setting where effective partnership working is a steady pressure on managers and providers of community care services. Processes for benchmarking partnership performance, ways of sharing and developing common work practices have dominated the tools available. But a key and often neglected area of performance is the development of senior management teams for effective multi-agency working.
Why do partners fall out or just fail to achieve? Why are there often so many ‘difficult people’ popping up in these situations? Why do the cultures of partners clash when on the face of it we are all working towards common ends?
Few of the formalised toolkits available address the fundamental human aspect of partnership working – how to motivate and engage people from different organisational cultures, and how to avoid rubbing up the wrong way, the very people you need most to deliver the partnership goals. But the good news is that these issues can be addressed and managed.
As with most joint ventures their success depends on the ability of the leaders (directors) to agree strategy, objectives and to be the “enabling champions” within each respective organisation.
Frequently success is tarnished because one or more of the partners fails to fully engage from the top– the likely outcome is delivery staff find the partnership objectives at conflict or low in the priorities of their own organisation and fail to deliver. Leading to frustration amongst the delivery team.
Partnership strategy / objectives need to be owned by the delivery team but also be part of each organisations own strategy & objectives and integrated into their performance management. This requires the leaders/ directors of each partnering organisation to work as a strategic team, setting clear vision, strategy and ensuring the blending of cultures takes place.
Bringing together the leaders of the partnership organisations, each with their own personalities and leadership styles, into an effective team is a real challenge and one not rigorously addressed; team facilitation is for the delivery team not the leaders! The challenge is to face up to the leadership demands of these partnerships and create a matrix environment where the leaders, managers and staff adopt new cultural values and ways of working together. Moving outside their comfort zones is hard but can be achieved. However, in our modern day environment where change is needed yesterday, the use of expert facilitation should be considered to speed up the process.
Also knowing your starting point is fundamental to managing change. In the past the lack of a rigorous means of measurement of relationships and culture and their impact on performance of organisations has proved an obstacle to development of partnership well being. Research and Consultancy Company Cathexis Ltd has undertaken work with many from the Care and Community sector, to develop a framework and suite of analytical tools. The tools explore relationships and culture and generate both quantitive and qualitative data in a usable and accessible way. The trend towards partnerships and joint working can be assisted considerably by an application of these tools which can show, for example, the cultural alignment and predict the potential areas of difficulty between partner organisations.
Peter Sturrock, MD of Ithaka Leadership Development believes that the challenge for the organisations involved in partnership working is for their leaders to focus on themselves, challenge their traditions and embrace new ways of leading & managing their organisations into effective partnership working that delivers high quality results.
Peter Sturrock, Managing Director, Ithaka Leadership Development Ltd
Dr Robert Pocock, Chief Executive, M.E.L Research Limited