The Secret to Doing Strategy Collaboratively

Many clients come to me saying “we want to create this strategy and we want to do it collaboratively so that everyone owns the actions and everyone will be committed to implementation”.

It’s a great aspiration, because we know the alternative tends to be another orphaned strategy gathering dust on a shelf, beside its orphaned sister strategies.

But having watched clients grapple with the task, I have learned more about the challenges of creating a strategy that everyone owns.  I have also drawn some conclusions about what works, so here is my key insight into creating a strategy together.

Focus on the how rather than the what

A typical strategy would comprise, among other things, a list of agreed actions, projects or deliverables.  For example, in catchment planning those actions could be about naturalising storm drains, fencing waterways, limiting fertiliser use, etc.  In other words, there is lots of detail about what we will do under this strategy, what actions are to be done by whom and by when.

But isn’t that exactly what those orphaned strategies are full of?  The problem isn’t a lack of actions, it’s a lack of ACTION.

I see all my clients struggling with this.  Everyone wants to focus on solutions, which at face value makes a lot of sense.  After all, ‘fixing the river’ is what we all care about isn’t it?  But in focussing on the solutions it is so easy to ignore the single most important element of any collaborative strategy, which is how are we going to work together differently to create an agreed way forward and to implement actions we identify?  By focussing on the what, we ignore the how, and condemn our brilliant strategy to the orphanage.

What does the how look like?

There is no single right way to do this, but here are some questions that a meaningful collaborative strategy might address:

  • How can we be most creative together?
  • How can we ensure our diversity is a strength rather than a weakness?
  • How do we manage the power differential between us?
  • How do we build consensus around ideas?
  • How do we work together given our different priorities, even different world views?
  • How can we acknowledge and deliver what our constituents need, while creating something new together?
  • How do we make decisions together?
  • To what extent are we comfortable with experimentation and uncertainty?

You get the picture.  These are How questions that will form the basis of a very different conversation and a very different strategy.  Note, we aren’t asking how we will work together today, we are asking how we will work together for the foreseeable future as we collaborate to improve the catchment.

When co-creating strategy it is the conversation that is important, listening to each other, struggling with the how question together, building relationships that will build our commitment to each other and to a shared goal.

A collaborative strategy lays out a process, relationships and governance that all are committed to by which you will together identify problems and solve them as you go.  Remember, it is how, not what that matters.

How high is your CQ

I read an article this week called “How High is your CQ?” The term CQ, or collaborative intelligence, is new in my vernacular, but the concepts in the article are not.

According to the article’s author, John Butcher, CQ is a special kind of emotional intelligence required by those tackling complex social problems using a collaborative approach. In our work we call it a collaborative mindset, or collaborative muscle, an ability to both think and act differently.

The article reflects strongly our experience that CQ, or a collaborative mindset, involves the capability, when working with others, to:

  • listen intently with a genuine desire to understand what the other person is saying, and what they are not saying
  • see things from an other’s point of view or “walk in each other’s shoes”
  • process information effectively, even when it doesn’t fit easily with our own philosophies or values.

In addition CQ requires the ability to:

  • build and maintain trusting relationships
  • be comfortable working in situations of uncertainty
  • explore together how the bigger system works of which the presenting problem is an integral part .
  • understand and appreciate the problem and the system from the perspectives of all who have lived experience of them, as well as subject experts
  • take an experimental approach to solution finding not spending too much time in identifying the “right” answer but trying different ways forward and learning from each one.

We find that CQ cannot be learned in a classroom; people learn CQ by doing the work, by establishing a collaboration, by being personally committed and by being supported by an organisation that genuinely wants to create a more collaborative internal culture.

I think the term CQ is a good one, coming as it does after Daniel Goleman introduced the term EQ for Emotional Intelligence. In today’s world CQ will be just as important as both IQ and EQ, and we look forward to helping client organisations develop it as a required skill. I’d be very interested to know what you think your CQ is.

Collaborating upside down

If you wore glasses that made everything look upside down, how would you cope? This question is at the core of a famous set of experiments from the mid-20th century. You can find some information about that here or try this quaint video.

It turns out that at first the brain struggles to make sense of the upside-down view, but after a few days, something miraculous happens. The brain adjusts and upside down becomes the new normal.

To me this story is a good metaphor for learning to work differently with others. In my work with clients I often encourage them to “put on their collaborative goggles” after which they won’t be able to see the world the same way. It sounds easy, but I know that those collaborative goggles can be just as disorienting as if they turned the world upside down.

With the goggles on we see opportunities to collaborate everywhere, but our business as usual brains struggle to make sense of the vista. While we see an opportunity to be vulnerable, to express uncertainty and to invite people in to our dilemmas, our business as usual brain is telling us that we can’t talk to people until we ‘have all of our ducks lined up’, or that we need to create the plan and then ‘sell it’ to our stakeholders.

Initially, the collaborative world looks strange and unmanageable and we struggle to make it work. But after a while that miracle happens and our brains begin to adjust. It isn’t long before we stop noticing the newness and strangeness, and find ourselves operating in a very different way. Rather than tell we ask. Rather than solve problems and ‘roll out the solution’ we share dilemmas and invite others in to help. Rather than apply linear thinking we value emergence in the face of complexity.

And after a while we no longer need those goggles. We have rewired our brains and can never go back to the old ways.

So, put on those collaboration goggles. The world will look strange at first, but it won’t be long before you are seeing things you have never seen before.