“Their (Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill’s) story is a kind of love story. There was an early period of scepticism and courting from the invasion of Poland to Pearl Harbor; once America was in the war, Churchill and FDR spent two years in a grand pageant of personal intimacy and diplomacy. But there is no doubt their friendship helped win the war.”
Public sector organisations often find it difficult to collaborate, be it at the local, regional or national level. Similar to Roosevelt and Churchill, the conditions are often set so as to promote a focus on issues closer to home.
Differing, and sometimes conflicting, organisational priorities and funding streams incentivise parochial approaches. Culturally, we rely on hierarchy and accountability – knowing who to point the finger at when something goes wrong, and knowing that you can pull a lever to put it right. Unsurprisingly, this discourages the sharing of power and decision-making. Increasing pressure, institutional inertia and ineffective leadership mean collaborative working can be seen as separate from the core business of delivering against objectives and diverting time and resources, rather than fundamentally supporting it.
All too often, this lack of a joined-up approach means services do not meet the diverse needs of individuals and public money is wasted as a result. Governments have made repeated attempts to create the mechanisms to encourage, and even demand, a shared approach. Yet still we await a sustainable, cultural shift in the behaviours which support better coordination.
Any good news? Well, there’s a clear need for change driven by reductions in budgets, and decentralisation of power (although uneven) to communities and consumers gives greater opportunities for local organisations to join up. However, just because change is needed doesn’t mean doing so will be easy. We still face significant barriers in joining-up and, in many cases, the formal structures which would have supported such an approach, be they joint targets, pooled funding or strategic governance arrangements, have been swept away.
What’s fascinating is that no one will dispute that greater collaboration is needed, but how we do so remains largely unknown. Enter our lunch discussion, focusing on how – either within an organisation, or between them – are relationships and collaboration best built. Oh, and you’re not allowed to parachute in any heroic leaders. Or fire people. So, what do you do?