Working Collaboratively

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

We work collaboratively to design, plan and improve Nottinghamshire Healthcare services. By working together and bringing in a range of views, skills, knowledge and experiences we can make better informed decisions that lead to services that are more caring and better meet people’s needs.

The Involvement, Experience and Volunteering Team advise and support services in working together with service users, carers and families, volunteers and other partners (e.g. staff, local charities and organisations, social care services). We are here to help you, and we have collated and created lots of resources on this page that will assist you in planning, running and evaluating collaborative work.

The Collaborative Model

In 2017 a group of around 40 people began meeting with the aim of creating a model that could be used to for healthcare services when they are thinking about making a change. The group was made up of volunteers, people that used services, staff from housing and charitable organisation and staff from the healthcare Trust. It was facilitated by Mark Doughty and Tricia Boyle from the Kings’ Fund. The group worked over six months to produce the model and in doing so learnt a lot about tools and models that help keep a group collaborative. The model clearly outlines a process that can be taken if you’re thinking of working collaboratively, but it doesn’t really tell you ‘how’ to work together.  Keeping a Collaborative Partnership functioning can be the real challenge, have a look at the information further down this page on the Tools and Theories of Collaboration for ideas, advice and resources. 

Download the model including the checklist that accompanies each of the steps or download just the checklist. Feel free to use it if you’re planning a change.

Take a look at this playlist of videos about working collaboratively, which includes Paul talking through each of the step of the Collaborative Model. What do you think about this model? Would it work for you? What would you change?

Tools and theories of collaboration

So we developed a model for collaboration, but what we found when talking and working with people was that the model didn’t explain ‘how’ you go setting up a strong collaborative approach. The model has a set of principles and a step by step guide, however it is possible to simply jump from one step to the next stating that’s it’s all been done in collaboration!  Of course we all start out with the best of intentions, but often deadlines and the sheer logistics of getting everybody in a room take over and decisions end up being made a little less together than was agreed at the beginning of a project. 

A lot of our thinking  about collaboration has been influenced by some of the ideas in the film below. The language it uses to describe collaboration is really helpful when reflecting on whether a project has been worked through collaboratively. The film explores terms such as:

  • Collaborative Inertia – the natural state of play where nothing happens, meeting and meetings
  • Collaborative Advantage – Keeping the collaborative group moving and continuing to work productively
  • Structure – getting the right people in the room
  • Process – focus on how the right people in the room then communicate with each other
  • Constitutive communication  – how we understand each stakeholders point of view and find the similarities

Each of the tools below are useful for any group to be aware of a they provide and group vocabulary and agreement on ‘how’ we will work together, and ‘how’ we will communicate.  A group being aware of these tools means that they can comment on the process of collaboration, which helps with things like power imbalance in a group.

Are there any other tools or theories you’ve used to work collaboratively? Get in touch with us to let us know!

Some practical learning from our experience:

  • It’s always important to explain the principles of  collaborative working to the group, in order that you all agree to move the project forward in this way.  Introduce Debate versus Dialogue, this is often a useful starting point.
  • Everybody should introduce themselves and what they would like the group to achieve; in short why are you here?  This starts to understand everybody’s values and you can then identify shared aims and goals
  • Always think about breaking larger groups into smaller groups, this helps less dominant people in the room be heard during discussions
  • Role model how the group should behave, refer to Debate versus Dialogue or point out when a ‘Move’ has been made (4 Player model).  And remember keep it non-judgemental!
  • Allow space for the group to get to know each other socially, this is how strong relationships are formed and the work will need these
  • Highlight ‘Action Bias’ early – groups often run to solutions or actions, that is assuming we know what the problem is and how to fix it.
  • Two leaders is helpful as a minimum; one to project manage and keep the pace, the other to check the group is managing to work collaboratively, or identify when it’s not and for the group to be ok with this.
  • Words build worlds – create a collective understanding using the vocabulary that comes from the group
  • Always reflect in pairs after each meeting. were there problems with the process? How collaborative did it feel?  What needs to happen next time in order for the group to feel meaningful?

Further reading:

In our time working collaboratively, we’ve come across, and have been recommended by others, a number of different books that further explore elements of collaboration and tools that help make it happen.

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