A few years back I was working with a Mental Health service. In a passing conversation with one of the team they introduced me to a simple framework for understanding behaviour.
The framework is fairly self-explanatory. If you’re seeing dysfunctional behaviour - for example, someone is not being a team player - ask yourself (or them) what they are anxious about. If you know that, ask why are they anxious but with specific regard for what they are uncertain about and what they feel they can’t control but wish they could.
Ever since learning this framework I’ve been using it to diagnose behaviour inside organisations and across partnerships.
I’ve combined it with a simple taxonomy of behaviours that organisations and partnerships need in order to improve performance and I’ve juxtaposed these with dysfunctional behaviours that they often get instead.
This synthesis has led me to diagnose 3 underlying Forces of Friction; forces that tip the balance towards dysfunctional behaviour and leave many organisations struggling to stand still, let alone improve.
These forces are:
- How performance is managed - focusing on individuals, parts and activity rather than on the purpose and value of work in the round;
- How agendas are set - by others and for others not with others and together;
- An urgency for results - an emphasis on quick wins over systemic changes that would provide a platform for greater and exponential improvements.
These 3 forces are pernicious, not because they amplify uncertainty - in fact some level of uncertainty is a given - but because they amplify people’s felt lack of control. In other words, they rob people of the means with which to manage their uncertainty.
If you read back on PART 1 and PART 2 of this blog series you can see how the approaches to change that they describe must fail because they inevitably increase people’s felt lack of control (at least when applied as the default strategy rather than as an ad hoc or occasional tactic).
For example, in the rational environments created by approaches to getting things done that rely on CONVINCING others, we see communities of the like-minded polarising each other through their very efforts to create alignment (PART 1). This leaves each community feeling unable to exert control without resorting to the coercion of others.
But COERCION doesn’t resolve the issue. It just turbo-charges feelings of inequity and division because it deliberately imbalances control (PART 2). Coercive strategies for getting things done say, “Do my bidding”, so increasing the felt sense of control of those who are setting an agenda but only by reducing the felt sense of control of those receiving it.
Both of these strategies for change leave organisations stuck in ground-hog day conversations; turning in circles and solving the same problems - correction, symptoms ad infinitum.
Coproduction is the remaining strategy for change.
Coproduction is not merely engagement; I can engage you in my agenda without it ever being OUR agenda.
Instead, coproduction is about co-creating and committing to a shared agenda. It starts by asking questions and by listening, not by working to secure buy in.
In the world of coproduction, buy in is the outcome of a shared learning process, not an input to a partisan sales process (CONVINCE) or to decisions about where and how to leverage power (COERCE).
Coproduction, as a strategy for getting things done, works because it directly addresses the issue of felt loss of control. It puts people into collaborative control of their performance and of how to approach understanding and improving it together.
This is a virtuous cycle.
It starts with making a shared commitment to the collaborative behaviours we need (see above) and the more we demonstrate these to each other the more we get them back in return.
None of this happens by magic, of course.
Not only does coproduction take work but it also requires preparedness to act on the Forces of Friction.
In most organisations, those in positions of formal leadership (for example, executive level decision makers) will need to be ready to let go of any illusion that they ever had (or ever will have) direct or autocratic control. Being realsitic, most people in formal leadership positions know this already.
- People will need to be involved differently in decisions about what gets measured and how measures are used (Force 1).
- Formal leadership will need to work alongside others and within the arena of coproduction to develop new, shared goals together (Force 2).
- And formal leadership is also required to shield coproductive efforts from unnecessary urgency for results (Force 3); protecting it to focus on uncovering and addressing problems over symptoms, knowing that the step change in performance this will yield is light years better than the fire-fighting of issues that will otherwise result.
So COPRODUCTION isn’t easy but with clarity about what it is, what it isn't, why it is necessary and how to support it, it is possible to establish the virtuous cycle of improvement that I have described and, in so doing, to make working together collaboratively into the future ever Easier.
If you would like to learn more about how to generate and support coproduction as a strategy for getting things done in your organisation, contact one of our experts at www.easierinc.com. We will take the time to listen to you and we won't give you the hard sell.