Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration - that is the ICS way!

Dr Sandy Mather
I’ve been studying leadership and management for many years during which I’ve held a range of senior management and leadership positions. These have given me an insight into both individual and organisational behaviour.

As a well practised theorist (1), I’ve read the relevant literature and reflected on the various models of organisational culture and how an individuals’ behaviour can make an impact. My ability to put this theory and reflection to pragmatic use, and actively make changes as a result of my learning, has changed since entering the profession of “Chief Executive”. I’ll say more about that profession another time, but for the moment, I want to talk about my reflections on collaboration as a concept: what does it mean to me? What does it mean to others and what does the literature tell us?
I believe that collaboration starts at an individual level; collaboration starts from within. I look at it from a personal values based approach.

The three levels of collaboration​

I believe there are three levels of collaboration: personal, team, and organisational. At a personal level I believe it’s dependent on whether you’re working in a “survival” mindset, or a “growth” mindset (2). In a survival mindset, when you feel stressed, the barriers are up and you’re focusing on protecting yourself and this causes you to react to situations. Whereas if you’re feeling in a place of safety then you’re more likely to be working in a growth mindset, enabling you to be more creative and collaborative; looking outwards and proactively seeking opportunities.   

Creating a culture of collaboration is a team job. I believe it is fundamentally about behaviours and attitudes.   

If you as an individual feel in a place of safety, a growth mindset is enabled and you are more likely to look outside your core role and seek collaborative opportunities to work across teams to deliver a mutually beneficial goal. 
1. Embedding a values based approach

To embed the behaviours arising from collaboration at an individual level, managers can include at least one collaborative objective within personal performance plans (3).  We all know that what is measured, predicts how people behave. This helps to embed this values based approach. However, it has to be a two way dialogue.

Collaborating between individuals and collaborating between teams helps to embed behaviours and norms in an organisation. It becomes “that’s the way we do things here.”  Thus wanting to collaborate with another organisation is the next logical step.  
2. Collaboration with other Organisations  

Photo credit @ledurham during the Critical Care Outreach Practitioner National Credential and Framework group meeting.
Management theorists, academics and psychologists have been writing about collaboration, culture and behaviour for decades.  On balance, there seem to be many more advantages than disadvantages to collaboration. The main advantage can be summed up by saying that collaboration with another organisation tends to lead to better outcomes and improvements in efficiency and cost effectiveness.    As the Chief Executive of a charity I look to the Charity Commission (4) as the regulatory body for their advice about collaboration. Would they recommend it? Well, they do more than that; they say they expect charities to regularly look for opportunities to collaborate and work in the best interest of their beneficiaries.  The main disadvantage of collaboration seems to be the risk of being diverted from your organisation’s core mission. A particular risk if you choose to collaborate on something which is not relevant to your beneficiaries. But who would do that? 

3. Collaboration is…   

Collaboration for me is personal. It’s a values based approach. A belief that it is both desirable and good to collaborate. At the Intensive Care Society we agreed that collaboration should be the first of our three core values. This is set out in our five year strategy (5), which was itself developed as a result of a collaborative six month engagement process in 2018. So, it’s not surprising that we would have collaboration as one of our core values. 

Collaboration is also at the heart of effective multi-professional team working in every intensive care unit, and at critical care network level.  

Collaboration is the bedrock of how we behave at the Intensive Care Society.
 Collaboration is personal. I recommend it.

Dr Sandy Mather   
Chief Executive, Intensive Care Society

1. Honey, P. & Mumford, A. (1982) Manual of Learning Styles London: P Honey. 
2. Owen, N. (2015) Charismatic to the Core: A Fresh Approach to Authentic Leadership.  SRA Books, Padstow.
3. Maister, D (2008) Strategy and the Fat Smoker, The Spangle Press, USA
4. The Charity Commission, (2009) Choosing to collaborate: helping you succeed. The Charity Commission, London.   Available  Accessed 14 April, 2019.
5. Your Society – our strategy (2018) 2019-2023.  Available  Accessed 14 April, 2019.