Building Unity on Difference

Leadership and impact
5th August 2013

Building Unity on Difference  

From my consulting and coaching conversations it’s apparent that cross sector collaboration is one of the most personally demanding leadership challenges of all. The integration of health and social care is one such example.

Scottish Government’s recent paper “All Hands on Deck” gives some direction to integration. It’s more reflective than you might expect from a Scottish Government paper but this is a refreshing departure.  The narrative is imbued with wisdom gathered from previous structural attempts to deliver the erstwhile elusive goal of seamless services. The complexity of the task ahead is well articulated and, as the title suggests, success will rest on everyone getting on board.

Health and Social Care Partnerships (HSCP) will form strategic governing bodies. Within them, ‘Localities’ will generate and implement community based services. I’m not sure the term ‘Locality’ captures what they will do, but nonetheless they will be up and running by April 2015. Localities will bring together the range of local stakeholders with a contribution to make in delivering comprehensive community care. Statutory sector teams (NHS bodies and Local Authorities) will work in equal partnerships with the independent and third sectors and with service users and members of the public.  

There will inevitably be power differentials and concerns have been raised about third sector organisations having their voice heard (Alliance Scotland). So work is needed to ensure inclusion.  

In thinking about the challenge I was reminded of work on cross-sector collaboration in South Africa (Mille Bojer). She had an ‘aha’ moment whilst bringing multiple stakeholders together to work more cohesively in helping children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. In facilitating the statutory and non-statutory organisations to work together she realised that, rather than focusing on their similarities, she first had to get them to understand their differences.  

Each partner considered their strengths and how their services could be improved. This honest reflection enabled them to name for themselves their own weaknesses and challenges. In starting from this place they collectively acknowledged in a positive way that they did not share the same perspective and imperatives. They accepted that they had contrasting starting points and conflicting assumptions as to what the actual problems were. 

Getting to the heart of their difference enabled them to collectively develop solutions that made sense in the multiple frames. A shared outcome didn’t mean each partner had to set aside what made them different. Indeed driving out difference also meant squeezing out the potential for innovative solutions.

As well as ‘all hands on deck’ the success of the locality model will be dependent upon everyone’s ability to self-reflect, surface difference and truly value the complementarities. When this happens it doesn’t really matter who’s in charge. This is leadership of the highest order – one that builds unity on difference! 

Other posts of interest: