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Finding value in collaboration

Hi, my name is Paul Ashworth and I work in Economy, Localities and Public Health at Essex County Council.

I was selected, as one of 50 participants of the inaugural Greater Essex Leadership Collaborative, and feel very fortunate to have been part of this very unique ‘first’ endeavour for the County.

Made up of representatives from councils, universities, police, fire, NHS and voluntary sectors, the Collaborative allowed us the space and time to ditch the constraints of our own organisations and to pool our talents and skills to explore some solutions to our County’s biggest challenges.

In trying to get to grips with the complexities of such problems as an ageing population and providing an equal foundation for every child, it has become increasingly apparent that traditional organisational leaderships styles are becoming less effective to achieve the outcomes we want for our citizens. The Greater Essex Leadership Collaborative played its part in enabling me to develop the skills and thinking required to extend my leadership beyond the constraints of my organisation, hierarchy and authority and to consider my approach as a system leader.

We were presented with an array of the ‘wicked issues’ facing Essex, such as lack of affordable housing, shortage of skills and healthcare issues for us to work on and I chose to work on ‘recognising and unlocking community capacity and leadership’. As a volunteer for a couple of charities I’m very interested in the beneficial effects that strong communities and the people within them can have in creating positive social outcomes. As part of the programme launch day we were able to meet a variety of Essex residents and ask them directly about their own issues and experiences, to me these conversations are often where much of the learning comes from!

Our perfectly formed group, chosen to provide a mix of backgrounds and learning styles cracked on with our challenge, supported throughout the programme with a series of master classes and coaching to expand our knowledge and confidence to work and think collaboratively.

We went through the various stages of Bruce Tuckman's forming, storming norming and performing, and back to the beginning again. But this was part of our development process and having colleagues from across the system helped bring different perspectives to our work and challenge our thinking. Did we resolve our ‘wicked issue’? No, but if we had done then it would have been a pretty poor challenge, and I feel we made a very first small (but greatly important) step in bringing together communities and providing a tool, a catalyst, that they could use to get together and learn about collaborating to resolve localised issues.

So what did I get out of it? For me the real value of the programme was building relationships with other like-minded individuals who are committed to building a shared future. Understanding each other’s priorities and personal challenges really opened my eyes, and it became clear that what seemed from the outset was a disparate bunch of people were actually quite similar after all. I really felt that as part of the group I had the opportunity to make a difference and could put some of the leadership behaviours into practice inspiring and enabling colleagues, innovating and collaborating together and delivering change.

During the Collaborative, we took time to understand each other’s organisations and what we could do to support each other going forward. Since ‘graduating’ from the Collaborative I have already put my new found skills and relationships to test in working with Police colleagues to prevent a critical incident. Having understood our roles from the programme, we were able to work collectively and more confidently to implement a preventative solution, and assisting Police colleagues to free up some resource. This was noted as a significant change in the right direction and felt good that it was, in no small part, down to the relationships we’d built through the programme.


Page updated 9/2/18