Collaboration – Does it need a Framework?

Do diverse collaborations have elements in common?  Are frameworks needed for success? I think so. Here are two stories – one inside an institution, the other outside client-consultant.  See if you agree.

The Insiders
Dr. Harris Berman, dean of Tufts School of Medicine states that today it takes a team of people to take care of patients.  How right he is. My sisters and I witnessed hospital teams in action at the Pittsburg hospital where my brother was being treated for pneumonia, that followed close on his chemo treatments for cancer.

At first, we were concerned because the doctor heading the CCU team changed weekly.  How could they possibly coordinate care with a weekly leadership change!  We discovered that  each leading doctor and his team knew precisely what occurred the preceding week, regularly consulted with each other and each specialty. The floor nursing staff had complete data at their finger tips, for each team notated patient status.

Further, the teams paid attention to viewpoints.  They respected the specialist who wanted one more test (one rarely given) to isolate the cause of pneumonia. Sure enough that nasty bug was hiding deep in the lung.  The specialist laughed when he told my brother “You have really big lung.  I was glad I insisted on that test.   I just had a feeling we’d find something there.”

Yes, a great computer system collecting data is super to keep everyone on the same page.  Yet,  what we observed and found far more important was:  the relationships the teams cultivated, the understandings they showed for each other, and the respect they had for differing viewpoints. Plus, the continual live communication.  No one is left out.

The Outsiders
Dr. Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health (PIH), was searching for an architect firm to build a hospital in Rwanda.  He didn’t just want a plot plan and blueprints, he wanted a partner.  What he found in Mass Design, a firm founded by a young team of architects from Harvard, was an unusual commitment to PIH’s ideals and goals.

Mass Design leader, Michael Murphy and his team not only went to Rwanda to examine the site, they observed the medical plight of the Rwandans, they interviewed people on site, they took courses in disease control.  They wanted to ensure that they understood the medical challenges (diseases and treatments)  the cultural beliefs (Rwandan people, their families) the environment (physical and emotional) the resources (materials and workers).

The results of this unusual collaboration – a state of the art hospital that fits Rwanda, yet, looks nothing like any urban US hospital.  Spillovers from the project – increase in skilled workers in the building trades, increase in local medical professionals, and increase in healthier population.

No great computer system here.  What drove this collaboration were complex goals that went beyond building a building.  PIH defined the desired outcomes based on their philosophy and values. MASS Design embraced the values, which prompted their research. They were willing to strike out beyond conventional standards. They were open to learning and testing their ideas.  They continually consulted with PIH, checking that their ideas matched the complex goals.

What the two stories illustrate is that successful collaboration doesn’t just happen willy nilly.  In both cases what framed the collaborators included:

Compelling Goals  (Keep patients alive and wellCreate medical facility and system)  Shared values increase importance  to each team member.

Continual Communication     (Formal pattern and computer system informal, ongoing consultations)  Complexity needed to achieve goals prompts constant communication

Personal Willingness       ( Accept other perspectives & implementMove outside learned comfort zone & experiment)  Curiosity and openness  increases personal growth and learning.


About mcgntr

About Ann I was lucky and grew up in the beautiful Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts surrounded by the arts, industry, literature, and family. I had a great education-- undergraduate work at Caldwell College and my masters at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where I began business life as Training Assistant. Returning east, I continued in the training profession, and ‘fell’ into Human Resources - first, Recruiting and Employment, Director of Human Resources and finally Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Training. I bowed out of the corporate world with the white collar layoffs in early ‘90s – and started a new venture McGill Enterprises: HelpQuick Human Resources Advisory & Training Services. I have enjoyed great opportunities - publishing 3 training books, mentoring HR professionals, creating a wide variety of training programs, writing scripts, and becoming an adjunct professor.
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