Giving permission for partnership working

It’s been four weeks since I took up my position as Director of Education and Children’s Services at Midlothian Council, in addition to my new role as Executive Director of Services for People in East Lothian.

Aside from being able to meet and work with great people the most fascinating – and potentially most significant – aspect of my dual roles has been the opportunity to give permission for people to work together across two authority boundaries. People often talk about the “bottom up” approach as being the most effective change strategy and I’ve been an advocate for that mindset throughout my career. Yet over the last few weeks I’ve come to realise that in the realm of partnership working such “bottom-up” approaches are often stymied by the managers and leaders who are further up the ladder on either side of the partnership boundaries.

From a simplistic point of view let’s take a person who is appointed to a joint post between two authorities but who has a number of layers of management above them. To be a change agent in such circumstances is very difficult – especially if the partnership process may eventually compromise the position of the managers above them in each organisation.

Now contrast that to a situation where the change agent occupies a more senior post than those same managers in either organisation.

It is this latter situation that I now find myself in, whereby I can now give permission, authorisation and encouragement for colleagues to work together for mutual benefit and benefit to the organisation. In the past I’ve often found one of the most common obstacles to joint working, articulated by staff, is that “they won’t let me do that” – with a symbolic upwards finger point, alluding to the fact that management in their organisation would not approve (of course, there may be other more significant and personal reasons behind these assertions but I’ll leave those to your imagination). However, any such assertion now falters on the fact that such an allusion would mean that I (as the Director in both organisations) must have some form of leadership schizophrenia, where I can occupy two points of view on either side of the organisational divide.

Four weeks into the process it’s been very rewarding to see people actively and without direction begin to explore this new world, and from a personal perspective I’ve come to realise that one of the most important things I can do in my unique position is to continue to give permission for innovation and joint working – with a clear and absolute focus upon the quality of service we provide.






1 thought on “Giving permission for partnership working

  1. Don, it’s been a while since I checked your blog and it’s good to have you back on line. Congratulations on your new post. I hope the family is well.

    I worked today with Dr George Otero from New Mexico who said an interesting thing about leadership: that there are 3 dimensions to navigate, to manage and to have partnerships. I was working with him on my need to navigate through some theories of action that influence the work in my school however the point he was making was about the need for schools and organisations to have both community partnerships and be engaged with the community.

    I really liked a quote George used from Don Edgar: ” The purpose of schools is to help a family educate a child – for so often people switch the words family and school. I think this applies to lots of community organisations. Good luck in your work going forward and I hope to read about the innovations people engage with.

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