The work with our neighbours is taking shape. It would be easy to talk about the projects that are underway. They are tangible, they can be measured and they can be accounted for. We have several up and running. They are big and meaty and it will be great when we see them through to their completion. We have several more in the pipeline.
But coming together as two separate organisations isn’t just about doing things. It is more about being things. Getting married isn’t about a list of tasks to be ticked off (though I do have a never ending list of things to be done). Instead it is about relationship and trust. Getting married and bringing organisations together on a mutual basis have a lot of similarities.
They say that you never know someone until you live with them. You don’t know if they leave the top off the toothpaste or leave the toilet seat up. What appears to be trivial will turn out to be of the greatest importance. When I was at North Tyneside and we moved from half a dozen separate buildings across Shields into the Centre for Advanced Industries (NEMI CAI) we had sorted all of the big stuff out yet it was the small things that tripped us up. Coat stands, waste bins and access to boiling water for tea and coffee became paramount. Access to the shops wasn’t so bad however as it was just over the road from the Royal Quays shopping centre.
Both of us have been through this before. The experience of local government review is still fresh in our collective minds. If we are honest we’ve probably just got over the upheaval. Each of us has brought large numbers of people together, sometimes unwillingly, with different allegiances, different cultures, different processes and different procedures. You could argue that this is something similar just bigger and across two counties but then these are just lines on a map.
The issue we really need to get across is one of trust. No matter how much we pitch this as a potential collaboration it will be seen, by some, as a potential takeover. The relative sizes of the two organisations won’t help either. So as much effort, if not more, will be required to make everyone feel a part of this rather than an afterthought. The tangible projects will be difficult enough but the intangible cultural issues will prove to be more important in the long run.
Bringing the teams together through joint events to talk the same language, share the same experiences and develop a joint culture are vital if we are to make this work. The intangible will be just as relevant as the practical and will determine the overall success of the project.
None of us share willingly. True altruism is very rare. It is difficult to explain as an evolutionary trend but for shared or collaborative services to work then everyone needs to feel that they are getting something out of the experience. We will all need to give as well as take.