A robust guide for students to the leadership and management of inter-agency collaborative endeavours. It summarises recent trends in policy and uses international evidence to set out useful frameworks and approaches.
Over the past century ideas derived from management, and more recently leadership, have become ubiquitous concepts in our everyday lives. There are countless books and articles that deal directly with these issues, and you would struggle to browse in a bookshop for more than a few minutes without finding several books on these topics. Flick through any newspaper, or watch any TV channel, and stories are invariably underpinned by discussions of responsibility and accountability. When an organisation – or groups in society more broadly – encounters difficulty, it almost invariably looks towards some form of individual leadership to guide it through the time of turbulence or to take the blame for failing to do so. Typically, media and public attention focuses on the person at the top who is presumed to have both the authority and the acumen to intervene to make things better. As has been argued elsewhere, ‘the “organisation in our heads” is still heavily influenced by the principles of classical management theory’ (Anderson-Wallace, 2005, p 171), which assumes hierarchical relationships between members of a single organisation. Yet the reality of the modern world is a proliferation of collaborative arrangements, where the important leadership activities are those that take place between a range of different partners. This poses significant challenges for traditional concepts of leadership and management, and is the focus of this book.
The number and range of public sector collaborations has grown considerably since the mid-1990s. Rather than collaborative working being an additional activity for public sector agencies, arguably it is now ‘the new normal’ (Sullivan, 2014).
In this chapter we explore the research evidence in order to better understand precisely what it is that we know about leading and managing in inter-agency settings. We explore different network forms and their characteristics, difficulties and outcomes, the attributes of collaborative leaders, and consider the life cycle of collaborations and the implications of this for management and leadership. As we have previously argued, leadership is currently a concept in vogue, and we must be cautious not to imbue leadership with ambitions that are simply unrealistic. We shall return in Chapter 3 to the idea of leadership as performance – and the limitations within this – but at this stage it is sufficient to note that at least part of the trajectory followed by any collaborative arrangement will be determined by the patterns of authority, accountability and procedure that carry weight in the agencies that join and the interaction between them (this is the institutional element contained in Table 1.2). Before moving on to the attributes of leaders, we explore the evidence for leadership and the degree to which it has been demonstrated to deliver improved performance.
The idea of leadership is centrally embedded within Western culture and is often viewed as a crucial factor in the effective functioning of many aspects of society. The public sector is no different, with Lambright and Quinn (2011, p 782) arguing that ‘nothing in public administration is more important, interesting, or mysterious than leadership.’ Given this observation it is perhaps of little surprise that in the investigation into what went wrong with the terrible abuses of care at Stafford Hospital that Robert Francis should highlight a failure of leadership as being a key issue.
Having diagnosed the many challenges inherent in leading collaborative endeavours and the inconsistencies and silences that exist in the vast literatures, in this chapter we turn to setting out a series of helpful frameworks and concepts as resources for those who are seeking to lead or manage inter-agency collaborations or create more effective leadership or management within an inter-agency context. In the course of this chapter we focus in particular on those that may be amenable to local leaders (as opposed to ones that arise from national policy, legal requirements and so on). McCray and Ward (2003) argue that without either a clear understanding of the tensions of policy – and its implementation at a local level – or a detailed analysis of professional roles in the light of political or economic factors, it is difficult to deal with the barriers to change that will arise (and this is a theme echoed in theories of adaptive leadership). It is therefore important that those who lead collaborative endeavours have the widest understanding possible of the context in which s/he is operating. The sections in this chapter again assume that, in practice, many (if not most) such leaders will be, in the terms explored in Chapter 2, ‘active advocates’ rather than ‘neutral facilitators’. Unfortunately the bad news is that there is no one way to overcome the many challenges that managers and leaders of inter-agency collaborations face. As such, many of these frameworks and concepts should be used to guide local processes, and are often as much about what not to do as what to do in practice.
Through a series of themed sections, this chapter explores three current and future key issues in management and leadership in inter-agency collaborations. Given the volume and breadth of literature concerning leadership and management, there are a great many potential issues we might have covered in this chapter, and selecting just a few areas to focus on has been a challenge. We have selected those that we believe are of greatest interest to those actively involved in collaborative working, namely:
• ‘No more heroes’: leadership as a distributed practice
• Boundary objects – a new space for leadership?
• Leadership as sense-making and performance.
As noted at the outset of this book, leadership has traditionally been viewed as a quality of individuals, that is, the charismatic leader, the ‘great man’ tradition (Lowe and Gardner, 2001; Brown and Gioia, 2002; Denis et al, 2012). However, with the growth of cross-boundary working in public sector management and various forms of crosssectoral and cross-organisational collaboration (Rhodes, 1997, 2007), new concepts of leadership have necessarily emerged. Over the last decade or so, particular interest has grown in various forms of ‘plural’ leadership (Denis et al, 2012), which broadly refers to forms of shared leadership. These can range from shared leadership among a central team or elite group (who lead subordinates), to views of leadership as a collective process of interaction (that is, leadership as a collective practice, rather than a position). Shared leadership is thought to be particularly relevant in aiming to solve complex problems where no one individual will be able to provide ‘the’ answer (Osborne, 2006, 2010).
It would be to ignore the richness of the preceding discussion to try at this stage to draw out a simple set of lessons – to construct a cookbook after the banquet! As we have noted, there are no easy answers when it comes to the leadership and management of inter-agency collaboration. Therefore many of our recommendations have a distinct flavour: the best way to support leaders and managers is often to allow them to take responsibility for finding ways to work through challenges in a way that is appropriate for that locality. This is not to say that it doesn’t matter if the broader context does not support collaborative working; it patently does, and we can learn from history about the many different initiatives and policies that have ultimately served to make collaborative working an even greater challenge. However, the evidence also suggests that we cannot just bring about high quality collaboration through changes to the macro environment; what happens locally plays an incredibly important part in making this happen.
Ultimately the challenges, summaries and frameworks we have set out in this text do lead us to make a set of practical recommendations and potential warnings, both for policy and for practice.
• Although effective leadership and management do have a significant impact on the functioning of inter-agency collaborations, it is important that leaders’ roles are not overstated, and that we are realistic about what types of leadership and management can produce what kinds of results in what sets of circumstances.