Tag Archives: Leadership

Co-Production Begins with The Barriers

9 May

Effective co-production begins with a focus on the barriers, on what could go wrong, from all stakeholder perspectives. I explain why in this article, and suggest a simple, easy to use technique which allows us to strategically befriend barriers.

Co-production makes perfect sense. In the public sector, involving citizens and communities who have lived experience of the conditions leaders are attempting to positively change, and frontline workers who interact between leaders and citizens on a constant basis, is an effective way to better, more adaptable and more resilient strategies. However, it can be a difficult process if not approached with true openness.

Essential to effective co-production is a commitment to sharing power and understanding the mind sets and experience of other stakeholders. When designing a new service, each stakeholder group has a view of what the service could look like and the barriers which might prevent the services success. The argument here is that paying attention to what each stakeholder group feels could go wrong, the barriers, provides the sharpest insight into their world view and improves the chances of effective co-production.

There can be frustrations over the barriers each group of stakeholders perceive, and frustrations over how easy to remove and how important those barriers are to different groups and individuals. Barriers are built on past experiences, unique histories and the anticipated reactions of others. This is what makes them so important and sometimes so hard to integrate, they illustrate what a person notices, ignores, fears and how they make sense of their environment. Barriers represent what keeps integration apart, and careful examination of them allows us to examine ways of removing or reducing them.

Barriers highlight what stakeholders consider risky, their appetite for innovation, technology and how much trust they have and support they feel they need. It is important to fully understand and embrace each of these view points from each stakeholder perspective as they help to construct positive approaches to change.

Data on stakeholder barriers allow strategies to be constructed on models which ENABLE people. A good strategy should aim to deliver by removing and reducing barriers, and then allowing stakeholders to adapt what they already do well to the new service. This only happens when strategies enhance people and their experiences, not put a new process first.

The above are reasons why collecting quality data on barriers requires careful thought in effective co-production. Simply asking a mixed group of stakeholders to highlight their own barriers can be illustrative, but quite often groups react to each other’s answers as opposed to providing their own unique perspective. A method of effectively collecting barriers is through the de-correlation of errors.

De-correlation of errors is very simple in this context. It removes the potential problem of everyone basing their views on the first idea which was voiced in the room as opposed to their own unique perspective. The method achieves this by asking every stakeholder to prepare their answers to a short series of questions BEFORE consultation. When the consultation begins, every stakeholder is asked to read their own unique response, whilst other stakeholders listen.

This introduces the stakeholders to each other through their own perception of the situation, facilitating richer data and greater understanding of individual and group positions. In a future article, I’ll introduce how a technique like de-correlation of errors can be used within a broader co-production frame work focused on removing and reducing barriers.


Very good 1 page co-production model from NHS England


The value of de-correlating errors appears in this excellent interview below with Danny Kahneman and Gary Klein

McKinsey Classic Interview

Some related reading from this blog


General reading on the methodology behind error de-correlation

Kahneman, D (2011) Thinking Fast and Slow. Penguin

Klein, G. (2007) The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work. Currency

Linking Research and Evaluation To Decision Making and Planning

9 Oct

Making a decision is the sum of some form of analysis. Fast, slow, statistical, intuitive or any combination of factors leads a person to reach a conclusion and make a decision. Since making a decision means letting go of other options, it is a process which frequently becomes bottlenecked. Fear of letting go of the wrong option, of making a mistake, or simply trying to find the perfect answer can trap a person in permanent analysis, or even worse, permanent data collection. This situation can become particularly acute when a person or group that designs plans is separated from the people who deliver and receive the consequences of plans. The relative isolation reduces feedback loops with the environment and increases guess work, stress and uncertainty.

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Leadership Lessons from 1982 and 2012

12 Dec

I write this article in collaboration with my colleague, the psychologist, Matt Slater. Matt’s been conducting insightful research into leadership, particularly around how leaders maximise the potential of teams. In this article we share our views and research to discuss the relationship between leadership and autonomy.

Way back in in 1982 Tom Peters and Robert H Waterman published the best seller In Search of Excellence, which is to date the biggest selling business book of all time. The book focused on explaining the 8 characteristics (identified by Peters and Waterman) which excellent performing businesses (at the time) exhibited. Despite the book’s over simplification of business practices taken from temporary market leaders it inspired a lot of people to action, and got individuals, teams and organisations trying different things. The book is now quite dated; however, there is one part of it that particularly stands the test of time- the relationship between leadership, values and autonomy.

Peters et al (1982) argue that if leaders promoted no more than four values and then communicated these values clearly, then decision making could be diffused widely throughout the organisation. It could be diffused because these values would establish boundary conditions for the framing of decisions, a context in which to make sense of situations and define choices. As long as the values were transparent, then talent, initiative and innovation would flow in the right direction. Moving on from 1982, it’s possible to argue that Peter’s et al style of thinking on values, deliberately or coincidently, made a significant impact 30 years later in London. There is possibly no sharper example of a team made up of talent using values to realize the potential of that talent than Team GB in the 2012 London Olympics, an area Matt has researched significantly.

Bringing the group together to work as a collective entity is at the crux of leadership. Indeed, the effectiveness and longevity of leadership hinges upon leader’s capability to galvanise the group’s energies and abilities to collaboratively achieve an established vision. One prominent approach in which leadership can be optimised in this way concerns the creation of a shared team identity.

In one of our leadership studies we examined prominent leaders (e.g., performance directors, TeamGB Chef de Mission) at the London 2012 Olympic Games. It was clear that successful leaders created a collective vision with their team that is achieved through strong team identity and shared values. Here’s an example from Sir David Brailsford (TeamGB Cycling performance director):

I think we should be proud of the crazy attention to detail that this team will go to in preparation for the Games, for the innovation that we will try and show and when we are really really under pressure and the guys have got their backs against the wall, they’ll come out with that true British spirit and fight.

This shared sense of identity centred on preparation, innovation, and British spirit results in a feeling of oneness, where the team feel that they are part of something bigger; a higher purpose, a collective vision they are contributing to; a legacy. Such teams are more resilient because personal fulfilment and achievement is now attached to team fulfilment and achievement meaning individuals wholeheartedly give themselves to the group cause. Further, leaders who create a shared team identity are empowered with the responsibility of shaping group members’ attitudes and behaviours. Speaking to this point, research in our laboratory has demonstrated that when individuals feel a sense of belonging to the group their thoughts and actions align with group values. At London 2012 leaders discussed values including preparation, innovation, and accountability, and challenged their athletes to epitomise these values to achieve performance excellence on the Olympic stage.

So what lessons are there for organisations from 2012 and 1982? The core remains identical- Leadership expresses values, values direct talent, talent creates a culture and the culture defines the identity of the people who are part of it. The lesson from 2012 is the acknowledgement that talent and autonomy alone are not enough. Yes, giving talented people the space to innovate and develop is essential, but that space can be suffocating without the values and the corresponding sense of identity to give it meaning. Values create an “at hand” contextual framework people in an organisation can apply to make sense of situations. Without this framework, people can put significant energy into projects and ideas but suffer the anxiety of never quite knowing if they are moving in the right direction, or their efforts are appreciated.

One strategy for leaders to communicate values explicitly and work through, rather than over, teams to develop and embed these values. Leading through groups empowers employees and aids clarity in what’s asked of them in a way that reduces unhelpful stress. Further these values as the framework for employees’ behaviour should align with where the group is heading; the collective vision. In other words, day-to-day mobilisation within the shared values framework progresses “us” towards our vision. An additional strategy that has been implicit throughout the discussion so far is the use of use collective language. In our study it was clear that the successful Olympic leaders bestowed the remarkable achievements of TeamGB on the collective, they used language such as “us” and proposed that “we” had created history. This functions to further strengthen the group bond.

The use of language to link action to a higher purpose is demonstrably effective, and can be used to communicate a maximum of four values across the organisation. Leaders must exemplify these values; they must be consistent and not contradicted. Once the values become embedded as norms it will provide people with the confidence to act, particularly when they are given autonomy and the space to use their talent.


Slater, M. J., Coffee, P., Barker, J. B., and Evans, A. L. (2014). Promoting shared meanings in group memberships: A social identity approach to leadership in sport. Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 15 (5), 672-685.

Slater, M. J., Barker, J. B., Coffee, P., and Jones, M. V. (2014). Leading for Gold: Social identity leadership processes at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise, and Health, e-pub ahead of print, doi:10.1080/2159676X.2014.936030

Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr., In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies (New York: Warner Books, 1982), pp. 223-24, 286