Collaboration & integration of the wellbeing agenda really happens at a granular level; team by team

Professor Dame Carol Black photographed for the RSA, commissioned by Wardour

Dame Carol Black talks to us about why the theme of this year’s MAD World Summit – collaboration – is so important. 

Everybody coming to the MAD World Summit on October 12th can make a real difference when it comes to collaboration around wellbeing at work in their organisation.

Collaboration happens at so many levels in an organisation and it doesn’t matter who takes the lead – whether it is HR, Occupational Health, or DEI, as long as everyone plays their part.

Everyone has a part to play in staff wellbeing

There needs to buy-in at a very senior level for wellbeing agendas to succeed. But crucially the hard work is often done by line managers supporting and developing their staff. So, it doesn’t matter, for example, how good a HR director is if you haven’t got people-centred teams.

Everyone wants and needs to feel valued, listened to, and psychologically safe at work which enables us to want to go to work and do our best – something that is a crucial feature of the people who make-up a healthy, collaborative team.

Are leaders sending the right message?

Teams do best when senior leaders demonstrate collaborative behaviour themselves and even if staff don’t directly interact with senior executives on a regular basis, it sets the culture of the organisation.

Research shows that the most productive teams are often led by people who are both task-and relationship-oriented and can move between both styles to achieve set goals. For me, the most collaborative teams I’ve worked in, like when I was a hospital doctor, have a common goal which everyone believes in.

Then it comes down to developing relationships within the team you are working in.  If you want to get a good outcome, you have to put the time in – there’s no shortcuts. There is nothing as powerful for relationship building as listening and giving someone your whole attention. Everyone wants to know they’ve been heard and their opinion has been taken into account.

Robust and respectful discussions lead to better decisions

This doesn’t mean you have to agree with their opinion all the time though! And you won’t. As a Chair, it is always important to actively build boards that feature different opinions, it leads to decision-making that has been vigorously tested to avoid group-think and it is often where innovation begins. It is vital to be challenged and important to accept that you won’t always be popular.

Collaboration means being open to sharing knowledge freely, learning from each other, sharing the workload fairly and flexibly, and sharing resources. Leaders need to work to build consensus, they can do this by working cooperatively themselves and being clear about expectations and timelines, these qualities can really help to avoid an impasse. It is always helpful to be open to asking yourself if you can personally try a different approach to reach the desired goal instead of assuming the block sits with the other person.

What can be done differently?

I don’t want my collaborator to be a ‘yes person’ all the time so good collaboration will inevitably involve different perspectives – that’s what makes it ‘good’. I’ve also learnt the important skill of letting go of small things in service of the bigger picture but without shying away from the vital decisions that need to be made to progress.  

We have to understand our own behaviour to build better relationships. And remember that life, and collaboration, is never perfect. I don’t know of any job (I’ve certainly never done one) where you like everyone you work with equally, or agree with them all 100 per cent. We don’t all need to be friends with our colleagues but we should strive to be respected and to always respect others. Being collaborative is a vital way to achieve a shared goal and getting there as part of a team is incredibly rewarding.


Dame Carol will be joining us at our sister event, the MAD World Summit on 12th October, along with an an impressive roster of speakers from Age UK, BAM UK&I, BBC, Belron, BITC, Britvic, Costain, Deloitte, Dentsu, EY, Goldman Sachs, Heath Foundation, Heathrow, HSBC, IBM, Ipsos, Mars, Metro Bank, Microsoft, Mind, National Grid, Novartis, Unipart, Royal Bank of Scotland, Starbucks, Village Hotels and many more

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If you haven’t booked your tickets yet, don’t miss out. October may seem like a long way off but, as the super-early-bird rate of £95.00 + VAT for the MAD World Summit & co-located DE&I Symposium expires on 31st July, it makes sense to reserve your places as soon as possible. You can find full details and book here.

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