Good collaboration is all about good relationships


We talk to MAD World Summit keynote speaker Sir Ian Cheshire about why this year’s theme – collaboration – is so important in progressing the wellbeing agenda

I come from an analytical background and training but, actually, I’ve learned that getting relationships, and the emotional part of work right, are nine tenths of success. Yes, nine tenths!

Often the thing that most gets in the way of collaboration is that we make assumptions about other people, or departments, that are not normally right but just a default stereotype. It’s amazing to see how these stereotypes are reinforced with silos and functional agendas.

How can we overcome stereotypes?

The way to overcome stereotypes is by spending time with people.

It’s human nature to assume that other people think like you, and we all tend to struggle to understand different thinking styles to our own. That’s why we end up projecting our own styles onto others, which often leads to miscommunications. Unfortunately, in lots of teams when different personality types talk to each other it’s like one is speaking Swahili and the other Urdu!

I’m a huge advocate of taking time to understand the people you have around the table by, for example, taking two days of sitting down and really talking to each other at the beginning of a project. There are lots of management development approaches and personality profiles that can help provide a framework for this.

Get personal

One of the most effective things I’ve ever done at the start of working with teams, as a leader, is tell some of my own, personal story so the team knows me a bit better. Once, when I was working at Kingfisher, for example, I dug out some old photos of where I grew up in the Far East and Africa and I tried to explain my background, and who I was, particularly some of my formative influences.

It went down a storm and was a complete revelation for some people in terms of ‘getting’ me. Now, I always try and establish some sort of agenda working with others, so I’m open with people and they understand more where I am coming from.

Be less reactive

What story telling and relationship-building tools do is aid reflection and help us all be less reactive in the (heated) moment. Instead, you think about how you want to react.

Believe me, an ounce of this kind of ‘framing’ upfront is worth several pounds of reframing later.

Good leaders and collaborators recognise their responsibility for the effects their behaviour calls up in other people.

They create the freedom to decide: how am I going to get the best out of this person, rather than just tell them why they are wrong? Collaborating this way gives you infinitely more engagement from other team members.

Why reflection is essential

If you don’t do this essential reflection work, then you are essentially barrelling through meetings without any conscious mastery of what you’re trying to do, and what might be the best way to get there.

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This work is so important because everything in business starts with relationships and, ultimately, success is about teams getting on and achieving goals together. If you don’t have good relationships, you can’t really talk about things. You end up tiptoeing around issues. Whereas if you’ve got a good relationship, that gives you permission to have an honest dialogue, which is how things happen.

The highlight of my career has definitely been bringing a team together, with a variety of talents and thinking styles, and watching them take off. It’s just brilliant, the most exciting and fun thing you can do as a leader, by a country mile.


Sir Ian 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

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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