Getting to Transform - Time to step up

Guest writer, Professor Malcolm Morley, OBE, runs the Centre for Partnership Working at Anglia Ruskin University. Here he shares his expertise about working collaboratively, with the pinnacle of the 'staircase of relationships' being 'Getting to Transform'. As an organisation championing cross-sector collaboration and working, we at WIG found his insights incredibly valuable. We trust you will, too.

Experience from crises have consistently illustrated three things:

  1. Joint working within and between sectors delivers outcomes more effectively and quicker than individual organisations attempting to tackle crises alone.
  2. Crises create an imperative to act that leads to organisational leaders committing to shared objectives and priorities and the sweeping away of barriers to joint working.
  3. Once the heat and pressure of a crisis have subsided the advances in joint working are rarely sustained to fulfil their potential and to create new norms for strategic thinking, behaviours and performance.

As it takes a long time to change organisational culture so too does it take a long time to change the approach to joint working.  Unless the crisis is so severe and prolonged as to put organisational survival at risk, individuals and teams quickly feel the pull of the old organisation culture to revert to the ‘old’ behaviours and ways of working once the crisis abates. 

The importance of the 4Cs

Organisations consist of:

  1. Competencies (skills, knowledge and ability to learn/adapt/evolve).
  2. Capacity (human, financial, physical assets, technology, intellectual property and geographic reach).

The imperative to act in a crisis leads to the identification of competency and capacity gaps and seeking to fill them through joint working irrespective of organisational or sectoral location. To make this joint working effective requires:

  1. Capabilities (systems and processes within and between organisations that link competencies and capacity to deliver objectives).
  2. Cultural alignment so that organisations with different values in action do not inhibit or frustrate joint work internally and/or externally.

Recognising and developing the 4Cs in both public and private sector organisations is central to them being able to perform successfully both as individual organisations and in joint working. This has to be done in the context of their strategic objectives and how they see their roles in achieving them e.g. how they define their core business.

Having competency and/or capacity not linked by capabilities within cultures that enable them to be used effectively will lead to underperformance.  In joint working each organisation has to be clear about:

  1. Their roles. 
  2. How their competencies and capacity contribute to the joint working.
  3. Whether their joint working capabilities are sufficiently developed.
  4. Whether there is sufficient cultural alignment to enable each organisational contribution to be made effectively.

Being clear about the above, however, is only the first part of the challenge.  The hard part is to address any gaps identified to ensure that conditions are created for the joint working to fulfil its potential in practice.

Joint working – more than just performance?

Joint working needs to be effective not only between organisations (external) but within them (internal).  If an organisation does not have effective internal joint working how can it be effective in external joint working?

There are two types of joint working; collaboration and partnership. It is important to recognise these different types of joint working as the language of partnership is too often used when the reality is that many interactions within and between organisations and sectors are collaboration at best. This false nomenclature creates expectations that cannot be fulfilled, results in underperformance and undermines confidence in the joint working.


Figure One: The characteristics of collaboration and partnership joint working

Figure One: The characteristics of collaboration and partnership joint working


Organisation leaders need to be realistic about both the nature of the joint working they want to achieve and where it is now in the context of Figure One.  As with all relationships it takes time to go from collaboration to partnership (as indeed it does for relationships based upon transaction to develop to collaboration).

Moving from collaboration to partnership joint working requires leaders to illustrate their commitment to it through their behaviour, decision-making, prioritisation, resource allocation, performance management, language and intent to move up the Staircase of Relationships.

Figure Two: The Staircase of Relationships


The Staircase of Relationships represents the stages in relationship development that enable individuals, teams and organisations to improve their joint working performance. At its pinnacle is Getting to Transform. This is where the organisational thinking, strategy, culture, norms of behaviour, performance, competencies, capacity, organisational capabilities, relationships with customers/communities etc. become embedded. Where they are embedded they re-define the relationships between, and the benchmarks for, economy, efficiency and effectiveness (inputs, outputs and outcomes).

Whilst a crisis creates the imperative to act and to change the nature of the relationships in operation for that crisis, with compressed timescales for the ascension of the staircase, it is often the case that this ascension of the staircase reaches as high as Getting to Perform, but not to Getting to Transform. The emphasis is on responding to the crisis through improving performance. 

The sustainability of the ascension of the staircase is tested when the imperative to act created by the crisis reduces. In many cases organisations descend the staircase as ‘business as normal’ resumes with a reversion to ‘as was’ behaviours etc. The opportunity to reach, and to achieve the benefits of, Getting to Transform is missed.

The Leadership Challenge

Getting to Transform needs leaders in both public and private sector organisations willing and able to commit to, and support consistently, overtly and tangibly, joint working as a norm rather than just as a tactic in a crisis. This is particularly important when joint working begins to challenge the organisation’s strategy, its culture, its sovereignty, the dominant logic of resource allocation/investment, the established ways of doing things and individual’s perceptions of their status.

This leadership challenge is complex and demanding for both intra-sectoral and inter-sectoral joint working. There’s an opportunity, however, to recognise not only the improvements in performance possible from this joint working but to build upon those improvements by Getting to Transform. In doing so leaders will be setting new benchmarks for economy, efficiency and effectiveness. They will also be recognising that joint working is strategically important and that they need to ensure that their organisations develop the competencies and capacity, supported by the necessary organisational capabilities and culture, to deliver the benefits that can be achieved from it.

[1] Morley, M (2015) The Public Private Partnership Handbook: How to maximize value from joint working, Kogan Page
[2] Morley, M (2015) The Public Private Partnership Handbook: How to maximize value from joint working, Kogan Page

  • Professor Malcolm Morley OBE

    Centre for Partnership Working

    Anglia Ruskin University

    Malcolm is a Non-Executive Director, academic and former Council Chief Executive with private sector experience. He has a long track record of creating successful joint working collaborations and partnerships within and between sectors.  He is the author of two books: Understanding Markets and Strategy: How to exploit markets for sustainable business growth; and, The Public Private Partnership Handbook: How to maximise value from joint working. He is also the author of over 200 articles and has contributed to the World Bank on public private partnerships.  He writes from a practitioner’s perspective and has spoken at a wide range of conferences.