From the President, October 2020

Dr Hazel McLaughlin writes on breaking silos and collaborating; why psychology needs to be agile and creative. How can we leverage the benefits of meaningful collaboration to build the BPS of the future?

I echo the words of the US author and activist Helen Keller: ‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much’. As psychologists we recognise the value of collaboration but often fail to put it into practice. But why is collaboration increasingly important in today’s world?

At first glance technology enables us to collaborate easily and efficiently but we also need to take care to build mutual trust and to establish relationships that will enable effective outcomes. The collaborative nature of the BPS response to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is an excellent example of the potential within our reach. Experts across psychology worked together, ignoring silos and achieving outcomes that added significant value to people’s lives.

This has also played out on the world stage with the Global Psychology Alliance, which has enabled the BPS to connect with psychologists globally, to build a common vision and community and to share ideas that shape psychological policy and services. Alongside our talented global partners and more local colleagues, I am privileged to contribute to this global community and seek to build this to the next level of partnership. The recent statement from 60 psychological associations in over 20 languages on ‘What do Psychologists and Psychology offer Humanity’ is a current and valuable example of the benefit of collaboration.

The psychology behind collaboration
When collaboration works well, it fosters innovation and delivers high quality results, enabling organisations and individuals to be more agile and responsive in real time.

Yet as psychologists, we know that meaningful collaboration is built on the foundation of mutual respect, openness and trust, and a sense of fairness. We need to have a common purpose built on shared values and an approach that enables us to share both success and failures. Creativity is enhanced when there is an openness to experiment and try out new solutions without fear of blame or reprisal. This can increase agility and responsiveness. Whether the collaboration is internal-facing or external to an organisation, there need to be perceived benefits in working together with open and forthright communication. This takes time to build and is supported by empathy and mutual understanding. The organisational culture and the rewards and incentives can foster or hinder collaboration. If people have individual targets and are recognised and rewarded for individual success, this encourages competition rather than co-operation.

We can link this to the other articles within the edition. Whether in the context of research, practice or interpersonal relationships, there are distinct benefits from the collaborative approach. But this requires a different style of leadership; one that is more inclusive and that builds on the capabilities of the team. Modelling collaborative leadership is fundamental. As Ibarra and Hansen stress in their Harvard Business Review piece ‘Are you a collaborative leader?’; ‘Leaders today must be able to harness ideas, people, and resources from across boundaries of all kinds.’

Don’t ‘stay in your lane’
In organisations and institutions, there is often a competitive environment; our tendency is to consider how best to achieve for ourselves and our team. Breaking down silos and working with peers across perceived ‘divides’ is key. As Heidi Gardner’s research shows, organisations can succeed in breaking down silos through smart collaboration with effort focused on key areas of the business that will deliver the most impactful return.

Building collaborative capacity
Engaging in collaborative working enables us to build our collaborative capacity, and working collaboratively increases the capacity for further collaboration. It becomes a cycle that enables us to work better and smarter to achieve shared goals. As Ken Blanchard says, ‘None of us is as smart as all of us.’  I invite you to share your views on how we can enhance meaningful collaboration in the BPS and within psychology.

- Dr Hazel McLaughlin is President of the British Psychological Society. Find interviews with her and more in our archive.

Read much more about collaboration in our October issue.

Key sources

Gulati, R. (May 2007) Silo Busting: How to Execute on the Promise of Customer FocusHarvard Business Review

Ibarra. H., Hansen. M.T., (July-August 2011)  Are You a Collaborative Leader? Harvard Business Review.

Gardner. H. (2017). Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos. Harvard Business Review Press.

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