Tag Archives: organisational culture

emergency services health

Mental health emergency

World-first research by beyondblue and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC will invite up to 20,000 current and former personnel from 34 police and emergency organisations across Australia to participate in a survey about their mental health and risk of suicide.

As part of the National mental health and wellbeing study of police and emergency services, beyondblue is working closely with employers, personnel and their families on practical strategies to improve the mental health of police and emergency services workers and volunteers.

It is the first time data is being collected on a national scale from police and emergency service organisations. The emergency services health research is being conducted in three phases after qualitative analysis was gathered in phase one last year.

From August 2017, police and emergency service workers will be surveyed about their wellbeing; common mental health conditions; suicide risk; stigma; help-seeking behaviour; and factors supporting, or jeopardising, mental health in the workplace.

The University of Western Australia and Roy Morgan Research are working together on phase two of the emergency services health study, which is expected to conclude in December.

The Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC has provided a funding contribution to the study and will support beyondblue’s work.

“The only national statistic we have about the mental health of police and emergency service workers is a devastating one – 110 Australian police and emergency services workers died by suicide between 2010 and 2012,” says beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman.

“Beyondblue’s reputation is based on its use of scientifically sound, evidence-based research from which we build and develop programs to promote a better understanding of depression and anxiety and suicide prevention.”

Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC CEO Dr Richard Thornton says the project will provide important information to understand both the number of people affected and the range of issues they face.

“The understanding we gain will be used to design interventions to support them and their families and improve personal, family and agency outcomes,” says Thornton.

In phase one, completed in November last year by Whereto Research, current and former police and emergency service employees, volunteers and family members were interviewed about their experiences of mental health conditions in which participants felt at risk of suicide.

Initial findings suggest:

  • the nature of the stigma associated with mental health conditions differs across police, fire and rescue and ambulance services;
  • although exposure to trauma is seen as an underlying cause for post-traumatic stress disorder, workplace culture and practices also contribute to the prevalence of mental health conditions;
  • working in police and emergency services, particularly for volunteers, can support workers’ mental health.

“In phase three, beyondblue will work alongside police and emergency service organisations to identify strategies to practically address the issues raised by the findings of this research,” says Harman.

These evidence-based strategies will support individuals, improve organisational culture and address systemic concerns that impact on mental health and wellbeing across the sector nationally.

They will be developed in collaboration with a cross-section of the police and emergency services sector including agencies, unions, government departments, individuals and family and community groups around Australia.

This article on emergency services health research was first published by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Read the original article here.

working collaboratively

Working collaboratively means welcoming tension

Most of us recognise that in specific situations, collaboration is the ideal mode of delivery. We are also getting instinctively better at understanding when it is needed.

For example, we know we need to collaborate if achieving our aims requires a creative solution developed in a complex environment, breadth of expertise, or buy-in and shared ownership from stakeholders. Interestingly, these are often the higher impact challenges or issues we face.

We also know that working collaboratively is almost always challenging. Collaborative efforts are prone to failure and often don’t quite deliver on our expectations. 

Knowing all these things increases the importance of being able to collaborate well when it is required. But this requires diagnosing why it so often goes awry.

Through some 400 collaborative projects over the last decade at Collabforge, we’ve learned a great deal about working collaboratively. We’ve found that understanding the challenges provides valuable cues for setting yourself up for success.

1. Missing “chair”

You and I know what collaboration means, but as a society, we don’t.

There is a gap in our shared understanding. Because collaboration is in our DNA, we get fooled into thinking that we have a common reference point we can rely on – a “chair” we can sit in when needed.

But when it comes to working collaboratively, there are no broadly accepted definitions or methodologies that we can take for granted like there are with project management. So often we fall on our bums when we try to sit in this missing chair.

2. Missing “team”

Collaboration is a team sport.

All great teams need to build their collective capability together. No one would ever expect a team to win a match without first practicing as a team.

Yet organisations regularly form new teams to tackle new challenges, without resourcing the teams to build collaborative capability prior to being expected to deliver.

We expect professionals to be competent collaborators straight out of the gate, in whatever situation we throw them at. However, we’ve likely all had the experience of feeling we are great at working collaboratively, only to discover that in certain situations and with certain people, we aren’t so great after all.

3. Missing “elephant”

When collaborating with other organisations, an implicit question is always, “will we ride your elephant or mine?”

To get their work done, collaboratively or otherwise, organisations rely upon a large and complex integration of culture, processes and tools – an “elephant” their staff members ride.

No one is excited to get down off their elephant and climb onto another unknown and likely cantankerous beast. And frankly, this isn’t a very collaborative undertaking.

However, taking a more collaborative approach and creating a new shared set of culture, tools and processes is often expensive, time intensive and risky. This amounts to launching and managing an elephant breeding program.

Even the task of deciding who will take on these risks, costs and energy can kill a collaboration before it begins.

Preparing to succeed when working collaboratively

1. Invest in building collaboration capability proportionately to the impact you expect it to deliver.

If the outcomes from an initiative are 80% dependent upon great collaboration, then use this percentage as an indicator of the level of resourcing you should commit to building and supporting collaborative capability.

2. Invest time upfront to establish common ground.

Whenever collaboration is an important part of the mix, you’ll get the most out of thinking and talking about it early in the process. Discuss key terms, concepts and assumptions about processes, tools, and, of course, the expected outcomes and impact of your collaboration.

3. Practice working collaborating as a team, separately from the responsibility of delivery.

Ideally from the outset, create opportunities for collaboration that are fun, engaging and decoupled from delivery. For example, ask the group to build a prototype of the imagined outcome in Lego.

4. Facilitate a regular rhythm of collaborative interactions.

The biggest risk to collaborative initiatives is flagging momentum and dropping balls in handovers between organisations. Having a regular and facilitated rhythm of interaction is key to maintaining momentum, continuity and building collective capability.

5. Design for growth while welcoming tension.

Collaborations generate value through the process of resolving tensions within groups. For example, every new participant will necessarily introduce tension and challenges as they are brought up to speed.

Without the challenge of diverse ideas and approaches, groupthink reigns, with peer pressure and conformity shutting down the “hard conversations”. When this happens, the fitness and value of the group’s output drops dramatically.

Therefore, it’s essential to enter collaborations expecting diversity and the challenge of ideas, but to also design processes for resolving these tensions before progressing to the next stage.

While collaboration still largely inhabits the realm of “art”, the likelihood of success is dramatically increased by practice that is supported by theory and method. The first step in working collaboratively is to build shared understanding of the inherent barriers so that we can align better together to overcome them.

Dr Mark Elliott

Managing Director and Founder, Collabforge

Read next: Petra Andrén, CEO of Cicada Innovations, uncovers the collaborative mechanisms that are vital to successful research, industry and startup activity.

Spread the word: Help Australia become a collaborative nation! Share this piece on working collaboratively using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Digital Disruption Thought Leadership Series here.

collaborative relationships

The art of collaborative relationships

When we speak of innovation we increasingly couple it with collaboration. Collaboration is regularly promoted as a positive attribute and a productive means to an end.

In my own research, I promote collaboration as a mechanism for including more women in scientific teams in male-dominated fields, and as a mechanism to sustain research when individuals are juggling the competing demands of life and family.

In this context, at one end of the spectrum we might be speaking of the collaboration that characterises teamwork within an organisation, while at the other end of the spectrum we might be speaking of international scientific collaboration that draws geographically dispersed networks together.

My research over the past decade on women in the academy and women in science has heightened my interest in the art of collaboration and how it might encapsulate ‘the way we do things around here’ – our organisational culture.

I am particularly interested in the way in which men are sponsored and socialised into strategic relationships, particularly with business and industry – an opportunity not readily available to most women.

Yet we know little about the social processes that sit behind the scientific production of knowledge, and most of our recognition and reward systems focus on the outstanding individual.

The myth of individual creative genius is a myth that my colleagues who work with remote Indigenous communities – just like those in large international scientific research teams – know is culturally and historically specific.

Those who are privileged to work with Indigenous communities know that collaboration based on deep respect of different ‘ways of seeing,’ encoded in art, language and religion and formulated over extremely long periods of time, is central to sustaining collaborative relationships. Longevity of relationship is particularly highly valued, and the time taken to build respectful collaborative relationships and trust is a critical part of this sustained engagement.

They also know that while knowledgeable individuals are involved, the knowledge is collectively owned and accessible only through well-established protocols.

The art of collaboration is far more than a set of pragmatic, instrumental practices. With a degree of candour, I should state that I am not always a great collaborative partner. I put this down to my academic identity being formed in the discipline of anthropology where the ‘rite de passage’ was years of field research alone in a remote village.

This prepares the aspiring researcher for collaboration from a position of heightened ignorance but not necessarily with academic peers with a common knowledge base. I also evidence deficiencies in two attributes essential to collaboration: time and discomfort with failure.

Innovation demands the time to build teams, network, establish cross-sectoral collaborative relationships, generate and test ideas, fail, learn and start again, and to translate research findings and disseminate these to a range of audiences. It also requires the time for reflection and exercise of the imagination.

Collaboration at its best generates this time and, at its best, offers a safe space to fail.

Professor Sharon Bell

Honorary Professor College of Arts and Social Sciences, ANU

Board Member, Ninti One

Read next: Heather Catchpole: Collaboration at a higher scale

Spread the word: Help Australia become a collaborative nation! Share this piece on collaborative relationships using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Digital Disruption Thought Leadership Series here.