Written by Heather Shearer,  December 2020 for our Collaboration & Working Across Boundaries event, 10th December 2020.

I spend my working life supporting people in health and social care so they can make a difference and improve services. I don’t have an easy job title or a single employer: I work in a medical school, as a coach, as a quality improvement trainer and as a facilitator. I am learning all the time about how to collaborate and work across boundaries. Here are four thoughts on what I’ve learned so far…and a request for advice on two things I want to learn more about.

Why matters more than title

I’ve sat in so many meetings over 20 years where introductions are focused upon job titles or grades. These reinforce status, organisations and – in my view – often stifle the conversation. I now make a point to ask colleagues to introduce themselves by saying ‘why they are here’ or ‘why they’ve joined this team’.


I’ve been told I ‘don’t respect power’. I think it is more accurate to say that I am more interested in how you do what you do rather than the relative position you hold in a hierarchy. Working closely with senior leaders, executives and board members over years has shown me differences between how people use their status and also (when you get them alone) how human, uncertain and constrained they also feel.

People know stuff you need to know

Instead of relying on a database which takes enormous effort to set up and is almost immediately out-of-date, ask your colleagues “do you know anyone who worked on x” and then you follow-up leads and find valuable information in drawers and memories. People know the stuff you need to know.”

Similarities before differences

Having the opportunity to spend time with people from many different professions, different organisations and different countries I notice how many of our approaches, tools and techniques are based upon the same concepts. There are also important differences – but I’ve learned I tend to listen first for similar concepts, notice language used for those concepts and only then start to explore differences.

Two areas I need to learn more about are about using governance structures within organisations – or creating new ones – to help drive the collaborative goal, and also how to use financial flows to make new ways of working sustainable beyond ‘good will and enthusiasm’.  What can you tell me about these two?


We enjoyed a great 10th December where Heather shared examples of these four lessons and opened up the event to hear experiences from participants. The event insights pack will be available in the events page  in mid December for everyone to explore further.

Our thanks to Heather Shearer  for this blog, as one of our contributors in our Collaboration & Working Across Boundaries event,  supported by Kaleidoscope, Project Lift’s Community partners. Find out more about our community events past and present .