In June, I had the honor of presenting my paper, “Everyone Has a Role: Whole System Engagement Maximizes Collaboration” at the XXIV ISPIM Conference – Innovating in Global Markets: Challenges for Sustainable Growth – in Helsinki, Finland.


Collaboration is an important factor for successful innovation and change. Indeed, collaboration is an imperative for most organizations today, including any organization undergoing change. Innovation requires collaboration between individuals, as well as systemic forms of collaboration that span silos, networks and surprising connections. And yet collaboration cannot be mandated. Collaboration just doesn’t work like that.

So how do we set up our change initiatives, projects and organizational cultures to foster collaboration at all levels? An environment that is right for collaboration must have a number of conditions present, both tangible and intangible. These include enabling processes and technologies as well as trust, respect and dialogue. I touch upon many of these in my paper.

Beyond the processes and technologies, at the heart of it, collaboration is made possible by how we see people, how we treat them and how we involve them in an initiative. Collaboration is more productive when we have diversity of ideas and perspectives. To achieve inclusiveness and diversity, we must identify all of the voices within a system and find a way to involve them in the initiative or – at the very least – represent their perspective to other stakeholders. But how do you identify all of the diverse voices in a system?


How do you know you have accounted for all of the perspectives in a system, while remaining pragmatic, respectful and effective? As I conducted stakeholder mapping for various initiatives, I found that existing stakeholder maps did not help identify all of the voices in a system. They do not help ensure that the whole system is represented and, even worse, they often use the language of control. If you are seeking collaboration, then you cannot control stakeholders. You may set controls that provide structure, discipline and boundaries for your initiative, but you cannot control how stakeholders behave. I needed a fit-for-purpose tool that reflected both the mindset and environment needed for collaboration. So I began a process of developing a different stakeholder map to make sure that all voices would be accounted for and show that everyone has a role; I began with questions.

These questions must be asked of every initiative:

Why are we doing this?
What are we doing?
How will we do it?
What’s possible?
What’s going on in reality?


Different stakeholders will answer each of these questions differently. Most stakeholders can answer a few of these questions really well, but not all of them equally. Now – if we want to foster collaboration – then everyone should be invited to help answer the question “Why?” because the process of answering “Why?” builds ownership of the problem. People need a reason to work together and they are more motivated to work together when they share a problem. Since it is a point of convergence, “Why?” takes the center of the stakeholder map.

Looking at the other four questions reveals polarities. Some groups are better at answering “What are we doing?” and some are better at answering “How will we do it?” Some groups are better at answering “What’s possible?” and some are better at answering “What’s going on in reality?” The polarities of “What versus How” and “Reality versus Possibility” centered around “Why” establish a structure for the stakeholder map, as seen below.

1 - structure

If we then use the traditional symbol of a whole system, the circle, and draw it around the questions, space is created for the voices that represent the whole system:

  • Voice of Intent – Answers “What’s possible for this initiative?” and “What is the overall objective?”
  • Voice of the Customer or User – Answers “What are the specific objectives?” and “What are the issues in reality?”
  • Voice of Experience – Answers “What are the patterns that emerge from reality?” and “How do we make things happen in this system?”
  • Voice of Design – Answers “What are the possible solutions?” and “How to we make the solutions work?”

 2 - the map

Each of the voices has a responsibility to represent the perspective from their quadrant because they are the primary experts in this perspective – no one can represent that perspective better than they can. The boundaries of the map are deliberately open and permeable to allow for the reality that people need to step into one another’s shoes and represent a different perspective from time to time. People may take on different roles over the course of an initiative. Also, people may have one foot in one role and one foot in another role. To see how the map works for a real initiative, the example below shows how stakeholders are mapped out from an insurance claims project for Suncorp.

3 - example

In the example, each stakeholder group had a responsibility to represent their unique perspective. As we worked to improve the experience brokers had with our claims process, we needed perspectives from the entire system. Broker relationship managers (comprising a portion of the “Feedback Panel”) helped us understand what motivates brokers. Claims Staff helped us understand what was happening during the claims process. The Business Owner sat between two quadrants, with the responsibility to translate the intent of senior leadership while guiding day-to-day initiative decisions.


By indicating the voices needed to answer the main questions of an initiative, this map helps include the stakeholders who represent a whole system and assemble the diversity needed for effective collaboration. Because the framework is based on the mindset that everyone has a role, it enables us to more appropriately value the differing perspective that each stakeholder brings. The acknowledgement that all of these perspectives are necessary to achieve success helps set a tone of mutual respect – and collaboration is not possible when we do not respect and value individual differences. Ideals are important, and pragmatism is important as well. The map indicates that stakeholders will be involved appropriately in an initiative: some will be involved intensely; some will be involved less intensely. Without mandating collaboration, the map helps to set up an environment for an initiative where stakeholders with diverse perspectives can build respect and learn to work together.

Diversity and collaboration are not easy to manage. Diversity and collaboration are messy. The whole point is to include diverse voices in order to bring out differences that give us new insight into a shared problem and potential sustainable solutions – and that simultaneously creates conflict and energy. If we start from a place of respecting the need for each voice, we provide fertile ground for collaboration to take root and grow.

Read the full paper

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