What do you think of each other? How dangerous would it be if everyone knew? A partnership exercise

Benjamin P. Taylor
4 min readDec 15, 2021


I helped facilitate a large group drawn from all the ‘partners’ trying to join up and make their ‘place’ better.

This was a partnership across police, health, fire, businesses, voluntary sector, several councils, and central government.

The idea was that, working together, they could get more autonomy to work locally around local problems — getting better results for the community and citizens, and saving public funds.

Truth be told, the real drivers were the specific government funding available for those putting in winning bids, and the ideology of the local politicians.

Trying to create ‘A3 thinking’ sheets for each programme element — a technique from lean which lists background, context, current condition and problem statement, and goal, then proceeds with rigour through root-cause analysis, countermeasures, check, and follow-up — was impossible. The goals and actions were logically incoherent in themselves.

Nevertheless, the participants were serious — verging on the idealistic.

This was an opportunity to do something to radically improve the conditions for people in the area, not just tweak services around the edges!

It was an opportunity to really deliver the joining-up that had been worked on for decades without real results.

But there was a problem.

It became clear that the organisations were extremely different, and that they held some really big preconceived ideas about each other — but nobody was willing to discuss it.

Taking a deep breath, we prepared an exercise for the kickoff event.

The representatives of each organisation sat in a circle.

We gave them an envelope, on which they wrote their organisation’s name.

Everyone passed the envelope clockwise, and then used index cards to write down what people in their organisation would typically think about the organisation whose envelope they were holding.

When the envelopes came all the way back round to the originators, each representative read out loud the cards they felt were worth sharing.

I think everyone read all the cards, and at times you could have cut the tension with a knife.

We went for a coffee break. It was pretty awkward. But then, suddenly conversation took off!

After the break, we got into the realities of working together, as a team of people and as organisations.

But the real work was done when everyone saw what others really thought about them, and we made it permissible — even a requirement — to discuss it.

Twist: it later turned out that many of the most negative, cliched views of each organisation had been contributed *by the representatives of that organisation themselves!*

They knew. It just needed to be made discussable.

>> Have you experienced ways of surfacing these kinds of perceptions?

What they heard: