You can be forgiven for wondering why there needs to be a commentary on the post-BREXIT situation and collaboration when it seems obvious that collaboration is exactly what is not wanted. I would agree that BREXIT has little to do with collaboration other than it will be collaboration that in the end sets the tone for the future.
Few issues have shaped the relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom more than BREXIT. A fraught negotiation process is now followed by its destructive aftermath. Crucial details omitted in haste are attempted to be quickly patched up. The impacts of this haste are many, and ‘clear’ outcomes are difficult to manage especially with the ongoing COVID crisis. This lack of clarity and perspective has severely eroded trust.
Is Britain sticking to the originally negotiated results or trying to change things in its favour? Where does the future of the country lie, if it is in great danger of suffering significant brain drain and skills shortages?
In the early days, the post-BREXIT era looked like a world characterised by different teething problems. With both sides clearly appreciating each other, one felt the need to redefine itself and break away. To me this was no reason to be too alarmed. Yes, business travel and working with the UK became more complex. Still, joint respect, even with a lack of understanding as to why BREXIT was necessary to begin with, similar values and open communication channels on all levels were the hallmark of that time.
Since then, something has significantly shifted. And this something is the trust levels between the European Union and the UK. The political disarray around the vaccine production and market allocation and the seemingly never-ending discussions around the border agreements have deeply damaged trust between the main actors as well as among the public.
From my line of work, I can clearly tell you that trust is the basis – no, the pre-requisite – for any kind of collaboration. No organisation, no community and no country can in fact flourish without it. This fundamental trust goes far beyond sticking to your word. It allows for leaders to create a culture of psychological safety in which people can openly and honestly disagree with each other to eventually re-focus on their joint objective. This trust must be role-modelled by the leaders. If this is not possible, collaboration will fail.
But why does collaboration matter at all you might ask? Isn’t a little competition healthy? Absolutely.
Looking at the history of human evolution, collaboration as well as competition helped us to develop as species. As two sides of the same coin, they allowed us to manage our way through the tangle of predicted and unforeseen outcomes. Doing so required a careful balancing between both competition and collaboration. Like a pendulum, we tend to swing between competition and collaboration. And you won’t be surprised to read that, for now, we are erring too much on the side of competition when it comes to our post-BREXIT world.
So, without trust there is no collaboration.
And without collaboration, there is no opportunity to flourish as a nation, as a community, as an economic zone. But this evident lack of trust is only the first major hurdle to collaboration and a constructive discourse between the European Union and the UK. The joint objective is the second one. The recent trials and tribulations of political finger-pointing have made it abundantly clear that we are lacking a common objective or at least the same understanding of what this objective actually means.
As we see in our daily work at The Collaboration Practice with a broad range of organisations articulating a vision, mission and purpose, defining the value and giving the marching orders in no way means that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. To achieve the latter, we need transparent, unambiguous communication. And we need…yes, you’ve guessed it….trust.
So where do we go from here? Will the UK continue to be an inward-looking ‘Little Britain’ characterised by a talent exodus, empty shelves, and border control issues? It might be so – for a while. History has shown that it takes generations to rebuild that deep trust. A change towards meaningful collaboration in the post-BREXIT world will take as long.
But I am absolutely confident that change will come eventually and collaboration will prevail. Afterall, there is no such thing as impossible.
Britta Posner is the founder and director of the organisational development consultancy The Collaboration Practice www.thecollaborationpractice.com