Making the Links

“It is one of the beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” – R.W. Emerson
The piano has many keys and yet if a pianist only played one or three of these he or she wouldn’t make much music. They  need a collection of keys joined in tune and rhythm to make music. A symphony is many instruments united in harmony – each respecting the time and sound of the other. Music demands order and unity between different sounds and tones. The author Maria Cristina Mena rightly wrote ‘“The piano keys are black and white but they sound like a million colours in your mind.’ This collection and combination of the different create a rainbow of feeling and experience.
In our services we often get partnerships wrong. We don’t fuse the notes. We don’t allow the different parts the space and position they should have. As a result we produce no music or rainbows. Why do we fail to create partnerships that work and flourish? There are many reasons. We believe two fundamental reasons are that we fail to sink the roots and tend the shoots. In other words we fail to build the best foundations and fail to nurture and trim what is growing from the encounter.
The question should never be ‘What can I get from this?’ Rather it should be what can I bring or offer here to make a change for the better. A friend of the authors who has built serious and successful partnerships across services always say his first question is ‘What can we do to help you do what you have to do?’ His approach is about reaching out – building the bridges and the trust. This lays a good foundation because it is about creating a place where different services can co-create options and futures in co-operation and co-learning. Silo protecting and kingdom building are anathema to this practice. This is all about giving to make a difference. Our friend says that he always receives so much back that he is often overwhelmed by the people wanting to work with him. The roots are good will, good relationships and good giving. 
What grows from these are new ideas, fresh initiatives and forward looking plans. These are the shoots that need to be tended and cared for. Human frailty and our organisations culture and issues can easily undermine growth and the rising up of dynamic partnerships. The master partnership-maker watches the shoots while continually deepening the roots. They allow free growth while nourishing the foundations. Like a tree the partnerships grow and flow with branches spreading up to touch the sky and yet the foundations stay steady and firm.
A midwife student friend of ours was asked what happens when we don’t make good partnerships? She said ‘People feel lost and isolated. Those who use services don’t get true holistic care. Mistrust can spread and lack of understanding of what other services do becomes the norm.’ She went on to say that for her the major blocks to good partnership work were ‘Lack of true communication , understanding of roles and a lack of positive openness to others’. Her words contain a lot of wisdom. If we are not positively open to the other we will not communicate well and understand them and their roles. It is when we really see and  encounter the other and their role, value and importance that we make the deep connection. We may often find it difficult to have time for this. One solution is ‘snap conversations.’ Snap conversations is that minute or few minutes  – in a corridor or as a meeting has finished or while getting a coffee. It is in these contacts that human and humane connection can happen. Amazingly in a hour meeting there may be very little human and humane content yet in a few minutes afterwards something key and significant can happen. Perhaps a telling judgement on how we do meetings?     
On the eve of the 2015 Royal College of Midwives conference we publish this blog.  The theme of the conference is ‘Proud to be a Midwife’.  Midwifery works in partnership with obstetricians, neonatologist, scbu/nicu nurses in hospital , health visitors , social workers, specialist midwives and many others. Our midwife student friend said ‘We are in partnership with the women so we need to be in partnership with each other. We should always be thinking of how we can make the best links to make the best care.’ We believe there is a need for all NHS and care staff to spend time with patients and their families. Managers need to leave their computers ( at least for a while ) and spend lots of quality time with staff – to listen, learn and give. In Midwifery and everywhere let’s create spaces for midwives to hear all voices  – families, patients and other specialisms. These are the links that matter and engage. The future is how we together create a symphony of people working for best maternity care. Our student friend said ‘ I am proud to be a midwife – that’s why I try to connect with others.  I can’t do this work alone and I don’t want to. Together we are stronger.’ Making the links makes the difference. 
Nat Corden
John Walsh

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