Dr Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey discuss the importance of co-operation, collaboration and partnerships.


A quotation widely attributed to Sir Isaac Newton, “Men build too many walls and not enough bridges” greets visitors to the lobby of the Aéroports de Paris (ADP) Customer Service Academy.

The words may be around 300 years old, yet the sentiment remains valid today. Effective co-operation and partnerships are the keys to creating value, optimising efficiency and minimising risk in large complex systems. For example, Jeff Poole director general of CANSO has spoken of the need for cross border collaboration across the air traffic system.

Most people would accept that working together not only provides the opportunity for improved organisational performance, but also reduces conflict and stress. Why then can collaboration be so difficult?

The reasons are not hard to determine. Airport systems involve many different organisations, which have to work together to achieve their shared goal of transporting people safely. Each has their own set of goals and objectives and often just don’t have the time, the capability or will to focus on issues other than operational ‘business as usual’.

Furthermore, a longer term perspective – and a degree of patience – is necessary to allow people to invest their time in building trust, developing relationships and ensuring the quality of communication and information sharing necessary for effective cooperation.

Efforts to bring multiple stakeholders together on key issues – for example in Airport Collaborative Decision Making (ACDM) – have tended to focus on technological and infrastructural solutions. Huge investment has gone into designing systems to “talk to each other” and organisations such as IATA, CANSO and EUROCONTROL have issued a mandate for European airports to comply with a collaborative approach. Despite this, gains have sometimes been difficult to achieve.

It is on the ‘people’ side where most work remains to be done. An interesting initiative, the EU FP7 PROSPERO project (16 organisations across eight countries led by Trinity College Dublin), analyses risk from a whole systems perspective. The research has shown that effective collaboration requires:

  • A whole system approach: taking into account the ‘socio-technical’ system and understanding the risks associated with new technology and change
  • Sharing information and knowledge: ensuring that relevant information is available to the right people in a timely, understandable format at key process and decision points
  • Building social cohesion: ensuring efforts are made to build trust, encourage interdependent working, and ensure mutual respect and accountability

The quality of communication and dialogue is key to success, and this can require establishing platforms and linkages to facilitate the exchange of ideas between organisations and departments.

Our own practical experience demonstrates the importance of getting people together in the same location to work through issues as early as possible, establishing common structures and processes, building a shared vision and common goal, and developing conversation skills. Build bridges, not walls!

About the authors

Terri Morrissey and Dr Richard Plenty are organisers of ACI's annual 'Leadership and Change' Summit and directors of This Is... They can be contacted at

Article originally published in Airport World Magazine.

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Dr. Richard Plenty
Managing Director of This Is
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Terri Morrissey
Founding Director of This Is
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