Enhancing collaboration in the European Commission – an interview with Fania Pallikarakis

Teksti ja kuva: Marika Tammeaid

Apart from therapy, the Solution-Focused approach is nowadays also used worldwide in coaching, counselling, education, social work, health care, organizational change, and leadership. This spring I got an opportunity to be one of the experts presenting food for thought in a Coffee & Learn session of the One-Stop Shop for Collaboration of the European Commission. When planning the event, I got very curious about Fania Pallikarakis and her work as a Solution-Focused practitioner within the huge organisation of the EU Commission. I interviewed Fania on August 4th and heard interesting things about Solution-Focus at large scale.


MT (Marika Tammeaid): I am very curious to hear what are you working with exactly? The One-Stop Shop for Collaboration sounds like a great effort within a huge and multifaceted organisation with a societal mission.

FP (Fania Pallikarakis): Yes, I work for the Joint Research Centre, the research and knowledge service of the European Commission. It supports policymaking with independent scientific evidence. Inside the Joint Research Centre there is the Unit of Knowledge for Policy and the One-Stop Shop team is part of it. We help teams across the Commission design knowledge management strategies. In practice that means anything that helps to capture, create, organise, or reuse knowledge to enhance decision-making, to avoid organisational memory loss or for other purposes. We also boost better collaboration as it is impossible to have successful knowledge management without it. A culture of openness and trust is critical. For example, if people fear that by sharing their knowledge, they will become redundant in an organisation, then knowledge sharing will not happen. People, processes, and IT tools are all needed for effective knowledge management.


MT: What is knowledge for you in your work?

FP: Knowledge includes both explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. Some parts of the knowledge are documented but most of it is tacit meaning it resides in people’s heads. They might not even be aware of it or not realise that others do not know the same things that they do. This is why collaboration is so important. Part of our interest is exploring how explicit knowledge can be shared and captured and how something can be co-created out of it. For instance, in order to boost knowledge sharing of tacit knowledge, we support communities of practice that are comprised from people sharing the same interests across the organisation. The members of these informal knowledge networks can come from any directorate or hierarchical level.


MT: Now I ask you something I have kept asking from myself when I have been working within in a huge organization “as a lonely SF practitioner”: If there were a fly in the ceiling looking at you in your daily duties, how/from what could the fly say that you are Solution-Focused?

FP: This is a good question. There are small things. First of all, I think it shows in how I give feedback to people. I try to be very precise. For example, not say that “your presentation was good” but that “I liked the simple language you used and the illustrative graphics you presented”. Also, when I ask for feedback, I urge to tell “what is it that you especially liked in this piece of work?” or “what would like to see more of in the future?”.

Another example is related to meetings. It is a habit to start our meetings with a check-in question. When I chair a meeting, my typical question is something that helps to focus the attention to the issue at hand or a small focusing assignment like ‘notice during the meeting who is really bringing something of value to the discussion and thank that person at the end of the meeting’. Two, three weeks ago we had a Unit meeting and I suggested a small experiment. I asked people, when sharing their updates, to share with the intention to help colleagues hear something that would make them understand how they could relate their own work to it. And when listening, to listen with the intention to discover how what they hear could be relevant to their work. This way we could create opportunities for synergies what’s in the center of our attention. I am very lucky to be working in a Unit with open-minded and curious people who are happy to try new things.


MT: I do admire what you are doing. What is best in your work? Some sparkling moments you could share?

FP: Some time ago we were working with a team that wanted to set up a community of practice. There was a wide discussion going on about all the obstacles and past experiences when the effort had failed. We were already running out of time, and I felt that I have to be bold – it is not always right moment to ask SF questions. So, I suggested that we use our imagination. I said: Let’s assume that we are in one year from now. These problems you are talking about are solved, you have managed to set up this community and everything is running very smoothly. It’s so successful that everybody in the Commission comes to ask your advice on how you managed to do it so well! How does this community look like?” It was amazing how, all of a sudden, people started giving me all the details of how often the community meets, what’s its mission, who are the stakeholders etc. Most interesting was that, when at some point, somebody went back to the problem talk, someone else said “Oh, can we do again this thing with the imagination?”. It was amazing. The new possibilities were already there.  

Another highlight was that of a big project that came to an end. The project had been successful, many units had been involved and the key coordinator wanted to start a new project as ambitious as the previous one. She was preparing for a meeting with other team leaders to convince them that although the new project would require much time, resources, and effort, it should be started. Usually, these decisions are based on KPIs (key performance indicators) and numbers. What I suggested was to ask the team leaders to come to the meeting with a short story about what happened during this project that they really enjoyed, that was a really pleasant surprise to them and that makes them believe that if a new project starts it would be a success as well. I was not sure if the coordinator would accept this way of proceeding since it is not the usual way of running these high-level management meetings. However, she did and it was amazing. Leaders came in so well prepared and shared success stories from their respective units. Most of them had even consulted their teams and had gathered stories about what the team members had enjoyed about the project and what made people think that it had gone really well. After that round nobody had to convince anybody anymore.


MT: Wow, these are great examples of how questions, frames and altering the way meetings are run, can make a huge difference. – Thinking of the coming autumn: What are you looking forward to in your work?

FP: I am looking forward to the Month of Coaching that we are organizing. It focuses on raising awareness around coaching and a coaching culture. There will be various events, presentations, and live coaching demos to answer the questions people might have about coaching. Also, the Solution Focus approach will be presented, and I will deliver a workshop about the difference between traditional problem solving and solution focus.

We will also continue the Coffee & Learn sessions to which Jonas Wells, Klaus Schenck, Viktoria Spashchenko and you, Marika Tammeaid, engaged in spring. I really feel grateful to be part of the SF community; it is so rich and it makes me very happy to be able to offer my colleagues the opportunity to experience SF through experienced professionals like yourself. The sessions around SF have been warmly received. Participants seemed open and ready to try to do things differently.

Great to hear about your impressing work, Fania! Thank you for the interview.

Marika Tammeaid

Numeron päätoimittaja
ratkaisukeskeinen kouluttaja-coach, työnohjaaja, julkisen johtamisen asiantuntija, kehitysjohtaja