Recently I read a few books on the general topic of collaboration. The one that was most informative for me was Morten Hansen’s book entitled “Collaboration.”
Harvard Business Press and written by an INSEAD/Berkeley professor, it is naturally very business focused.
It emphasizes the importance of cultural issues, it suggests several best practices, and it provides many case studies.
Hansen begins by enumerating several collaboration “traps”:
-collaborating in hostile territory (some organizations aren’t set up to collaborate)
-overcollaborating (it is refreshing for an author to suggest that his thesis and the title to his book isn’t universally applicable)
-overshooting the potential value
-misdiagnosing the problem
-implementing the wrong solution
He suggests that the solution to these traps is “disciplined collaboration … the leadership practice of properly assessing when to collaborate (and when not to) and instilling in people both the willingness and ability to collaborate when required”
The three steps in disciplined collaboration is to:
1)evaluate opportunities for collaboration
2)spot barriers to collaborate
3)tailor collaboration solutions
In general, his case for collaboration is that it provides:
which all can lead to sales growth, cost savings, and asset efficiency.
The four barriers to successful collaboration are:
-not invented here syndrome
(insular culture, status gap, self-reliance, fear of revealing shortcomings) -
hoarding (competition with colleagues/units, narrow incentives (for own goals), too busy, fear (loss of power))
-search problems (company size, physical distance, information overload, poverty of networks)
-transfer issues (tacit knowledge (difficult to transfer), no common frame (don’t know how to work together), weak ties (no strong relations to ease transfer)
The three levers to tear down these barriers are:
Lever 1: Unify People - reduce motivational barriers and get buy-in toward a common goal
One way to do this is to create unifying goals that must
-create common fate
-be simple and concrete
-put competition on outside
Another is for leaders to emphasize the value of teamwork.
However as they do this, they need to be aware of three “sins” that can happen.
sin #1 – small team work kills collaboration. In other words small teams only collaborate among themselves.
sin #2 – "everyone do teamwork now (except those of us up here)"
sin #3 – teamwork becomes the point of it all
A language of cooperation also needs to be created. However, as he has warned earlier, unification or collaboration can be overdone.
Lever 2: Encourage T-shaped management that rewards both independent results and cross-unit contributions. For example when BP merged with Amoco managers were expected to spend 15%-20% time on cross unit collaboration activities.
Companies get to this T-shaped management by selection and change:
encourage the belief in T-shaped management, promote and hire those who exhibit this behavior (and selectively fire those who don’t), use pay and bonuses, and provide leadership coaching.
Collaboration must be measured. SAP has 3 observable degrees of behavior:
“needs development” (misses opportunity to collaborate); “satisfactory” (involves others), “highly effective” (ensures involvement). This data must be must be collected, measured, and have consequences. Employees need to be coached on this behavior, they must be given a way to do it. Performance pay needs to be based on a mixture of individual, business unity, and corporate performance.
Lever 3: Create nimble, not bloated networks across organizations that deliver results 1)build outward (not inward) 2)
build diversity, not size 3)
build weak ties, not strong ones 4)
use bridges, not familiar faces 5)
swarm the target, don’t go it alone 6)
switch to strong ties, don’t rely on weak ones
Finally the author discusses how you grow to be a collaborative leader
-put personal goals and interests second
-involve others (from autocractic to inclusive)
-be open to people, alternatives, and debate