One of our long time friends, as well as a client at Kingbridge is Bruce Miyashita. In our discussions over the years his insights, perspective and provocative challenges have been stimulating and worth acting upon. Now he has evolved into a blogger so his thoughts can be shared more broadly. In the spirit of collaboration he has agreed to share his thoughts from time to time. The first one is a blog on an interview I did on collaboration with Forbes online.
The Collaboration Paradox
Posted: May 25, 2012 | Author: Bruce Miyashita http://xray-delta.com/2012/05/25/the-collaboration-paradox/
One of the people I’ve had the good fortune to get to know is John Abele. John is the retired Founding Chairman of Boston Scientific Corporation, Chair of the FIRST Foundation (a very interesting and successful program to engage young people in engineering, science, technology, and project management through the vehicle of robotics challenges) and the owner of The Kingbridge Centre and Institute, a conferencing institution whose mission is to research, develop, and teach improved methods for interactive conferencing: problem solving, conflict resolution, strategic planning, new methods for learning and generally help groups to become “Collectively intelligent.”
John holds numerous patents and has published and lectured extensively on the technology of various medical devices and on the technical, social, economic, and political trends and issues affecting healthcare. His major interests are science literacy for children, education, and the process by which new technology is invented, developed, and introduced to society.
Over the years one of John’s passions is understanding the nature of collaboration and how to foster it in various realms of human activity. Recently, John was interviewed by Saj-Nicole Joni for Forbes. The article, “The Crucial Quest for Collaborative Leadership: A Conversation With John Abele of Boston Scientific” was published May 7th, 2012.
There are a number of themes in the interview, such as the definition and nature of “collaboration” itself:
Saj-Nicole Joni: Wherever you look, Arab Springs are occurring—in emerging countries, in the Occupy movement, in health care, in business, in education. These democratizing movements are all powered by the Internet and mobile devices, which make connectivity and sharing instant. But begin connected is only the starting point. People everywhere must learn the deeper human skills of collaboration if we are to harness the amazing power of networks for greater good, in business, government, the professions, the arts.
John Abele: Agreed. And the first thing we need to recognize is that we have a lot to learn. Collaboration is a simple word, but it has many forms and is widely misunderstood and misused. What are you trying to accomplish? Command and control is important for defined tasks (you don’t want creative employees in a nuclear plant). Facilitated, self-organizing, adversarial, or even crowd-source collaborations may be appropriate for other goals. In every situation setting the stage makes the difference for harnessing collective intelligence versus just another meeting.
Saj-Nicole Joni: The biggest challenge in getting collaboration right is to achieve a ying-yang balance in several dimensions. What are the three most important areas of balance that collaboration leaders need to guide?
John Abele: Each balance factor is a paradox. You need to cede control in order to gain it. Socratic dialogue, asking great questions, can help establish a culture that does this. Second, you must be humble and confident at the same time, and you must make this the cultural norm of the collaboration. Third, you must be willing to not take all the credit, and yet be recognized for and respected for what you contribute. And you have to ensure that this kind of balance regarding the attribution of contribution pervades the entire collaboration, for everyone involved.
Think about the collaborations you are currently involved in, and ask yourself how balanced they are in terms of control, humility, and attribution. If you don’t like what you see, then there are the places to dig in.
On the Kingbridge site (http://www.kingbridgecentre.com/) John has also posted a white paper (“The Collaboration Paradox”) that further elaborates on his thoughts about collaboration.
“From the time we start school and throughout our careers, we are taught and rewarded for the very traits that make it difficult for us to collaborate effectively. This situation is compounded by the way we teach leaders to rigorously assert control as often as possible so their authority is constantly being reinforced. Controlling people is the opposite of collaborating with them. As a result, most leaders of collaborations are doing exactly the wrong things when they bring people together to collaborate, and the other people involved in those projects are essentially programmed to derail or resist collaboration. After describing that, the central paradox of collaboration, I’ll analyzing several intriguing projects that have achieved the highest level of collaboration– the “Holy Grail” that many organizations strive for because of the phenomenal results that can be achieved.
At this crucial juncture in history, where the world economy is seeking to rebuild itself, efficiency is more crucial than ever. Getting maximum value out of collaborations will help rebuild our economies more quickly. In addition, many of the most exciting new fields require collaboration on multiple levels and across several areas of expertise: These fields include nanotechnology, bioengineering, and alternative fuel development.
Too often, creative collaborations become a sham. With so many parts, players, and egos involved, simply managing the political aspects of such projects is challenging enough, let alone integrating the results into anything actionable. In the end, the organizers may make glowing reference to the long list of divas they assembled, but often they have little to show for that effort and almost certainly nothing really new has come from it.
What’s most surprising about this lack of success is that we have an ever-expanding array of tools that can enhance collaboration, such as Wikis, search engines, smart phones, and social networks.”
You can read the complete paper here: http://www.kingbridgecentre.com/images/stories/pdf/the%20collaboration%20paradox%20proposal.pdf
In the new Harvard Business Press publication Judgement Calls Thomas H. Davenport & Brook Manville discuss how despite the amount of data available to us today that many of the most critical organizational decisions made are still based on human judgement. More specifically a single leader is left to make the call.
In “Judgment Calls,” Davenport and Manville share twelve stories of organizations that have successfully tapped their data assets diverse perspectives, and deep knowledge of the people in their organization to build a robust organizational decision-making capability–a competence they say can make the difference between success and failure. This book introduces a model that taps the collective judgment of an organization so that the right decisions are made, and the entire organization profits.
Leigh Doyle in her Profit Magazine article Better Decisions through Collaboration summarized the 4 methods Davenport and Manville offer that support the development of this approach:
Build a participative process
Organizations need to create an iterative problem-solving process and engage in a more self-consciously participative approach, Davenport and Manville argue. The authors note that certain attributes support such a process: engaging less senior employees, tracking small failures, the ability to learn and rebound from mistakes and encouraging employees to speak up.
Organizational decision-making involves taking advantage of technology and analytics to make smarter and more sustainable judgments. New technologies like social media and data mining are introducing robust new information about how employees and customers behave. This information also reveals undiscovered prejudices and hidden inefficiencies. Former reporting relationships are no longer sustainable as the sharing of more knowledge across new boundaries leads to greater collaboration and decision-making based on lateral information, rather than top-down orders.
Learn from the past
Davenport and Manville looked to ancient Greece for ideas on how to create a culture of collective decision-making. They discovered that the ancient Greeks based their decision-making process on “reasoned deliberation informed by facts.” This process brought together differing viewpoints and a broad range of knowledge that was sharpened by constructive debate and challenge. For the ancient Greeks, coming to a decision was seen as an explicit process that valued equality, fairness and transparency.
Get leaders to create the culture
While the old idea of one leader making important decisions may be over, leaders still have an important part to play. Leaders must set the decision in the right context, and give organizational permission to allow for a more participative and fact-based approach to finding solutions.
How are you making judgement calls in your organization?
The answer without asking should be YES. Reason being as Evan Rosen, author of The Culture of Collaboration and executive director of The Culture of Collaboration® Institute discusses in his Business Week article Every Worker is a Knowledge Worker “If you’re not soliciting input from the employees who haul boxes, assemble products, and drive delivery trucks, you’re missing out on profitable ideas”.
In this article Rosen differentiates collaborative organizations as those that recognize the importance of engaging all levels of workers in decision making rather than those with management teams that make decisions in a vacuum. The collaborative organization values all workers knowledge and leverages this information to improve produce, process and ultimately their success.
In addition, to the collection and application of information from all level of ‘knowledge worker’ (those defined as such and those not!) is the idea of access. If you wash dishes in the kitchen do you have the opportunity to engage the VP of operations in a conversation, or to share an idea? If not, you should. Access prevents the chain of command, lost in translation transfer of information that has been proven inefficient and ineffective – particularly if creativity and innovation are primary goals in your organization.
The article culminated in a list of 5 steps any organization can take to desegregate the workforce and promote collaboration:
1. Institute information democracy. Give everybody access to the same data and information. While you may need to restrict access to highly sensitive information, such as HR records and product formulas, adopt policies that favor information democracy over denied access. Information democracy encourages sharing over hoarding and sparks collaboration across functions and business units.
2. Break down barriers among levels. Give everybody access to everybody else within the organization. If a worker on the factory floor needs to engage a senior vice-president, the organization encourages that interaction. If a business unit leader needs real-time information from a specific sales territory, that leader can directly engage a salesperson, without cultural fallout.
3. Use information technology to enable spontaneous collaboration. Adopt unified communications and enable one-click access from corporate directories, business productivity applications, and specialized applications so that every team member has immediate access to everybody else. Team members can then launch an instant messaging session and escalate that interaction to a voice call, Web conference, or videoconference. So everybody knows who all the players are regardless of their location—and they gain the ability to engage them.
4. Involve front-line people in decisions. Pay everybody to think. When people contribute to decisions, they have a stake in those decisions. And it works both ways. Often senior leaders are inhibited from engaging people on the front lines even though they need a front-line person’s knowledge in real time to make the right decision. His or her position may be three levels below that of the people making the decision. And there’s no time to go through channels. The executives never hear the front-line expert’s voice, and the decision suffers.
5. Recognize and reward broad input. Put the organization’s money where its mouth is by tying raises and promotions to gaining broad input. Include a module in performance evaluations to gauge whether managers are making decisions in a vacuum or in concert with people across functions and levels. Recognize leaders who tap the knowledge of front-line people and reward leaders for including input from across the organization in making decisions.
How does your organization measure up?
In a recent article in The Economist by Lucy Kellaway, proposes that the future will be to revert to the past. According to her, 2012 will require that white collar workers will at least have to look serious. This means “In 2012 the following will be back in fashion: the landline, the jacket, the commute, the handshake and above all the office itself. Out of fashion will be the virtual office in which employees sit hunched over laptops in their local Starbucks, joined to their colleagues by webcam and e-mail. Instead, working life will start to resemble its old self before the internet was invented. Employees will turn up to work at predictable hours five days a week, face-to-face meetings will be preferred to video conferences; ideas will be exchanged not by tweet, but by the coffee machine.”
Lucy’s logic for this step backward is that “The repeated shocks to the world economy delivered over the past few years will bring in a culture of corporate risk aversion: the focus will be more on accountability than creativity.” Her vision of the office of the future (2012) will be rife with gossip and insecurity, where women willing to behave like traditional men and put their families second will find themselves quickly promoted while those that don’t may find themselves dropping out of the work force. All the while the only one cracking jokes will be the boss… and you better laugh!
Although there is no doubt this will be a valid prediction for many organizatons the fact is that the world is continually being “shocked” and those shocks will just come faster and faster until all you have is “shock.” It is either adapt or die. If history has taght us anything it is that collaboration and innovation are the game changers. Those companies in denial will pull back and try to avoid risk, which will give the innovative companies an open playing field to advance.
How do you think your organizaton will behave in 2012? Will it continue to advance and move towards “The Future of Work” as described by Tom Malone or will it revert to the past where showing up on time and leaving late is the pathway to success?
The collaborative software company CentralDesktop, recently did a survey that concluded there were 9 types of collaborative personas ranging from the Stealth Ninja to the Dinosaur.
To find out what category you fit into and how you work with others, take the quiz below and let us know what comes out – you may be surprised!
Sometimes we forget that collaboration isn’t just something people do at work. In fact, it’s not unique to people at all. And some of the best collaborators out there in the world are not people. Bees, for instance, are amazing collaborators and they don’t require advanced technology to do it.
People are studying bees to figure out how we can improve our collaboration. The Biomimicry Institute “promotes learning from and then emulating natural forms, processes, and ecosystems to create more sustainable and healthier human technologies and designs.” Pretty amazing stuff.
They have all sorts of studies, but among them is one that looks at the behavior patterns within groups of bees when they’re making decisions – like deciding where to put a new hive and forage for pollen (buying a house, where to go grocery shopping!)
They’re also looking at how ants and bees respond when threatened. If you’ve ever come across an ant nest in the garden, you’ve seen how quickly an entire colony will pick up and high tail it to a new location. It’s not chaos at all, it’s very intelligently organized. The individual ants have roles and share a common purpose and plan. When there is a natural disaster in downtown New York how intelligently organized is it?
The more you consider how the world around you works, the more opportunities you have to identify different ways to collaborate. Step outside and watch the bees, or kids playing soccer, or any number of things that don’t relate at all to PowerPoint presentations, e-mail or management objectives. Then bring those observations back into the workplace and take advantage of collaboration tools to put those observations to work.
It’s not the technology that provides the answers – it’s the technology that enables people to collaborate more effectively. The tools today are designed to create a more natural interaction and productive environment between people – to be a little more bee-like.
Today Harvard Business Review posted an article entitled “Collaborations Hidden Tax on Women’s Careers” which explores how many women in leadership roles have an advantage in one respect due to a predisposition to collaborate and cooperate, while a disadvantage as this predisposition often leaves them short in the decisive ‘call the shots’ department.
What I found most interesting about this article is that although it was written about female leaders there are many key points highlighted that can apply to anyone attempting to wield the double edged sword of collaboration in their organization.
Posted on Harvard Business Review: November 11, 2011 9:21 AM
A few years ago we hosted a seminar for 150 businesswomen. The topic for the morning was “Power: Do Women Really Want It?” Just imagine the noise level when that many smart and engaged female managers debated the pros and cons of wielding power. As the session came to a close we asked for a tally of how the breakout groups had answered the question. Their response was unanimous yet equivocal. Do women really want power? “Yes and no.”
Many of these women already held senior leadership positions in large companies. The others were in the room because they had been identified by their organizations as high potentials. Still, they could not fully come to terms with their ambition. One of the big reasons these women cited for their wishy-washy perspective? They strongly preferred to collaborate and cooperate rather than brazenly call the shots.
In our coaching sessions, we’ve worked with countless women who are exceptionally collaborative leaders. They have a talent for establishing buy-in. Still, the art of consensus can sometimes slow women down and diminish their leadership credibility. Over the past decade, we’ve interviewed over 1,700 people to find out how women can be more successful at the highest levels in leadership. One thing we’ve heard again and again is that collaboration can be a double-edged sword in terms of being perceived as powerful.
It’s easy to make the case that collaborative leadership is the wave of the future: Technology makes decentralized decision-making and flat organizations more feasible than ever. The problem is that an overemphasis on consensus can be viewed as weak. We’ve seen collaboration go wrong for women on the following occasions:
Asking for permission. We teach children to ask for permission, but when that behavior occurs with regularity as an adult it is seen as overly deferential. Asking permission can be perceived as avoiding responsibility or an unwillingness to make the tough decisions. Even beyond the negative perception it creates, a need for approval means you can’t act as quickly as other colleagues who are confident enough to proceed without hesitation. Leaders need to be willing to take the risks and make difficult decisions independently.
Appearing indecisive. There are plenty of instances when a decision requires careful consideration, conversation and analysis. However, there are also many other times when you need to give yourself the green light to proceed. Making the tough calls on your own and getting closure quickly means you need to be comfortable delivering bad news or taking the opposing position. It’s acceptable to be the dissenter or to play the devil’s advocate as long as you have the ammunition to make a good case. If you can do so in a firm, non-emotional way, people will respect you for your decisiveness and expediency.
Failing to assert a strong point of view. Countless times we’ve seen well-meaning managers dilute their authority by failing to emphasize their perspective or corral an important discussion. Collaboration gone bad can mean your executive oversight and guiding perspective gets drowned out in the din. Suddenly, decisions are being made by committee. If you are not setting a clear agenda, considerable time and resources may be wasted in meetings and initiatives that are circuitous. The best collaborative leaders are able to maintain their executive presence — they articulate a vision, provide inspiration, and then give their teams enough latitude to creatively and effectively work toward a defined end that suits the organization.
Being a collaborative leader is a tremendous asset in balance. Women who can retain this core ability, while at the same time acting decisively to make things happen, will have the skills and demeanor to thrive in the future.
Second screens have become the norm these days with the vast majority of people carrying a smartphone or tablet or both! We google speakers during conferences and tweet comments about training sessions we are attending – we have become master multi-taskers.
Although most second screens are personal devices they are increasingly being used in the work and learning environments as additional resources. In his Learning Trends blog on March 25, 2011, Elliott Masie listed some of the potential implications for Learning and Corporate HR given the growing prevalence of second screens in our lives.
* People are using their Second Screens to continually enhance, contextualize and expand the CONTEXT side of CONTENT that is being viewed.
* Workers are able to collaborate – internally or externally – with formal or personal clusters of people as part of or in competition with the learning activity.
* Learners will have access to more back-channel and secondary content, context and opinion as they engage in learning.
* Tracking Second Screen activity will be a major challenge, if not impossibility.
* Learners will demand greater connectivity and access to at least some corporate assets on their Second Screens.
* When do we allow or restrict the use of Second Screens at work, in a leadership program or in the field?
* Selective, layered and location specific access to online assets from Second Screens will be requested from workers at the office, on the road and at home.
* Security issues – including Intellectual Property challenges – will arise as Second Screens are used, especially when the content is cached rather than just viewed.
* Second Screens will rapidly become HD-enabled Video Presence Units, competing with the quality of the $250,000 telepresence suite and placing intense loads on bandwidth.
* Equality and Discrimination issues will rise when employees buy their own Second Screens and are competing for performance with others who cannot afford the luxury.
Given these observations the question now becomes, much as it did with the issue of Facebook in the workplace, how to leverage the Second Screen to enhance learning and productivity. Any Ideas?
There are several key components that when combined in the proper measure can result in successful collaborations. Creating the framework for the collaboration is one such factor.
Harnessing the creativity of a group requires not only the usual considerations of timing, data requirements, and the resources needed but also careful ‘engineering’ of behaviors and mindset. This apparent contradiction of soft skills with the recognized hard skill association of engineering allows you to consider the process of organizing behavior in order to maximize creative mindset and minimize those that destroy collaboration.
Soft stuff is the glue that holds the hard stuff together. Knowing who should contribute to the collaboration and their necessary skill sets in addition to being prepared to mitigate negative behavioral tendencies (Divas, Pontificators and the like) are important considerations on an individual level. For example, when a particular personality needs ‘management’, the ideal approach is 3 pronged:
1. Arrange a pre-meeting one on one with the individual and warn them that they may encounter topics or opinions that could cause an emotional/negative reaction.
2. Recognize their abilities/skills etc. and let them know their inputs are valuable to the group achieving their goal.
3. Find a solution that works for the individual and the needs of the group to prevent potentially destructive situations.
Let us say for example you have a member of your group that given his level of expertise and experience believes he/she should not be limited to the one time 10 minute speaking limit that has been set for meeting participants. The result of the 3 pronged approach above could potentially be to offer this participant several opportunities to speak but with say a limit of 5 minutes per. This approach respects the time of the rest of the group and minimally disrupts the flow but satisfies the participants need to comment often. You can’t change the person but you can change the rules!
When considering the collective; dynamics, politics, pre conceived notions and potential conflicts should all be evaluated and prepared for in advance in order to ensure every participant is contributing at 100% capacity and not hindered by behavioral issues.
That isn’t to say of course that as a ‘collaboration designer’ you can’t have a little fun. At least one organization I know of employs water guns in their creative sessions. If a member of the group is perceived by others to be pontificating, squirt! If a participant is negative about an idea without first asking questions, squirt! Condescending, squirt! Hogging the floor, squirt! You get the idea.
Everyone is talking about the evils of PowerPoint and how the use of it is now considered a presenter faux pas but in seems to me that as with any tool it isn’t the technology that makes or breaks a presentation but rather the presenters approach.
You may be wondering how presentations connect to creating a culture of collaboration? And the simple answer is that a great presentation can create an environment for deeper learning and collaboration by stimulating an audience to share experience and knowledge with each other. By forming the right mindset and following a few simple principles anyone can give a presentation that not only imparts knowledge but fosters collaborative culture.
1. Share knowledge rather than teach it
Plan to present something that the audience has never seen or heard before.
This may seem a daunting task but if you use a relatable example from an entirely different field/interest finding something original can be quite simple.
This suggests to your audience that you in fact don’t know everything, but you’re here to share what you do know.
This may seem to contradict the idea of being vulnerable but in fact the most confident people are those who are curious, open and unafraid to show their vulnerability.
2. Personalize your content
Connect content to personal experiences
This demonstrates a genuine interest and sincerity in involving your audience in a way that abstract references can’t. This tactic can be used as your ‘something the audience has never seen or heard before’ quite successfully and provides more than one context that the audience can understand while stimulating them to think of their own personal metaphors that relate.
Now, while you are following the principles above if you do decide to employ PowerPoint as a presentation tool,- and I contend there is nothing evil about that! – try to restrict its use to showing relationships through images and very few words running in the background while you talk. Again, using personal images or images from ‘real life’ rather than stock photos will better serve your purpose and resonate with the audience.
Any audience will have a group of people with a range of understanding and experience with the topic of your presentation so tell a story, describe things in more than one context and be original!