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
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.
Questions for Leadership, Ethics, Collaboration & Organizational Culture an Interview with John Abele
On July 28, 2011 John Abele Owner of Kingbridge Conference Centre & Institute engaged in an interview for QuestionsForLiving® an active research project based on the philosophy that the quality of one’s life is determined by the quality of one’s questions. QuestionsForLiving provides questions that will help you think critically regarding the questions that you should be asking to create an experience closely aligned with your hopes and expectations.
In this interview you can discover John’s take on what questions great leaders should ask themselves in order to be (or remain) great leaders as well as the questions that leaders and individuals should consider when creating a productive and collaborative culture.
Read the full interview here
Are there questions that you ask yourself as a leader or member of an organization to ensure you are being ethical and fostering a collaborative organizational culture?
Recently, Margaret (Meg) Wheatley wrote an insightful article called “Leadership in the Age of Complexity: from Hero to Host”. Resurgence Magazine, Winter 2011.
In it she describes the wonderfully classic paradox that in order to gain control, you must cede control.
That concept raises the issue of exactly what “control” is. Suffice it to say that it refers to having a goal and achieving it….with others and not needing to take credit for the result. Although, ironically, if you do master that skill, others will begin to connect the fact that when you are around they do better.
She points out that most cultures make assumptions about leaders that are taken for granted: that they have all the answers, that the followers will follow, and that more control produces better results — particularly for big risky projects. That’s why CEOs, Managing Director’s, etc. “get the big bucks.”
But complex problems require integrating many different types of skills and creating an environment where the collective intelligence of a diverse set of minds (age, experience, knowledge, culture, geography), are harnessed to solve these problems. They identify the problems, analyze, speculate, debate, experiment, build and test ideas for their solutions. And maybe even rethink the goals. The hero-based command and control model doesn’t work when the problems are complex. It’s much more useful when you know exactly what needs to be done and just have to execute (i.e. an aid airlift).
As it turns out the political, business and academic worlds make it very difficult to assemble a truly diverse set of minds. Our societies put skill sets in silos and protect them with hard earned credentials that filter out the non-cognoscenti…the riff raff.
So, being able to “harness” the appropriately diverse minds is an art form.
One of the most common ways to do that is to convene a group. But getting the right people to come and creating an environment that overcomes the barriers to collaboration is really difficult. In the world of opera the person who can do that is known as an impresario. They can recruit and manage multiple divas. In other worlds, they are collaborative leaders.
The medical world I have lived in, of surgeons, specialists, department chairmen and a host of supporting cast is very much like the opera. The symbols of power and control are rampant. Learning to lead as “host,” not “hero,” can produce far better and longer lasting results. Thank you Meg.
A proposed book by John Abele – Part 1
Collaboration is one of those things everyone thinks they understand, but very few actually do. True, some types of collaboration are natural or easy to learn, but the highest, most valuable kind, where everybody in the group is thinking creatively and sharing openly is extremely rare. Now, in the era of Web 2.0, a wave of new collaboration tools are being unleashed so that even more and bigger collaborations are being announced daily. But most people won’t get much value out of these exciting new tools if they don’t pay attention to the crucial soft ingredients — the behaviors and mindset — needed to make collaboration really work.
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. This is The Collaboration Paradox.
In ”creative” collaborations, it is not just a matter of people pitching in what they know; the goal is to extrapolate beyond the group’s collective knowledge. As mentioned earlier, the skills we are taught to be the most important for success are actually collaboration busters. In school, at work, and everywhere we are shown that success comes through self promotion and devotion to our own “kind,” whether it is a department, professional field, or political viewpoint. Young athletes are taught to win at all costs and to celebrate “crushing” their opponents. There are precious few role models who celebrate victory without also celebrating “defeat of the enemy.” When these same traits are allowed to dominate a collaboration, it becomes a very negative experience. Only a few participants have any real say. The rest feel intimidated or exploited, and as if their time is being wasted. This type of “hollow” collaboration happens so much, that many people are very skeptical about collaborating. In particular, they may have the following fears, which inhibit them from really contributing:
• Their best ideas will be stolen.
• Their weaknesses will be highlighted.
• There will be a hidden agenda.
• The participants will have such different ideas that they’ll never agree on anything.
• Certain individuals or camps will dominate.
Too often, creative collaborations become a pseudo collaborations. They sound good, but are totally hollow. 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.
Stay tuned – next week we will look at some tips and strategies to maximize the incredible potential of creative collaborations.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur in the start-up phase or the CEO of a mature business, it’s the right time to pay attention to the culture of your enterprise.
Yesterday (October 8, 2009) Mary Stacey of Context Management Consulting Inc. with the Kingbridge Collaboration Institute delivered the first of a 2 part series dedicated to collaborative leadership at MaRS Discovery District. Drawing from Torbert and Rooke’s award winning article The Seven Transformations of Leadership (Harvard Business Review, 2005), the attendees explored their own leadership methods and the potential for evolution towards a more collaborative style.
According to Torbert and Rooke there are 7 key ‘Action Logics’ or categories that define “how a leader interprets their surroundings and reacts when their power or safety is challenged’”(Torbert & Rooke, 2005). Rather than being autonomous groups however Torbert and Rooke propose that there is a developmental progression from the least ‘effective’ style to the most ‘effective’. So, the style you fall into when you begin your leadership development journey can evolve with time, practice, and changes in your external environment. Great news for those leaders trying to figure out how to transform themselves and their organizations!
One example of leadership progression cited in the Torbert & Rooke article is that of Larry Ellison (now CEO of Oracle). At the start of his career Ellison was at the bottom of the leadership development spectrum as an ‘Opportunist’ where he lead by ridiculing and out-witting his team. Few opportunists can sustain leadership roles for long as their style leads to high turnover and the absence of respect from their employees. No doubt after experiencing some of these repercussions Ellison was able to recognize his own need for development and began his journey towards the well evolved leader he is today.
The workshop explored the identification of ‘Action Logics’ and the characteristics of each as well as the potential for progression along the continuum. The next session ‘Leading in a Collaborative Culture’ scheduled for December 3, 2009 at MaRS will address the question ‘Now that I am here, what do I do now?” With discussions around cultivating cultural intelligence and collaborative inquiry, leaders and future leaders will gain insight on the connection between your leadership and the culture of your organization.
For more information on the series or the ‘Action Logic’ framework please contact email@example.com
I just finished reading Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman and was impressed by the frankness with which they approached organizing creative collaboration. So often when deconstructing successful collaborations the ‘needs’ tend to overshadow the equally important ‘need nots’. Bennis and Biederman however extract a series of ‘take home lessons’ from several case studies of successful and not so successful group collaborations.
One of the stand out lessons highlighted in the summary of Organizing Genius is that “In Great Groups the right person has the right job.” This lesson highlights the faulted belief of many organizations that people are interchangeable. Bennis and Biederman spend a great deal of time detailing the importance of not assigning people with unique talents to positions that are not suited to these talents. It is a cardinal mistake in organizing collaboration to try to fit people into roles they aren’t appropriate for just to satisfy an organizational need.
Included in this lesson is also the importance of having the right leader for the group. This is not a unique notion as several works on successful collaboration and organizational structure have outlined the qualities needed to be a collaborative leader. The distinction made in Organizing Genius is the exploration of several specific leadership qualities that squelch creative collaboration.
“Many projects never transcend mediocrity because their leaders suffer from the Hollywood syndrome. This is the arrogant and misguided belief that power is more important than talent. It is the too common view that everyone should be so grateful for a role in a picture or any other job that he or she should be willing to do whatever is asked, even if it’s dull or demeaning. When the person and the task are properly matched, the work can proceed with passion.”
One of the fundamental rules of successful collaboration is transparency and Bennis and Berderman practice it to the letter in Organizing Genius.