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At the Corner of Assertiveness & Cooperation: Collaboration

© Copyright 2003-2010, Pfaff & Associates. All Rights Reserved.What do we meet at the corner of Assertiveness and Cooperation? The Thomas-Kilmann assessment suggests that it’s Collaboration.

Their assessment,  which is the basis for many others, explores different styles people use when handling conflict. For some of you this work may be familiar, but I only learned of it a few days ago from my sister, a professional mediator. Here is a free version which gives you a quick view of the five areas measured by the Thomas-Kilmann assessment.

It identifies five styles of handling conflict between two people: the Avoider, the Accommodater, the Compromiser, the Competitor and the Collaborator.

These types are arrayed in a graph with Assertiveness (defined as concern for the task, or as "thinks of self") on one axis, and Cooperation (defined as concern for people, or "thinks of others") on the other. In the lowest left hand corner is the Avoider, someone who’d rather not deal with conflict at all, and in the upper right hand corner, the corner where the highest level of Cooperation meets the highest level of Assertiveness, is the Collaborator. (Smack dab in the middle, as you’d expect, is the Compromiser, but we’ll save that for another day.)

What fascinated me about this model is the light it sheds on Collaboration: where its power comes from, and what distinguishes it from Compromise. Certainly, there are situations in which compromise is adequate and even worthwhile. I’d like to go out for dinner, you’d like to stay home. Taken a step further, I’d like not to cook tonight, and you’d like not to get dressed up or spend a lot of money. A compromise on a nearby casual restaurant fits the bill perfectly, and you and I probably don’t need to spend a minute more on a "conflict" like this. But a compromise is always a meeting in the middle, so each gets a little of what they want, and compromise often gets to a gray solution, not really satisfying to anyone but sort of appeasing everyone. In art, it’s mixing a lot of colors to get mud.

Collaboration gets its power because it uses the energy of Assertiveness–ideas and real points of view, championed by people who care–and the energy of Cooperation–a willingness to make things work for all involved. From collaboration comes the best result, the idea or solution which is fashioned from everyone’s input and is better than what any one person could have come up with on her or his own.

And a key point in all of this, a key ingredient in collaboration, is that it starts with conflict, but it doesn’t end there. It takes the energy of the conflict–opposing or differing views, needs and goals–and the attitude of collaboration–the willingness to reach the best solution for all concerned–to get somewhere we’ve never been before, and somewhere we couldn’t go alone.

I’ll close with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"A leader isn’t a seeker of consensus, but a molder of consensus."

PS: If you love this kind of self-knowledge quiz, try our Trust Temperament assessment. Far cheaper and more revealing than a therapy session.

Apollo 13: A Love Song to Collaboration

“Houston, we have a problem.” Famous words uttered by Jim Lovell in the real Apollo 13 mission, and by Tom Hanks as Lovell in the great movie Apollo 13. The mission, we know, was a ‘successful failure’ in that they didn’t reach the moon, but the three astronauts, Lovell, Swigert and Haise, got home safely.

And they got home, I believe, because of collaboration in its purest sense.

Just after getting the ‘problem’ news, and checking and hoping there were simply reporting malfunctions, Flight Director Gene Kranz (as played beautifully by Ed Harris in the movie) assigns teams to work on solutions with only the gear the astronauts have on board. In the movie we see only a short scene:

Several technicians dump boxes containing the same equipment and tools that the astronauts have with them onto a table
Technician 1: We’ve got to find a way to make this
[square CSM LiOH canister]
Technician 2: fit into the hole for this
[round LEM canister]
Technician 3: … using nothing but that.

The rest of the engineering takes place off camera, but we can imagine what it was like:

Technician 1: Well, we’ve got three meters of g17 tubing to start…

Technician 2: and if that’s too small we can hook it up with the FCG-420 …. and so on until they made it work.

I can also imagine what it wasn’t like:

Technician 1: Well, we’ve got three meters of g17 tubing to start.

Technician 2: No, that won’t work. Too small. (Thinking, I don’t want his idea to win. I wanna be the one who comes up with the solution.)

Technician 3: You’re both wrong. You’re looking at it from the wrong direction. (Thinking: these guys are total dopes and they’re going to make me look bad to the boss.) …and so on until Lovell, Swigert and Haise ran out of air, or fell into the ocean, or hit the entry trajectory wrong and were hurtled right back out into space.

My guess is that the guys on the ground weren’t worried about career limiting moves, one-upsmanship, or even being on the “winning team” which engineered the solution. My guess is that they were worried about one thing and one thing only: how do we bring these guys home?

True collaboration means taking the best of all the individual ideas, and from that building the very best solution. It’s not compromise, a watering down, but playing off one another’s ideas and work to build something better than any one person could have done alone. It’s the highest intersection of cooperation and assertiveness.

What made collaboration work?

First, it’s no coincidence that the space missions were called missions. They weren’t projects or details or jobs, but missions. It took over 400,000 people to get a spacecraft launched, and all of them had a clear and common goal.

Second, there was a terrible sense of urgency that become even more intense in the Apollo 13 crisis: the clock was ticking , and crafting a solution was truly life-and-death.

Third, they had in Kranz a Flight Director who was both a manager and a leader. Once the doors were shut in ground control at the beginning of a launch, he reportedly told the ground crew: “Gentlemen, I will support every decision you make.” And in the movie:

NASA Director: This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever faced.

Gene Kranz: With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.

Trust and Virtual Teams

I recently read a fascinating article on Virtual Success: The Keys to Leading from a Distance.  (Yes, you do need to give your contact info, but I trust the authors not to sell or misuse your email address.) Darleen DeRosa and her colleagues at Onpoint Consulting  have recently completed a study of 48 virtual teams in 16 organizations around the globe.

What they were looking for is what distinguishes highly effective virtual teams and team leaders from those that are marginally effective or completely ineffective. In the study, they’ve identified the unique challenges of the manager who has team members spread out around the globe, and the six behaviors that differentiate the highly effective virtual team managers.

Not surprisingly, communication was overwhelming cited as the key competency for the effective managers.
Building relationships, building trust, being personally accountable and having a results orientation were also cited.

Six Behaviors and Twenty-four Performance Enhancers

The study identified six behaviors and 24 specific actions of the most effective leaders; I want to concentrate on one of each.

Among the six competencies, or behaviors, one key is fostering an atmosphere of collaboration among team members.

The most effective leaders of virtual teams … establish a culture of accountability in which roles and expectations are clear and there is zero tolerance for blaming others or finger pointing. [T]eam members can raise problems and admit mistakes without fear of retribution. … Effective leaders of virtual teams build an environment of trust within the team, which further enhances collaboration.

And my own favorite enhancer, under Support, Engagement and Recognition is this one:

Focus on moving from task-based trust to interpersonal trust by communicating openly and honestly, leading by example, employing consistent team interactions, and being accessible and responsible.

I love the notion of moving from task trust (“I trust that Mark will get his piece done on schedule”) to interpersonal trust (“I trust that Mark will raise a flag if he sees any difficulty, and will keep me fully in the loop. And if I ask for his help on this problem that has me stumped, I know I’ll get help, discretion and no attitude.”)

All of this adds up, it seems to me, to creating a safe atmosphere akin to what we call Intimacy and Transparency. And that adds up to true collaboration.

 

What a Trust-based Company Looks Like

The tone of this blog is frequently critical. That’s probably because I believe we all learn much better from negative examples than from positive.
But if you don’t have any positive examples with which to contrast, we can easily forget why negative is negative. So the occasional positive blogpost is especially important. And this one is a real upper.

PSA: Pediatric Services of America

Last week I had the privilege of working with a very fine small company, PSA Healthcare. They deliver home health care for medically fragile people, mostly children. They have about 3,500 private duty nurses, operating from 50 locations in 17 states. What they do can make an enormous difference to families, allowing them to lead normalized lives under difficult conditions.

But having a great mission alone doesn’t make for a fine company. A lot of what makes PSA fine is that they are intentionally and consciously using trust principles to run the business. They are not only making a lot of people very happy and proud, they are doing very well by classic business measures. A fine case of doing well by doing good.

Let’s start with the metrics, go on to the principles, and end up with the real punch lines.

The Numbers. Jim McCurry started as CEO a little over a year ago, when PSA had been declining in revenue, market share, and profitability. Previous management was a classic top-down, measure-by-the-numbers team that had, simply put, failed.

The old style was that each month the bottom-performing offices were required to ‘justify’ themselves on a conference call to the top management. At the annual meeting, office heads were required to double-up on hotel rooms. Orders were given, decisions had to be approved up the line, and the style was management by FIN—fear, intimidation and numbers.

By the end of McCurry’s first year—at the tail end of a recession—revenue steadily increased, reaching a 20% annual rate of growth by year-end, all of it volume-based. The company increased profitability, more than doubled total profits, and turned the market share decline into market share gain. Staff morale is up enormously. Expenses are down.

Bottom line: really solid business results.

The Principles. How did McCurry do it? It was not the classic MBA turnaround medicine of tightening up, taking control, and cutting expenses. Instead, Jim told the staff the following:

“From now on, this company is run for the customer. The office heads work for the customer, and the rest of leadership works for them. Make your own decisions, and we’ll help you make them. Don’t wait for us to tell you what to do, you figure out what to do and do it—we trust you. No more intimidation, no more review boards.

“Our new mission has three parts: Action-oriented, Care-giving, and Trust-based.” (It spells ACT: coincidence? Of course not).

The annual meeting I was privileged to be part of was full of hokey-yet-fun skits, honesty, mutual helping, and positive energy.

The Punch Lines.  McCurry is an MBA. A Harvard MBA, actually, from a year after Dubya’s vintage.

The company’s owners are two private equity firms; the head of one of these is dedicated to the business in large part because his mother had been born so prematurely that she likely would have died were it not for the in-home nursing care she received in the first weeks of life.

This is a profitable business, not a charity. It is being run like a real business; like a real business ought to be, I should say, because too many businesses are being run the way PSA used to be run.

It’s refreshing to see an example of the much maligned du jour—MBAs and private equity—using modern, “squishy” leadership and management principles to improve life and the bottom line in parallel.

Collaboration, ethics, trust, openness, honesty, integrity—these are not fuzzy phrases, uttered by bureaucrats, wealthy Hollywood stars, or mega-rich Googlish do-gooders. These are utterly workable principles that deliver the best results around. They give capitalism a good name. Collaborative capitalism, I like to call it.

McCurry and PSA Healthcare deserve their success.

 

Collaboration: Trust Matters Interview with Brandon Klein

I first met Brandon Klein when we were swamped processing people at the outset of the Trust Summit in NYC October 23. Some very nice guy came over and, simply, offered to pitch in and help. Which he then proceeded to do, and most ably.

That was Brandon, and it turns out, that was characteristic of him. He doesn’t just collaborate, he does collaboration. In particular, he’s something of an expert in the practical ways of organizing gatherings of human beings in ways that maximize output. That includes social dynamics, ergonomics, technology and psychology.

Since collaboration is one of the four Trust Principles, it’s of interest to us both.

CHG: Let’s start big: how do you define collaboration?

BK: Collaboration is repeating the assumed and then stating the unspoken. It is envisioning what success can be and then understanding how to work together to make it happen. It is sometimes best understood by stating what it’s NOT: It is not about latest social media software (chasing the shiny new thing), it’s not more meetings about meetings or guessing games/”strategizing” about what the boss might be thinking. Collaboration is defining and aligning on a common objective as a group of stakeholders and then openly, selflessly, working towards achieving it in a fun, social, interactive, barrier-less way.

CHG: How did you come to be involved in this sort of thing?

BK: Like most, I was incredibly frustrated by the amount of time that was wasted at work. Though most workplace environments boasted a team approach, I couldn’t accept that collaboration meant spending 95% of my day sitting in a cubicle and/or conference room. In searching for a better way, I was lucky enough to be one of the original people to learn the collaborative process known as a DesignShop™- in my opinion, the best off-line collaborative methodology in existence today.

CHG: Why do you think collaboration is ‘hot’ these days?

BK: The proliferation of web-based tools has definitely made the concept of collaboration more top-of-mind. Everyone can now be “collaborative” with a couple clicks of the mouse (or cell phone). It’s similar to the effect of television on sports. Once upon a time, you either had to play the sport or plan in advance to make the journey to the stadium to cheer for your team and interact with the fans. Now, you simply need to press a button on your TV’s remote. Fan bases have increased dramatically, but so has their average weight!

We’ve managed to make online collaboration hot and successful, but we have quickly forgotten what it means to collaborate in person. We can comment anonymously online, but can’t say why we are so ineffective at work. We can “Reply All” to make it look like we are involved, but can’t cut a meeting short that isn’t going anywhere.

CHG: Your focus is primarily on people getting together, isn’t it? Is technology changing that?

BK: Even with using Cisco’s Telepresence (which is awesome) it is very difficult to say that technology has changed ‘getting together’ yet. Yes, online conversations are fantastic and improving everyday. However, I focus on meetings with 12 to 120 people in the same room. Technology has little effect on face-to-face meetings, and in most cases makes them worse. This is because although we have created new tools and ways of working online, we haven’t developed ways of interacting better in person. It is commonplace and therefore acceptable to sit behind a conference table and read your blackberry, while calling the meeting successful and collaborative. It is crazy!

CHG: Let’s talk about conventional meetings; what’s the biggest mistake people make?

BK: Agendas, PowerPoint and WMD’s (Weapons of Mass Distraction ie phones/crackberry’s) are the 3 most unproductive tools on the planet when it comes to meetings. Additionally things most people don’t even consider such as tables, tardiness and tight-lips, are pretty bad too. Here are the quick reasons:

  • Agendas mean people know when to check out or worry/dread what comes next. Don’t publish agendas to more than 3-4 of the key people responsible for the output of the entire project/strategy etc.
  • PowerPoint puts people to sleep. Unless you are good enough to speak at TED, just don’t use it. Tell a story. Have a discussion about the main points instead. Put the bullet points in large all caps letters on a flip chart. Or better yet, create a visual to represent everything.
  • Technology in the pocket. Humans can’t multi-task. Seen the statistics on text messaging and driving? 23 times more dangerous than being drunk. You don’t want your meeting attendees drunk do you?
  • Tables. If people don’t need to eat lunch or take incredibly copious notes and have stacks of paper in front of them, why put a barrier between every person?
  • Tardiness. This could be replaced with excuses. If you show up late, everyone has to catch you up… wasting everyone’s time.
  • Tight-lips. Water cooler talk is the essence of a company and the harbinger for the success of the project. Bring it out into the open and every meeting and project will succeed.

CHG: How about big-group seminars and shows and conventions; do you see a few big things happening there?

BK: Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough change. The ‘sit and get’ model is SAFE and so it is almost always what you see. Large-scale collaborative events of any kind are really quite rare. People are afraid to foster interactivity, or to relinquish control. A giant PowerPoint screen is a sense of comfort and power.

CHG: What’s the role of technology? Are twitter feeds good or bad? Is cloud computing affecting things?

BK: I love all of this technology. Twitter Feeds, Google Waves, Live-Blogging, etc, they are all great additions to any group gathering. Their popularity means they are being included by default right now, which can often be more distracting then useful. Their incorporation needs to be strategically designed. Unfortunately, just throwing out features doesn’t produce collaborative, successful output.

CHG: What’s your view of collaboration and how it fosters trust? Or do you see it the other way ‘round?

BK: Perhaps this is the classic case of the chicken and the egg. People must trust in order to collaborate better. And true collaboration will lead to stronger trust. But collaboration only works when people share openly and honestly. In the end, companies, managers, employees need to be willing to change the status quo in order for foster true collaboration… they need to trust each other.

CHG: Many thanks, Brandon, and let’s pursue some of this further another time.

 

For more information on Brandon Klein and the collaboration information he and his colleagues provide, check out his website at CollaborationKing.com

Bettelheim, Suicide and Online Social Media

iStock_000008859658Small.jpgDepending on who you talk to, TwitBook, LinkFace and their ilk are responsible either for:

a. the death of attention, intimacy and civility; or
b. the coming of the Age of Collaboration.

We have seen this movie before, and it’s interesting to re-read the reviews from the past.

Does Living in a Highly Interactive Society Make You Neurotic?

In 1969, psychologist Bruno Bettelheim,  in Children of the Dream, wrote about children of the Israeli kibbutzim.  As Wikipedia summarizes it:

[Bettelheim] concluded that a kibbutz upbringing led to individuals’ having greater difficulty in making strong emotional commitments thereafter, such as falling in love or forming a lasting friendship. On the other hand, they appear to find it easier to have a large number of less-involved friendships, and a more active social life.

Makes sense in a simple kind of way. More interactions makes you good at shallow relationships, worse at deep ones. Presenting psychological problems are largely neurotic. A society that mistakes familiarity for intimacy.

Does Living in Highly Isolated Society Make You Psychotic?

About the time I read Bettelheim, I also read Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip,  a disturbing book that combines 19th century photographs taken in Black River Falls, Wisconsin between 1890 and 1910, with archival frontier newspaper articles from the same era. 

The result: old glass negative plates of a 6-year old in a tiny coffin, juxtaposed with news articles like:

"Mrs. Carter… was taken sick at the marsh last week and fell down, sustaining internal injuries which have dethroned her reason. She has been removed to her home here and a few nights since arose from her bed and ran through the woods… A night or two after she was found trying to strangle herself with a towel… It is hoped the trouble is only temporary and that she may soon recover her mind." And

"The 60 year old wife of a farmer in Jackson, Washington County, killed herself by cutting her throat with a sheep shears."

Lesy himself, according to a former student quoted in the Amazon book review, stated that in assembling the book, he was observing “an American holocaust.”

Makes sense in a simple kind of way. Fewer interactions may make you powerfully vested in a few relationships, but unable to interact easily on a casual level. Presenting psychological problems are largely psychotic. A society that mistakes intimacy for ease.

Must We Choose Between Social Media and Intimacy?

Is this a trade-off?  If you’re a kibbutznik or you tweet, does that mean you’re bad marriage material (what about to other twitterers?).   And if you’re capable of deep emotions living alone with a few people in closed quarters in the long frontier wintertime, does that mean you’re hopeless when it comes to simple social skills like having conversation?

I hear the arguments pro and con. I wish we could reframe the problem away from a zero-sum, either-or trade-off problem, to one that dares to be great: how can we harness both?

How can we get really good at getting along—and not only not lose the capacity for deep connection and intimacy, but make it grow stronger right alongside?

I will note this: Bettelheim predicted the kibbutzniks would be massively unsuccessful; but as the data showed, Bettelheim was massively wrong. They were exceptionally successful. 

Methinks there is hope for us.
 

Pin the Credit on Someone Else

Let loose your favorite search engine on the phrase “pin the blame.” Wikipedia alone will serve you up thousands of examples, like this, from their entry on The Bourne Identity:

While in reality it was the U.S. government who took Marie captive, it has pinned the blame on a fictitious powerful Chinese drug lord…

It’s a common enough phrase that we don’t think about it much. But on reflection, it has two implications:

  1. the verb “pin”—to narrow down, narrow in on, focus, sharpen, highlight, single out, point to
  2. the object “blame”—guilt, condemnation, disapproval, (negative) responsibility, culpability, fault, shame

Basically: to bring down on another a concentrated dose of social pressure as being the primary cause of something really bad.

Pinning the Credit

So I’m in the car the other day (pulled over—don’t tweet and drive), in the midst of a twit-up with Rebecca Woodhead (@rebeccawoodhead). She had quoted Chris Brogan to a client, which had the effect of convincing the client to do what Brogan had suggested.

Which happened to be what Rebecca herself had been telling the client–apparently for some time—to no avail.

Full of good British humor about it, she jested, “I guess I should have thought to pin the credit on Brogan earlier.”

Pin the credit. I love it. Puts it right up there with “fancy a cheeky pint?” in my list of favorite Britticisms.

And higher still in my list of wisdom-bites. Pin the credit:

Basically: to divert to another a concentrated dose of social approval for being the primary cause of something really good.

Pinning the Credit, Reciprocity, and Collaboration

A willingness to pin the credit on another is a deceptively simple way to achieve several goals. First—as Rebecca’s example perfectly shows—it can often get things done faster, breaking a logjam by bringing in a third party or an appeal to authority.

Second, it signals a willingness to subordinate your own ego—something as valuable as it is rare in consultative and sales and support people. The client picks up that signal very clearly.

Third, it signals something to the credited party too. It says you recognize and value them, and that you’re willing to do them a favor. And favors invite reciprocal favors.

Fourth, that whole favor-giving thing requires a time perspective longer than the transaction at hand. By showing you’re willing to play that game, you suggest a plethora of ways to work together going forward. You can collaborate.

Pinning the credit shows you are polite, you can defer gratification, you are not in the game for your own ego, you can be trusted to collaborate because you’re in it for the long haul.

A powerful three words, I’d say.

Pin the Credit on Someone Else

Let loose your favorite search engine on the phrase “pin the blame.” Wikipedia alone will serve you up thousands of examples, like this, from their entry on The Bourne Identity:

While in reality it was the U.S. government who took Marie captive, it has pinned the blame on a fictitious powerful Chinese drug lord…

It’s a common enough phrase that we don’t think about it much. But on reflection, it has two implications:

  1. the verb “pin”—to narrow down, narrow in on, focus, sharpen, highlight, single out, point to
  2. the object “blame”—guilt, condemnation, disapproval, (negative) responsibility, culpability, fault, shame

Basically: to bring down on another a concentrated dose of social pressure as being the primary cause of something really bad.

Pinning the Credit.

So I’m in the car the other day (pulled over—don’t tweet and drive), in the midst of a twit-up with social media columnist Rebecca Woodhead (@rebeccawoodhead). She had quoted Chris Brogan, another social media consultant, to a client, which had the effect of convincing the client to do what Brogan had suggested–which happened to be what Rebecca herself had been telling the client for some time, to no avail

Full of good British humor about it, she jested, “I guess I should have thought to pin the credit on Brogan earlier.”

Pin the credit. I love it. Puts it right up there with “fancy a cheeky pint?” in my list of favorite Briticisms.

And higher still in my list of wisdom-bites. Pin the credit:to divert to another a concentrated dose of social approval for being the primary cause of something really good.

Pinning the Credit, Reciprocity, and Collaboration

A willingness to pin the credit on another is a deceptively simple way to achieve several goals. First, as Rebecca’s example perfectly shows, it can often get things done faster, breaking a logjam by bringing in a third party or an appeal to authority.

Second, it signals a willingness to subordinate your own ego, something as valuable as it is rare in consultative and sales and support people. The client picks up that signal very clearly.

Third, it signals something to the credited party too. It says you recognize and value them, and that you’re willing to do them a favor. And favors invite reciprocal favors.

Fourth, that whole favor-giving thing requires a time perspective longer than the transaction at hand. By showing you’re willing to play that game, you suggest a multitude of ways to work together going forward. You can collaborate.

Pinning the credit shows you are polite, you can defer gratification, you are not in the game for your own ego, you can be trusted to collaborate because you’re in it for the long haul.

A powerful three words, I’d say.

Collaboration as a Strategy, Not a Tactic

First, some context.

Two weeks ago I wrote an article in Businessweek.com called Wall Street Run Amok: Harvard’s to blame.  In it, I suggested  that business schools including Harvard have over-taught competition, and under-taught collaboration—a concept more appropriate to our connected times.  CNBC saw the article and interviewed me, albeit over-playing the blame-Harvard angle.

Then, last week, Harvard Business School’s Deputy Dean of Academic Affairs Karl Kester logged in to the Businessweek.com article and posted a lengthy rebuttal comment both there and on his own site.  Rather than further this discussion in our separate forums, I’d like to invite Dean Kester to continue the dialogue here, in this blog’s open comments section, along with others interested in the topic. Clearly the issue strikes a chord with many. 

Business Schools Have Taught Competitive Success as the Ultimate Goal

Whether you call it sustainable competitive advantage, maximizing shareholder wealth, or simply ‘winning,’ the dominant worldview in business today is that business is all about competition. Ask an MBA to provide an alternate worldview and you’ll get glazed looks.

It was not always thus. Only since the seventies have business schools made the adjective in “competitive strategy” so ubiquitous as to be redundant. Before that, ‘strategy’ had a decidedly more customer-focused tone to it—for example, read Peter Drucker. (I won’t rehash the argument, it’s in the businessweek.com article).

That belief system has become so entrenched that nearly any other aspect of business has become subordinated to “competitive success.” Think of any subject you like–human resources, values-based management, compensation management, employee engagement, customer satisfaction—and you will find that corporations routinely attempt to justify even the most humanitarian programs in terms of their ability to add to the bottom line. Their bottom line, that is–not that of the network, or supply chain, or their partners.

“Good ethics is good business,” they say, as if ethics demanded a currency-based justification. “Happy people lead to higher profits,” “being socially responsible is associated with higher returns on investment,” and so on.

Why must every social virtue be justified solely in terms of its ability to add to the bottom line? Why do we in business not see this  Kool Aid we have been drinking for the self-obsessing small-think it is?

This is precisely the trap into which I believe Dean Kester falls with his comments, and why this conversation needs more airing.

Collaboration as a Tactic–Yesterday’s View

Dean Kester says, in his response to me:

"Today, more than ever, business is a competitive endeavor. At the same time, management is a more collaborative endeavor. At Harvard Business School we embrace both of these truths in preparing our students to become successful leaders in business and social enterprise."

This approach–that business is about competition and management is about collaboration–is precisely the default idea in business today. It suggests that  the purpose of trust and collaboration is to help Our Team to beat Their Team; that collaboration is but a tactic in service to competitive strategy; and that collaboration should somehow be subordinated to a superordinate goal–the success of the competitor.

This is vintage Business School (not just Harvard), Jack Welch, and Corporate America ideology. 

It is an idea, I want to suggest, whose time has passed. 

Deputy Dean Kester’s above response is a perfect example of the current thinking, and in turn suggests how deeply embedded that way of thinking is. Dean Kester is hardly alone in this viewpoint.  But neither am I alone in noticing that over-dosing on the ideology of competition is starting to cause serious economic harm. Here’s where I see the new view heading.

Collaboration as a Strategy–Today’s View

Yesterday’s world—the competition-centric worldview—explicitly sees customers and suppliers as competitors, along with direct competitors.

In today’s flat, connected world, our first instinctive look at the world should not be based on the threats posed by our customers, but by the enormous opportunities available to us each if we can operate together.  In a connected, transaction-cost laden world, it is simply more economic to trust than to compete.  (See Philip Evans on a convincing presentation of the US vs. the Japanese auto industry and the power of collaboration).

What’s the alternative, you ask? Simple. Stop thinking about ‘winning,’ with its zero-sum implications and paranoid overtones.  Instead, start thinking about succeeding, something that is best achieved in concert with others, like our customers and suppliers.  We need to think more about commerce, less about competition.  The critical nexus is between sellers and buyers, not sellers and their competitors.

Trust.  Collaboration.  Success.  Cooperation.  Boundarylessness beyond the corporate walls.  Our customers are not our enemies, for heaven’s sake–they are our customers!

I am far from the first to make this point: see Is It Time to Retrain B-Schools?  Nor is this my first time: see The Horizontal Imperative from February 2007, and Collaboration is the New Competition from March 2008.

Trust and Collaboration: The New Leaders

We can’t any longer let collaboration be the handmaiden of competitive advantage—in the age of networking /globalization / outsourcing it should be a goal in itself. If collaboration in your company isn’t strategic, you’re not doing it right. It is the new Key Success Factor.

The business schools are fully capable of recovering the intellectual high ground in this area. After all, several faculty at Harvard—Heskett, Schlesinger, Sasser—along with Frederick Reichheld at Bain—are responsible for superb, highly customer-focused, original work on customer loyalty.

But the b-schools are not, as yet, institutionally leading the charge nowadays.  For now, leadership is coming from the newly emerging world of blogs and social networking—for example, from people like Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, authors of Trust Agents.  (Other key thought leaders in this area include Robert Scoble, Philip Evans of BCG, Dov Seidman of LRN, and the young-at-heart Tom Peters).

These new leaders are not just talking about social media and networks–they’re living them and driving them in real businesses.  And they are vastly more collaborative than competitive.

Let’s keep this dialogue going.  Thanks to Dean Kester for stating his case.  Now let’s talk about where we go from here.

On that note, if you’re interested in continuing the conversation about trust and collaboration with Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, as well as myself and David Maister (co-author, with Rob Galford) of The Trusted Advisor, come join all four of us at the Trust Summit to be held in New York this Friday morning (auspiciously, at the Harvard Club) at 7:30AM.

I’d love, in particular, for Dean Kester to join us, and in the interests of furthering the conversation the already nominal ticket charge is waived for him.

Click here for more information about the event and about Brogan, Smith, Maister and myself.

Click here to buy tickets for the Trust Summit event.

And bring your best collaboration skills—it’s not a tactic, it’s the whole point.
 

Is Recessionary Thinking Killing Off Your Green Shoots?

I belong to a group of peers; we meet semi-monthly to discuss whatever business issues we see. Lately, we’re seeing a theme emerge.

Most businesses been operating under stressful circumstances for at least the last 12 months. For most organizations, profits were down (or non-existent), resulting in considerable price/service pressure from clients/buyers/customers.

So it’s not surprising that, as we end this difficult calendar/fiscal year, many are still painfully looking in the rear view mirror as we consider how to address the new year.

But, in doing so, we may well miss a turn — an opportunity to take advantage of the "green shoots" by thinking differently about our organizations and about how to get the most out of our people.

The Market Has Driven Focus Away from Teams

In the midst of all of the recent economic pressure, there has been a common return to focus on individual performance and a movement away from collaboration and collegiality.

Perhaps some of this shift is valid, because a tough market penalizes lingering mediocrity, but the pendulum has swung to the business equivalent of baseball’s VORP (value over replacement player).

But successful organizations are rarely built by teams of super-heroes. Most extraordinary unit performance is a function of ordinary beings banding together to strengthen each other’s weaknesses and to collectively make whole greater than the sum of the individual parts.

The cost-cutting and recession-based inward thinking which we’ve all had to endure for the past year drives us to self-absorbed, protectionist, fear-based behavior.  And just as solo behavior doesn’t drive great success, neither can you save or cost-cut your way to prosperity.

Sling-shotting Your Way Into Recovery

We have no insight into the timing of the recovery. But one thing is clear. The firms that will benefit the most, when recovery does come, will be those that have managed to think their way out of the rear-view mirror mentality. In particular, those who have managed to re-discover collaboration.

Collaboration is something that can help ‘slingshot’ us out of recessionary thinking.  Team behavior can accomplish extraordinary things with ordinary people.  Collaboration fuels innovation, and feeds souls.  All that drives financial bottom lines too.

Leaders need to manage the tension between surviving in the short term and leading towards the medium term. Leaders need to help pull/push people out of the scary place we’ve been in, focused—of necessity, to be sure—on survival.

Collaboration responds to the need to motivate people, refocus their efforts, and ignite their spirit. And you don’t have to wait for the recovery to get there. In fact, getting there probably, in its own small way, helps kick start the recovery.

Doing Collaboration from Trust Principles

Collaboration is, in fact, one of the Four Trust Principles  (the others being client focus, relationships over transactions, and transparency).
There’s no single simple tool to being collaborative, and each organization will vary in its approach. But a serious effort at being more collaborative will probably include some of the following:

  • Goal setting—done collaboratively
  • Spending time together
  • Getting to know each other
  • Speaking directly to each other
  • Speaking about more things to each other
  • Developing common language
  • Skewing incentives and rewards toward groups
  • Honest and transparent leadership
  • Clear, repetitive articulation of the philosophy of collaboration by leadership

Development is back on the table. If it’s not yet on your table, ask yourself when you think the recovery is going to happen—and how far in advance of it you need to starting consciously thinking about shifting perspectives.

Discuss it collaboratively with your team.