Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The rare joy of collaboration at work and how to get it.

For me, one of the biggest joys summer holidays is collaborative living: together engaging in expeditions, construction projects, food preparation, and eating all organised through conversation; a fluid interaction of strengths, talents and giftings born out of established, open relationships, valued difference and shared expectations; the lead taken by various individuals depending on the situation. I seldom experience such collaboration anywhere else. Cooperation yes: operating alongside others; interacting in standardised ways to complete tasks, but very seldom the joy of collaboration.

Increasingly such collaboration is acknowledged as the secret to personal joy and individual and organisational effectiveness. People learn, grow and contribute best in relationship with others: collaborative relationships of mutual trust and respect within shared understanding and aspiration.

The problem is that the way we typically organise and manage our education and industrial systems and processes didn’t evolve for that. It evolved for industrial-age efficient mass production and replication. It doesn’t work for the innovative, highly adaptive, knowledge intensive collaboration that’s the key to success in the world today.

Management (practice and ideology) as-we-know-it is stuffed, but few can envisage even the possibility of something different. It can be a difficult slow process to begin to conceive that it could be different, let alone conceptualise what it could be. Concepts of how to organise and manage are deeply engrained in our unconscious through our experience of education and work life. But achieving that breakthrough in understanding, difficult as it usually is, is less than half the battle. The main challenge is to achieve the change: to transform to management not-as-we-know-it.

Steve Denning puts it very nicely in a recent post to the open discussion Revolutionizing the World of Work: a criticism of Management guru John Cotter’s 2007 list of eight things that leaders who successfully transform businesses do right and do in the right order. (Harvard Business Review - Jan. 2007 pg. 96-103). Here’s the list:

1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency
2. Forming a Powerful Guiding Coalition
3. Creating a Vision
4. Communicating the Vision
5. Empowering Others to Act on the Vision
6. Planning for and Creating Short-Term Wins
7. Consolidating Improvements and Producing Still More Change
8. Institutionalizing New Approaches

Denning points out that recipes like this, interpreted and enacted by managers, are what got the world economy into the crap that it’s currently in. He not only calls for and describes the desperately needed radical change from that kind of management but also describes how to achieve it.

Referring Chapter 11 of his 2010 book The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management he writes:

Thought therefore must be given, before heading pell-mell into the implementation of radical management, not only to the principles of radical management, but also to the principles of radical change management. If you have mastered the arguments of this book so far, you will have already guessed that radical change management is not an eight-step top-down hierarchical rollout of a program, embodying a preconceived idea, articulated in some back room by outsiders, and then imposed with one-way communications that tell people what to do.

You will know that that kind of thinking and acting is precisely what has brought us to the current impasse. You will expect it to be a process that gives due respect to the interests not only of the organization but also of those doing the work and of those for whom the work is done. You will intuit that communications will be interactive and respectful of the individuals involved while giving due attention to productivity and innovation.

And you will be certain of one thing: that radical change management will not be a simple recipe that you can wrap up and take back to your organization to apply without modification tomorrow morning, with any expectation of success. You know that you will have to create a story of your own—one that fits your own context—its possibilities and its constraints. You also know that you will have to adapt the story on the fly as conditions shift.

What's wrong with Kotter's stuff is not the eight step program per se. It's the top-down spirit with which it is articulated and often implemented.

If you took Kotter's eight step program and implemented it with "due respect to the interests not only of the organization but also of those doing the work and of those for whom the work is done" and with communications that are" interactive and respectful of the individuals involved while giving due attention to productivity and innovation", you might still get a good result.

It's all about the heart.

Yet if you say that to managers, they tend to think that you are soft in the head.

Denning doesn’t leave it there. He gives his most recent summary of the “spirit” of what’s needed for successful change process: 18 specific practices. Not three, or eight or 10, and not in any particular order: a list of almost “Tom Peters” proportions: definitely not conventional Management!

1. *Make the change happen organically*: Change begins when a single individual takes responsibility for the future and decides to make it happen. The individual may be the CEO. In a large organization, it is more typically someone in middle management. The individual begins inspiring other people. In turn, they become champions and inspire still others.

2. *Launch a small high-performance team: *A small high-performance team will be needed to inspire and guide implementation. Dutiful or representative performance won’t get the job done. This will be a group that is creative and energized, trusts one another, passionately believes in the cause and is willing to do whatever it takes.

*3. **Do it quickly*: The change happens quickly or not all. Once organizational change takes off, the process will be viral in nature. The idea is either growing, spreading, and propagating itself, or dying and de-energizing people and spawning new constraints. A top-down process that is grinding it out, step by step, unit by unit, is usually generating antibodies that lead to mediocre implementation or total failure.

4. *Let the change idea evolve*: The change idea itself will steadily evolve. This is not a matter of crafting a vision and then rolling it out across the organization. This is about continuously adapting the idea to the evolving circumstances of the organization. As the organization and everyone in it adapts the story of change to their own context, each individual comes to own it. The process of adaptation never ends.

5. *Run the change process on human passion: *The change process will run on human passion—a firm belief in the clarity and worth of the idea and the courage to stand up and fight for it. No template or detailed rollout plan can inspire the energy, passion, and excitement that are needed to make deep change happen.

6. *Focus the passion*: It will be focused, disciplined passion. This is not an approach where anything goes. There will be a tight focus on the goal and continuing alertness to head off the diffusion of energy into related or alternative goals. Progress is assessed and adjustments made based on what has been learned. There will be systematic feedback on what value is being added. There will be freedom to create, but within clearly delineated, adjustable limits.

7. *Get outside help but don’t rely on it*: Outside help will be used but not depended on. Intellectual energy is generated by cognitive diversity and interactions with people with different backgrounds and ways of looking at the world. The external advice will be received, evaluated, and adapted to local needs. In the process of adaptation, the idea will become owned. Things are not done simply because outsiders say so; they will be done because they make sense for this context.

8. *The top of the organization must support it and be supported: *Although implementation cannot be accomplished by top-down directives or rollout programs, the support of the very top of the organization is key to creating the umbrella for change, for setting direction and heading off the inevitable threats to the idea. Yet the top alone cannot make it happen. In a large organization, the top will need many others to communicate the idea throughout the organization in an authentic way.

9. *The idea is more important than any individual*: Top-down change programs typically die when the manager leaves. The replacement manager sweeps clean what has gone before. By contrast, when a change has taken root in an organic fashion, the idea continues to live because it is owned by wide array of people.

10. *Form a strong nucleus to lead the charge*: A high-performance team will be needed to inspire and guide implementation. Dutiful or representative performance won’t get the job done. This will be a group that is creative and energized, trusts one another, and is willing to do whatever it takes.

11. *Proceed through conversations: *One person starts talking to and inspiring other people, who in turn have the courage, determination, and communication skills to fire up fresh groups of people to imagine and implement a different future. In turn, they become champions and inspire others.

12. *Establish a beachhead*: All of the successful large-scale implementations had at least some people on hand who had seen it and done it before and could say, “I’ve seen this work!” Creating a beachhead of such people is thus an important early step.

13. *Begin in a safe space*: In the first few iterations, bumps and bruises are to be expected. Until people get the hang of it, some missteps are likely. It is therefore prudent to try it out in the first instance in a relatively safe and low-profile space.

14. *Agree on a common terminology*: When fundamentally different ideas are being introduced, confusions and misunderstandings are inevitable. To the extent that a common terminology can be defined, made easily accessible, and consistently used, the transition will be easier.

15. *Communicate the Idea through stories*: Springboard stories communicate the spirit of an idea and generate new stories in the minds of the listeners, which drive them into action and spark more stories that are told to others. Rehearse your story before you get to making a presentation. Be ready when the opportunity calls.

16. *Practice total openness*. Just as the workplace depends on radical transparency, so does the change process itself. For example in the transition at, all of the daily meetings were held in a public place so that everyone could see how things were progressing. A task board was displayed on the public lunch room wall so that everyone had access to what was going on. The willingness to share information with everyone enabled people to adapt on a daily basis to what was happening.

17. *Generate dramatic surges in progress*: As Seth Kahan explains in *Getting Change Right*(2010), creating high-profile face-to-face events can accelerate progress. Creating gatherings that bring players together in high-value experiences can push the transition forward in leaps and bounds.

18. *Work sustainable hours*: Although occasional crises may require extended working periods, regularly working long hours is highly unproductive and leads to low-quality output. Long working hours are a sign of serious management malfunction.

In the end, the gains are accomplished by a transition from a focus on processes that produce things (goods, services, money) to a focus on people. A successful transformation requires the firm to adopt a people-centered goal, a people-centered role for managers, a people-centered coordination mechanism, people-centered values and people-centered communication–so as to focus the firm on the people who are its customers.

You may think you’re already people centred. Most managers do. If you do, then you’re probably deluded. It’s endemic. Recognise that and get deliberate about radically changing. Read The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management for a start and get help!


1 comment:

  1. Awesome insight here Steve, great post! Thanks x

    Not unlike one of my favorite of my Dad's quotes which has been referred to a bit since he died.. in an interview he was asked, 'what truly makes a great leader?' he answered- "be authentic, the real you... don't act cause you will be caught out. understand that leadership is about 'people and relationships', invest time to 'clarify, communicate & align', be self-confident & humble, not arrogant. Understand the 'big' picture & don't sweat the small stuff" x