# 11 - Collaboration
this issue, you will find:
A discussion of collaboration in organizations
A summary of the book Teamwork is an Individual Skill, by Christopher
Avery with Meri Aaron Walker & Erin O'Toole Murphy (Berrett-Koehler,
Pointers to additional information on this topic
COLLABORATION IN ORGANIZATIONS AND WHY IT'S THE ONLY OPTION
of the key ways that you can increase your organization's capacity
to achieve its goals is through collaboration-within your organization,
between yours and others within your company, and across corporate
are four key points that we want to make about collaboration,
why it's unavoidable and therefore essential to your success,
and what's required to enable it in your organization.
The Nature Of Things Today Is That They Are Very Complex.
Complexity has increased dramatically and noticeably in just the
past ten years, and its effects are compounded. Problems, opportunities
for innovation, the products and solutions that many of you design,
create, and/or build are so complex that they can no longer be
solved, invented, or designed by one person working alone or by
completing pieces separately and then integrating them later.
The various parts or aspects of complex solutions must be developed
in relationship to each other or else the pieces will not fit
or work together, and why they won't work will not be readily
apparent later. It is frequently the failure to develop integrated
solutions and the resulting need to fix or redesign them that
creates or contributes to time-to-market problems, cost overruns,
and field failure.
Interdependence Is The Universal Condition. Managing interdependence
requires that we be able to work cooperatively and in conjunction
with others who have relevant and complimentary knowledge or skills
to bring to bear on a particular problem, usually one in which
the participants have a shared interest. This way of working is
collaboration, and we must find ways to enable it if we want to
leverage the ideas and creativity of many to address complex issues.
It's worth noting that collaboration is as much an orientation
or way of being as it is a way of working. "Collaborating"
only when it serves our own interest does little to build the
trust or solid relationships that are required for successful
interdependent and collaborative initiatives. We need to understand
interdependence as an ongoing condition that supports the needs
of the parties over time, not just when it's convenient.
Doesn't Happen By Accident. The capacity and structures that
enable collaboration within and across organization boundaries
must be designed into the infrastructure and culture of the company.
Most companies have been set up or evolved in ways that are more
likely to promote and reward individual rather than collaboration
action. In most companies, corporate strategies now require collaborative
activity in order for them to be successfully executed. But the
existing structure, rewards, and processes frequently inhibit
collaboration, and employees perceive it to be disadvantageous
to them in terms of both formal and informal rewards and recognition.
It is often not well understood by senior management why employees
don't, won't, or are unable to work more collaboratively, despite
verbal encouragement to do so. If we remember that form follows
function, not the other way around, then we can move to designing
organizations that support necessary behaviors and interactions.
Are For Collaboration. Extensive research with consistent
results has shown that cross-functional and cross-organizational
teams are the single best structure for successful collaboration.
Steep hierarchies frequently require permission seeking while
discouraging initiative taking, thus inhibiting collaborative
behavior and, in particular, successful teams. Research also shows
that there are clearly identifiable attributes of successful teams
as well as necessary conditions that support them. These, also,
do not occur by accident.
If What You Want And Need Is Increased Collaboration Within Your
Organization And With Others, it's essential that you pay
attention to and invest in an organization design, infrastructure,
and culture that supports, encourages, and enables this way of
Teamwork Is an Individual Skill by Christopher Avery with Meri
Aaron Walker & Erin O'Toole Murphy (Berrett-Koehler, 2001)
modern organizations are designed to enhance the power of collaboration,
they rely more and more on teams. It is only through teamwork
that the ideas and creativity of many people can be brought to
bear on a complex problem. Because teams involve a number of people,
we have historically thought of teamwork as a group skill. There
is, of course, a definite group dynamic at work in every team
and knowledge of, and the ability to work within it is of utmost
importance. On the other hand, Avery, Walker, & Murphy remind
us that every team member must take responsibility for the quality
and productivity of his or her team. The central skills embodied
in a good "teamworker" are the ability to:
authors refer to a person with these skills, and a collaborative
mindset, as someone with "TeamWisdom." They dislike
the term "team player" as they believe that phrase has
come to mean someone who goes along with the group without passion
or commitment. Those with TeamWisdom, on the other hand, will
not go along with something about which they have strong reservations.
Always remembering that they are responsible for the team's results,
people with TeamWisdom insist on keeping discussion open until
true consensus is attained. They know that once the team has reached
consensus, it will have clear direction and renewed energy to
complete its tasks. Taking responsibility also means cleaning
up any broken agreements, and the authors give us a model for
how to do that without the need to blame others or leave the team.
for conflict in teams, the authors tell us that "when disagreements
arise in a relationship, it pays to treat them as an opportunity
to learn. It is unwise to squelch disagreement, cover it up, or
take offense - even when we are an expert in what the group is
introducing their concepts, Avery et al take us through chapters
entitled Creating Powerful Partnerships, Collaborating on Purpose,
Trusting Just Right, and the Collaborative Mindset, giving helpful
hints for building and using TeamWisdom in each of those arenas.
Each chapter cites examples, and sprinkled throughout the pages
are quotes from those who are trying to build TeamWisdom in their
organizations. We are given both Personal and Team Challenges
at the end of each section. These "challenges" are quite
helpful questions and tasks designed to help readers integrate
and implement each section's ideas in our own unique situations.
one of the myths of teamwork, the book states that "anything
worth doing is worth doing poorly. It is far better to commit
to fumbling one's way up the learning curve than to avoid any
chance of making a mistake" (p.183). This is one of many
thought-provoking ideas in the book.
at millpond join the authors in wishing you a world of productive
relationships at work.
Websites and Other Resources we've found about this topic include:
This is the website for the Center for the Study of Work Teams
at University of North Texas. It's a great source for all kinds
of information about teams and offers a great links page.
This site calls itself "the place on the web for virtual
work." It also has a good links page.
This is Pegasus Communications' site and it's the gateway to all
kinds of information about systems thinking. They publish a catalogue
of resources, a newsletter called The Systems Thinker, and an
e-zone called Leverage Points. You can sign up to receive the
Collaborative Enterprise: Why Links Across the Corporation Often
Fail and How to Make Them Work by Andrew Campbell and Michael
Goold (that's not a typo - there are two o's) (Perseus Press,
authorities on multibusiness strategy show how to overcome barriers
to synergy and achieve real collaboration across the company.
Wisdom of Team: Creating the High-Performance Organization by
Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith (Harper Business, 1993).
is a classic on teams and team-based organizations and what's
required in order for them to realize their potential.