A different approach to collaboration

Photo by D’Arcy Norman

In a post on HBR.org Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer investigate the relationship between collaboration and performance. They claim that not only does collaboration allows performance, but performance allows for collaboration. When people are feeling a sense of achievement and progress, they are more open to collaborate. That is why Amabile and Kramer advocate celebrating small wins, as this is a way to keep people in the team or organization energized to collaborate:

So, not only is collaboration critical to high performance, but maintaining high performance can be important to keeping collaboration going. Previously, we have talked about the importance of small wins — modest but meaningful successes along the pathway to achieving a major goal — in maintaining high performance and subjective well-being. They can also help workers maintain effective collaboration. When organizations support and celebrate small wins, employees feel like winners; the mistrust and conflict that can accompany losing will be avoided. Without those interpersonal problems, it will be much easier to achieve consistent and effective collaboration. [Emphasis added]

While I appreciate the approach of small wins and the importance of the feeling of progress for motivation and individual performance I think a focus on the effects of performance on collaboration might prove detrimental to effective collaboration.

In most business settings today, especially in knowledge work, performance is an emerging synergistic property. That means it cannot be directly predicted. It cannot be taken apart into specific check-list steps. It is uncertain and ambiguous. Innovation for example, emerges out of the interaction between team members and does not originate from the actions of one individual.

In such an environment, focusing on performance is futile. It is a classic case of Obliquity. The goal of performance can only be achieved indirectly. While this seems like semantics, it represents a different approach to collaboration. This approach doesn’t see temporal performance as an indicator for success. Instead, this approach sees continued long-term relationships as the basis of excellence. It celebrates small wins, not because they represent performance success, but because it means the process the team is engaging with is effective. In that respect it will celebrate small losses the same way, in the celebrated mythical approach of Thomas Edison – “I did not fail—I just learned 999 ways on how not to make a light bulb”.

When this approach is implemented – and there is no attempt to claim that it is easy to do so – the focus of team leaders is the relationship between people in the team. That means that the tensions produced by failure are constantly revealed and discussed even before failure occurs. Failure is an expected result and part of the process continuing of toward excellence. It is not that good performance hides tensions and allows for collaboration while everything is working. Instead, true collaboration actively and consistently attends to the undercurrents that facilitate the emergence of performance.

Reading the comments to Amabile and Kramer post suggest that their approach is resonating with many people. What does it say about organizations’ approach to collaboration? Is the dominating approach pushing us to draw the wrong conclusions and prescriptions about how to manage collaboration? I think it does.

What do you think?

Elad

Process and attitude or results and luck?

Photo by striatic

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes in Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning:

An organization where only success counts, and one in which an employee who does all the right things and fails is evaluated by the same measure as one who fails because of ineptitude, is an organization that is not likely to generate a great deal of loyalty. It is a part of management function to recognize and reward the performance and the attitude of employees, and not just their success, which may be due to entirely to fortuitous circumstances.

And it is not only a matter of loyalty, but of long-term success. Yes, results matter. Without results nobody will be able to succeed, long-term or short-term. But focusing too much on the “bottom line” results might be detrimental. Not only is luck involved many times, it is also a recipe for repeating mistakes. And most of all, it disregards the human element. If you ignore what people feel and think you will lose them on the way. And without the people, where will you be. And as Csikszentmihalyi points out, you owe your employees to keep those who really give all they can and have the potential (does all the right things) from those who are just not right for the job (ineptitude).

So – when you evaluate people do you focus only on results (and luck) or do you also focus on the process and attitude?

Elad

Do. Or Do not!

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A few weeks back I was working on a presentation about coaching I was supposed to give in one my MBA classes. One of my teammates and I were looking at ideas for a video clip we can use to simulate and explain some of the concepts of coaching we were planning to discuss. Then he suggested that we use the above clip. Now… I know. Yoda Wisdom. So 1980’s. But it is a great clip and something most people are familiar with. We ended up not using it (We used another great clip from the Matrix). But this clip has been in mind ever since:

No! Try not! Do. Or do not!

If you would have asked me a few years ago, I would have told you that this is about success. You are not going to try you are going to succeed. Failure is not an option. Something akin to today’s power of positive thinking. But now I think that if I would have said that, I would have been wrong.

G.K Chesterton wrote in 1910:

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly

Our fear should not be of failure. Our focus should not be on success. Doing anything, in life or in business, is about more than just trying to succeed and avoiding failure. It is about being there. It is about fully committing to something. Yes, we will fail. Yes, sometimes we won’t succeed or do badly. But we have to be able to say – we did it. Fully. With all our hearts. With everything we got. We did not just try to do our best. We did our best! Then, it is worth something.

So many things in life we do in a kind of apathy. Yes, we try different things. We think about issues. We want to be a success. But how many times in life you can say you were full there. Doing whatever it is you were doing. I wish I could say a lot. It is time I do something about it. Not just try, really do.

So, how about you? Do you try or do you do?

Elad

Do. Or Do not!

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A few weeks back I was working on a presentation about coaching I was suppose to give in one my MBA classes. One of my teammates and I were looking at ideas for a video clip we can use to simulate and explain some of the concepts of coaching we were planning to discuss. Then he suggested that we use the above clip. Now… I know. Yoda Wisdom. So 1980’s. But it is a great clip and something most people are familiar with. We ended up not using it (We used another great clip from the Matrix). But this clip has been in mind ever since:

No! Try not! Do. Or do not!

If you would have asked me a few years ago, I would have told you that this is about success. You are not going to try you are going to succeed. Failure is not an option. Something akin to today’s power of positive thinking. But now I think that if I would have said that, I would have been wrong.

G.K Chesterton wrote in 1910:

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly

Our fear should not be of failure. Our focus should not be on success. Doing anything, in life or in business, is about more than just trying to succeed and avoiding failure. It is about being there. It is about fully committing to something. Yes, we will fail. Yes, sometimes we won’t succeed or do badly. But we have to be able to day – we did it. Fully. With all our hearts. With everything we got. We did not just try to do our best. We did our best! Then, it is worth something.

So many things in life we do in a kind of apathy. Yes, we try different things. We think about issues. We want to be a success. But how many times in life you can say you were full there. Doing whatever it is you were doing. I wish I could say a lot. It is time I do something about it. Not just try, really do.

So, how about you? Do you try or do you do?

Elad

The failure in the success and the success in the failure

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Michael Schrage writes in HBR.org about the failure of failure. While it is beginning to dawn on the business community that failure is an important part of business and it should be used as a means of learning, there are still many mysteries around how exactly to incorporate that into everyday practices.

But Schrage takes a different look at the question of failure. He asks which failure is the best to learn from. His answer – failures that are not complete failures. He uses an example from a statement by an engineer trying to explain that they learned more about the recent disaster in Chile from buildings that almost collapsed than from building that totally collapsed. Here is how he summarizes this point:

In this respect, the structural engineering insight from Chile and other disaster zones makes conventional perceptions of “learning from failure” a misnomer. The real epiphany is that what makes the “partially damaged” structures so valuable to learn from is that they were less failures than underachievers. That is, there was enough “success” in what was left standing that good engineers now have empirical evidence of what they can do better next time.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the power of small victories and how focusing on them is a great way to increase happiness, learning and satisfaction. Maybe the lesson from what Schrage writes is that we need to also focus on small failures. Not the big ones where everything went out of order, but the small ones, where you can directly and specifically improve (and in the process, gain small victories).

Avid readers of this blog (is the plural “s” here relevant??) out there would point that just a couple of weeks ago I wrote that we should focus on what works instead of what doesn’t work. Now suddenly you want us to focus on what did not work? Well… yes.

First, because part of my philosophy is that we need to celebrate contradictions (F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that “the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time”). Second, because these are two different mind tools. One is useful to try and find a way out of hard situations and instrumental in creating change (and see more on this in the new book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard). The second is a tool for constant improvement. Both are essential in the day to day portfolio of the business manager.

But the importance of the two tools goes even deeper. When something fails it is vital to focus not only on what isn’t working, but also on what is working as this many times represents the way out of the failure. On the other hand, whey success happens it can be blinding. That is when we need not only to learn from the positive results (which is very important) but also focus the mind on the little things that could have gone better or that we got lucky with (and luck always plays a role).

So, how do you use the failure in the success and the success in the failure?

Elad

Who is responsible for a manager’s success?

Photo by orvalrochefort

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Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan – John F. Kennedy

Yesterday I wrote about heuristics and how one heuristic specifically, the illusion of control, is dangerous for managers and mangers need to overcome it if they want to really reach amazing results. Today I want to talk about another heuristic, which is part of the self-serving bias:

A self-serving bias occurs when people attribute their successes to internal or personal factors but attribute their failures to situational factors beyond their control. The self-serving bias can be seen in the common human tendency to take credit for success but to deny responsibility for failure

You all know it and have experienced from both ends of the spectrum. When we succeed, it is due to our own talents and efforts. But when we fail, that is when the excuses come knocking. And it is always someone else’s fault.

Now, I am not trying to change the behavior of the entire human race, even though a little more accountability would not hurt to improve our society. I just want to point out that in the case of managers that deal with people, their success lies in exactly the opposite situation. A great manager is one that helps his people succeed. By definition, a great manager is only a great manager because of someone else. As I wrote before:

A manager is not a supervisor that just needs to make sure the work is done. A manager is a good manager when he makes people think; when he helps employees improve their abilities and capitalize on their strengths; when he supports their own self development, self-efficacy and sense of achievement; and when he helps them prepare for their next role

And this is a very hard concept to come to grasps with. In most of our education and through most of our lives we are programmed to think that our success is dependent only on our actions. If we study hard enough, if we work hard enough, if we do the right things we will succeed. The only one that is responsible for our success is us. That is what we are told from the minute we are children. And most of the time there is nothing wrong with that. It might even be a good thing. But then we become managers.

And what do we do?

We create mechanisms of control that will make sure that everything is done our way. We try to make sure everything is controllable, so it will depend on us.

But it doesn’t. Not anymore.

A manager needs to adopt a frame of mind that is contrary to this human nature. A frame of mind that says: my success is the result of the work of others, work that is not under my control and that actually thrives when I am not in control. Hey, who said being a manager is an easy job?

Listen to Tom Peters and take the hurdles out of employees’ way and let them make you successful.

Elad

The way to Mastery – the #Drive way or the Freak Factor way

Photo by Gapiningvoid

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According to Dan Pink in his new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, a big part of “Motivation 3.0”, is the concept of Mastery. The argument goes something like this:

Only engagement can produce mastery – becoming better at something that matters. And the pursuit of mastery, an important but often dormant part of our third drive, has become essential to making one’s way in the economy. Mastery begins with “flow” – optimal experiences when the challenges we face are exquisitely matched to our abilities.

While I really like the concept I feel that the argument for this part of the AMP (Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose) in the book is not compelling as the other parts. One potential drawback that I see with the way Pink approaches the issue of mastery. He takes a too narrow approach to the way success, or better yet, excellence, is actually measured in our world. In his attempt to break some of the conventional wisdoms, Pink falls prays to others.

Let me explain by quoting a short part from the mastery chapter:

Mastery – of sports, music, business – requires effort (difficult, painful, excruciating, all consuming effort) over a long time (not a week or a month, but a decade). Sociologist Daniel Chambliss has referred to this as “the mundanity of excellence.” Like Ericsson, Chambliss found – in a three-year study of Olympic swimmers – that those who did the best typically spent the most time and effort on the mundane activities that readied them for races. It’s the same reason that, in another study, the west point grit researchers found that grittiness – rather than IQ or standardized test scores – is the most accurate predictor of college grades. As they explained, whereas the importance of working harder is easily apprehended, the importance of working longer without switching objectives may be less predictable… in every field, grit may be as essential as talent to high accomplishment”.

Am I the only one who is baffled here? Predictor of college grades? I am sorry, but since when college grades is a predictor of anything? As Seth Godin says in Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, the only thing that being good at school means is – that you are good at school (!):

You have been brainwashed by school and by the system into believing that your job is to do your job and follow instructions. It’s not, not anymore.

Following instructions with grittiness and determination might lead to successes. But it also might be exactly the kind of thinking that leads us to being cogs in the big factories of productivity. I am not sure that the success, as measured currently by society, is what we should all aspire for. I am not saying that effort or grittiness is not important. I actually believe that sometimes dying on the treadmill is all that matters. It is just that it is not the right fit for everybody. For some, mastery can be found not in grittiness, but in being impatient. Here is one example of a very successful man, from the freak factor blog:

My mantra, as well as my business plan, is ‘If you always do fun stuff, there will always be plenty of fun stuff to do.’ This works incredibly well for me, as I’m allergic to doing stuff that’s not fun. Consequently, I have the grooviest career, biz & life I can imagine as the Rock and Roll Guru.

Another significant ‘flaw’ is my attention span, or lack thereof. The strength here is that I’m working on so much cool stuff that I never get bored. There’s always another fun project to which I can turn my attention, however briefly. For example, I’m working on a series of themed Daffynitions books, including Biz, Parenting, Relationships & Self-help. Additionally, I’m writing the Rock & Roll Dictionary, which is based on the Daffynitions model.

Yes, in his own way, over a long haul of time, Joe Heuer shows grittiness. But it is not in the way Pink talks about. More importantly, Joe Heuer is a wonderful example of mastery leading to excellence.

I am not against mastery. I am all for it. I do believe in its power. We just need to remember that there are many ways to achieve mastery and that we need to be careful in the ways we measure success, as they might limit the ways we manage people. Mastery can be reached by working hard and not giving up. Mastery can also be achieved by letting go and trying many different things. And that is exactly the point. Differences should be embraced. Paths should be explored. Given the right support, people will find their way to excellence.

Elad

The unconventional wisdoms: helping people succussed and long-term teams

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Photo by John Spooner

One of my favourite subjects here in this blog has been conventional wisdoms. Those things that mangers usually believe in, but that have been proven wrong and ineffective. Over the life of this blog I have mentioned some of them, mostly relating to the management of people and teams. That is why it made me so happy to read Bob Sutton’s post: “What are the Dumbest Practices Used By U.S. Companies?“. It’s nice to have smarter and more experienced people reinforce your ideas from time to time.

I recommend reading the post and the comments which offer many mistaken conventional wisdoms. With so many of them out there, I sometimes wonder how the business world works at all. But I wanted to focus my attention to two of these practices that are mentioned in the original post, and add a few thoughts of my own. This is the first one:

2. Dysfunctional Internal Competition.  This is a big theme in The Knowing-Doing Gap and Morten’s Hansen’s masterpiece Collaboration.  If you dig into the problems in the banks and a lot of other companies, they actually punish people who help others succeed, both via the reward systems and who gets the most prestige.  This seems to persist even though the evidence against such assumptions and systems are so clear.

I must admit that I have never seen this problem described like this. But it makes a lot of sense. As I advocate in this blog, following Markus Buckingham preaching, is that the most important thing a manger could do is help other people succussed. And if organizations are built in a way that hinders the ability of managers to do this, that actually incentivizes them not to do what there are supposed to do, there is no wonder why so many people feel out of place in their workplace and why so many people do not reach their full potential and quote “a bad manager” as their number one reason for leaving their jobs. It is about time to not only make sure that we as managers engage in helping other people excel, but also to ensure that there are systems in the places we work for are set to support that function.

This is the second practice Sutton complains about:

3. Breaking-up Teams Constantly.  American companies often seem to love moving people around constantly, breaking-up teams, giving people new experiences, and so on.  Certainly, there is a time for fresh blood, but if you read J. Richard Hackman’s Leading Teams you will see that the weight of the evidence is that breaking up teams less often rather than more often is linked to all sorts of effectiveness indicators.  Also, see this post about the Miracle on the Hudson where I discuss this literature.

Again, I never thought of this problem in the way described here but it makes perfect sense when you think about it from a strengths perspective. An effective team, among other things, is a team where every member is attuned with his strengths; where synergies are created from the diverse opinions and talents. And it takes time to create this synergy, because people are so different. But it is their differences that creates strength and allows them to perform excellently. I think everyone who has worked in a team felt it. The difference between the beginning of the life of the team and the end of it, when each team member has learned his teammates’ traits and knows how to work in tune with them. So, maybe we need to think about long-term teams and about ways in which we sustain them.

Two challenges laid down for managers of organizations… will you take them upon yourself?

Elad