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

What’s the connection between human cells and #teamwork?

Photo by dullhunk

A few months ago I took a course about high performing team where Prof. Lechner (with whom I later worked with as a research assistant) gave a great metaphor that stuck with me. We were talking about synergy and how the purpose of a team is to create synergy otherwise there is no point in even creating a team. Then she told us:

Think about the cells in your body. Each cell by itself is useless. It does not do anything special. It actually won’t be able to survive on its own. However, when you put all these useless cells together, they create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Something utterly unique and remarkable. This is the goal of forming a team. The synergy that is above the parts.

This week I was listening to a podcast from RadioLab titled: Cities. In it, they interview a scientist who explains that cells of organisms require less and less energy the more complex the creature they belong to becomes. In other words, the cells of an ant, each by its own, require more energy, than the cells of an elephant, each by its own. Every cell actually starts working slower, thus consuming less and less energy.

J. Richard Hackman writes in his book Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances:

It is a mistake – a common one and often a fatal one – to use a team for work that requires the exercise of powers that reside within and are best expressed by individual human beings. A manager’s first responsibility in creating a work team, then, is to make sure that the work to be done is appropriate for team performance and that it requires members to work together interdependently to achieve identifiable collective outcome. If that cannot be done (and many times it cannot), then the wise choice is to design and manage the work for individual performers rather than for an interacting work team.

And I thought these ideas complete each other. The synergy should not only be found in the final product, but it is also to be found in the process of creating that product. Great teams are able to create results that surpass the linear combination of all their members and the losses incurred by working as a team. These teams do it by complementing each other so each member is focused on his advantages and on contributing actual value in its own unique way. The true benefit of a team then (in some situation more than others) comes for the diversity of its members and their contribution. However, many of the managerial practices are aimed at eliminating these differences and creating homogeneity.

Would you want a cell in your brain to act like a cell in your foot? So why do you expect team member to act the same?

Elad

Are you more important than others?

Photo by familymwr

Today I read an interview (link in Hebrew) with Prof. Beni Lauterbach – Head of Business Administration School at Bar-Ilan University. In it, Lauterbach claims that business administration departments in universities are much more important than the physics, chemistry and engineering departments. Why? Because a good manager can add more value than an engineer. Lauterbach claims that as a former engineer he knows that for a fact.

I almost fell of my chair when I read this. I am, as readers of the blog know well, a big supportive of the idea that great managers are important value creators. More than that, I actually believe that in the coming years, the importance of managers as facilitators of innovation through diversity will increase. However, Lauterbach approach is in my eyes, a manifestation of everything that is wrong with management today.

The idea that there is one person or occupation that is more important than others is the problem of many of the current management practices. Mostly, the work of a manager is to create synergy. In this respect, synergy is about creating greater value from a group of people than they could produce alone. And in this process, every person is important because without each and every one, synergy is not possible. Lauterbach approach is rotted in the myth of leadership, where we look to one leader to solve all of our problems and believe that salvation will come out of one individual. Maybe this worked in the past. It will not work in the future. The future is about diversity, synergy and collaboration. In this kind of environment, nobody is more important. Not that everybody is equal. Everybody is unique and contributes differently and an excelling organization enables and leverages that uniqueness.

Let’s stop fighting over who is more important and start collaborating to create a better future.

And by the way, all of the above is said without regard to the question whether business administration departments actually produce managers (not to mention, good ones). I am not quite sure.

Elad

Share

Mastery of the mundane

Photo by Evil Paul

When I read Outliers: The Story of Success about two years ago, one on the things that struck me most is the 10,000 hours rule. For those of you are still not familiar with this concept, in the book, Gladwell claims, based on research by Anders Ericsson that greatness requires enormous amounts of time. If you truly want to be an expert at something, you need to practice and engage in the act for about 10,000 hours. While this claim seems daunting, unintuitive and does not always hold up, it still presents a worthy approach to perseverance.

Perseverance is something we truly lack at management. Because even if you do not believe that it takes 10,000 hours to truly become great at something, we all instinctively value expertise and experience in the functional parts of the business world. But, when it comes to managerial skills (communicating with people, facilitating discussion, effective recognition, helping people excel, etc.) you wouldn’t find many people hailing for specific experience in that sense. Would you hire a manager that has no technical experience just for his excellent managerial skills and experience?

Our world is becoming more and more specialized and managers are less and less equipped to lead from the front, by expertise. Functional expertise is becoming a part of a bigger diverse workflow of creativity, where the challenge lies in the transformation of diversity into synergy. In this kind of world, managerial expertise that comes out of long-lasting experience coupled with perseverance is the true skill that needs to be celebrated. Power is to be found in the fundamentals. Or, as NameTag Guy tells us, in becoming the master of the mundane:

Become a master of the mundane. “Fully extend your dominant arm.” That’s what good coaches will tell you. Whether you’re shooting hoops, slinging slap shots or slamming aces, nothing beats an unbent elbow. It’s just a basic tenet of most sports.
The interesting part is how well the pros execute this strategy. Even the ones who get paid millions of dollars a year. They’re never too good, too rich or too successful to master the mundane.
My friend Steve Hughes, a presentation coach, teaches his clients this very principle: “You’re looking for the trick play when you need to just work on basic blocking and tackling.”
Remember: Never underestimate the power of continual application of the fundamentals. Forget the rudiments and forego the revenue. Are you brilliant at the basics?

So, how many hours have you been practicing you managerial skills?

Elad

Mastery of the mundane

When I read Outliers about two years ago, one on the things that struck me most is the 10,000 hours rule. For those of you are still not familiar with this concept, in the book, Gladwell claims, based on research by Anders Ericsson that greatness requires enormous amounts of time. If you truly want to be an expert at something, you need to practice and engage in the act for about 10,000 hours. While this claim seems daunting, unintuitive and does not always hold up, it still presents a worthy approach to perseverance.

Perseverance is something we truly lack at management. Because even if you do not believe that it takes 10,000 hours to truly become great at something, we all instinctively value expertise and experience in the functional parts of the business world. But, when it comes to managerial skills (communicating with people, facilitating discussion, effective recognition, helping people excel, etc.) you wouldn’t find many people hailing for specific experience in that sense. Would you hire a manager that has no technical experience just for his excellent managerial skills and experience?

Our world is becoming more and more specialized and managers are less and less equipped to lead from the front, by expertise. Functional expertise is becoming a part of a bigger diverse workflow of creativity, where the challenge lies in the transformation of diversity into synergy. In this kind of world, managerial expertise that comes out of long lasting experience coupled with perseverance is the true skill that needs to be celebrated. Power is to be found in the fundamentals. Or, as NameTag Guy tells us, in becoming the master of the mundane:

Become a master of the mundane. “Fully extend your dominant arm.” That’s what good coaches will tell you. Whether you’re shooting hoops, slinging slap shots or slamming aces, nothing beats an unbent elbow. It’s just a basic tenet of most sports.
The interesting part is how well the pros execute this strategy. Even the ones who get paid millions of dollars a year. They’re never too good, too rich or too successful to master the mundane.
My friend Steve Hughes, a presentation coach, teaches his clients this very principle: “You’re looking for the trick play when you need to just work on basic blocking and tackling.”
Remember: Never underestimate the power of continual application of the fundamentals. Forget the rudiments and forego the revenue. Are you brilliant at the basics?

So, how many hours have you been practicing you managerial skills?

Elad

10,000 hours rule, Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, Seth Godin, NameTag Scott, perseverance, expertise, diversity, synergy, creativity

Synergy in management

Photo by DaveFayram

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Marshall Goldsmith writes about Sharing Leadership to Maximize Talent on HBR.org:

Shared leadership involves maximizing all of the human resources in an organization by empowering individuals and giving them an opportunity to take leadership positions in their areas of expertise. With more complex markets increasing the demands on leadership, the job in many cases is simply too large for one individual.

And he gives an example:

For instance, at a company that creates user interfaces for web design, the role of CEO was too extensive for one leader. As a result, it was split into two positions with equal status and complementary skills sets and responsibilities. After splitting the role of CEO, the leaders built on the new team, hiring experts to head up research and development, architecture and design, and sales. Using the shared leadership model gave these leaders the opportunity to focus on the areas in which they are most talented, to hire team leaders, and thus develop a successful, well-rounded and somewhat “flattened” company versus a more hierarchically structured company

I ask you this: isn’t the role of the CEO in most companies too extensive for one leader? The world of business is so complex, how can we expect one “general” at the top to know everything and make wise decisions about everything? The answer is, we can’t. And you should not believe me. I am not a CEO. Believe a CEO, Vineet Nayar, as he writes:

During the day, I try to avoid the traps that are so easy to fall into as a CEO. The most dangerous one is thinking you should know the answers to all questions that arise. This is ridiculous, of course. How can I possibly know the answers to questions that have to do with customers, relationships, technologies, solutions, countries, and offices that I have no direct involvement with? Impossible. But, for centuries, the world’s organizations have been built on the idea that the CEO knows everything. If he does not know, he should act as if he does. Today, everyone knows the CEO doesn’t know much, but assuming that he should (or hoping that he does) is a very hard habit to break. I believe that the CEO should be the Chief Question Asker, not the final provider of answers. And so, especially during the early hours of the day, I ask the following questions of myself:

Ask Bill Gates why he has Steve Ballmer next to him for so long. They each gives something different to the company. As Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton: write in their book Now, Discover Your Strengths:

…[Y]ou will excel only by maximizing your strengths, never by fixing your weaknesses. This is not the same as saying ‘ignore your weakness’. The people we described did not ignore their weakness. Instead, they did something much more effective. They found ways to manage around their weakness, thereby freeing them up to hone their strengths to a sharper point. Each of them did this a little differently. Pam liberated herself by hiring an outside consultant to write the strategic plan. Bill Gates did something similar. He selected a partner, Steve Ballmer, to run the company, allowing him to return to software development and rediscover his strengths’ path…

The idea of The Comparative Advantage has never been so powerful. And it should leave the confines of the world of economics and enter, through the main gate on a red carpet, to the world of management. By definition, synergy is the product of a number of individual parts creating something that is bigger than the sum of the parts. But today’s current management practices try to glorify “one” to lead all the other “ones” to be more than they are. Doesn’t that seem strange to you?

I don’t know if it is inertia, habit, ego, mistaken conventional wisdom or something else the leaves this kind of thinking intact. I am happy that there are some people out there crying out to change this. The world does not need superheroes. The world needs more cooperation that leads to synergy.

Elad