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Plotting the Ability to Collaborate

I was recently reading a blog post “A Practical Guide To Collaboration” on Federal Computer Week by Steve Kelman who was quoting from a recent book called “Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results” by Haas School of Business professor Morten Hansen of UC Berkley, who shares his 20-years experience researching how companies collaborate . The commentary was not a book review and from it I didn’t get the urge to run out and buy the book, but it did lead me to research public interest in the book and see if there is any innovative though from it. It did have positive ratings on Amazon.

The Ability to Collaborate

The gist of Kelmen’s post was to lay out what Hansen believed were four barriers to collaboration. The four he lists are:

  • A “not invented here” syndrome that leads people to reject ideas from the outside.
  • Hoarding, in which people want to keep knowledge close at hand because they are competing with others inside the organization or because the information enhances the holder’s power.
  • The difficulty of searching for information located somewhere in the organization (the “if we only knew what we know” problem).
  • The cost of transferring knowledge from holder to recipient.

These four are definitely good examples, but I would have to add the important requirement that senior leaders and management must be committed to the process and that you must have a strong champion for collaboration. Kelman noted that the first two relate to motivation (or lack of) and the second two relate to the ability to collaborate. It reminded me about the classic leadership theory of evaluating the willing and able. Basically when it comes to people and their work or a project, you typically have people in one of four categories; willing & able, willing & unable, unwilling & able, unwilling & unable. The manager would hope to have a bevy of willing and able employees, but when not, must take the appropriate action to enable the team.

I thought about applying Hansens categories in a managerial grid model fashion and see if it would be useful to plot a team’s likelihood of having collaboration barriers. For those who are not familiar with the behavioral leadership model developed by Robert R. Blake and Jane Mouton in 1964, it basically helps identify if an individual’s leadership style sways more toward people, or more toward the process. In the knowledge management realm, people and process make up two of the the three fundamental elements of Knowledge Management, with the third being technology.

Jill Geisler at poyner.org in her article last year “What Great Bosses Know about Breaking Down Barriers to Collaboration” listed her own assessment of four institutional barriers. They are Distance Barrier, Dominance Barrier, Dissonance Barrier and Discomfort Barrier. In her article she lists the leader’s role in helping break down those barriers to better enable employees, which included reinforce continuing, high-quality communication; take an honest accounting of whether there is an unfair power structure among employees; keep track of workloads; and you have to lead people.

Blake and Mouton espouse seven Behavior Elements in their grid model to determine an overall rating as a leader must have rate-able areas in which to gauge. I believe the four elements from Hansen’s book could be well suited to determining an employees or teams ability to collaborate, and Geislers “leader’s roles” could be used to increase a rating at a given data point.

Here is a sample chart that could be prepared by a leader in determining if his work unit is at the maturity level for positive collaboration.

Ability to Collaborate Grid Model

I imagine there are other barriers or responses, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Dan Elder, MKMP
Topsarge Business Solutions

2 thoughts on “Plotting the Ability to Collaborate”

  1. It is quite common for people working under the same roof to be refusing to collaborate due to unfounded fear and in some cases office politics getting in the way. 

    It is then a challenge of the manager to get past of those hindrances so that all units are cooperating and extending their help and expertise to one another. 

  2. As an advertising manager, one thing that I am really watching for with my team is the attitude of closing ranks to the exclusion of those people outside of the department who can really of big help with any project. I have seen this manifested in the past and I always encourage all of those whoa re working with me to open up their doors for new and collaborative ideas as I think there is anybody having a monopoly on this area.

    Team building and enhancing collaboration are very vital to survive in today’s very competitive environment.

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