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(This blog on collaboration in organisations requires a significant, up-front acknowledgement and credit for Lynda Gratton at LBS with whom I/we collaborated all those years ago. Her resulting book ‘Hot Spots’ – which inspired this blog – is available from Berret-Koehler Publishers.)

A challenging business scenario over the summer was the catalyst for my dusting off , and deciding to share, some thinking from a decade or so ago. The ideas deserve a continuing wide audience in the corporate & OD worlds.

How does one create the conditions for true collaboration in businesses which are inherently siloed? Most leaders and OD practitioners will face this – or will already have worked to try and drive competitive advantage/organisational effectiveness.

It was back in my PwC days. I had worked in the consulting arm and then moved across to head up an internal HR consultancy. The great thing about PwC was always that it sought really to invest in its people and to experiment, subject to business case, with new thinking. It would put money behind things. With the sponsorship of one of the most inspiring people for whom I have ever worked (that’d be Jackie Gittins) I/we took part in a piece of work called the Co-operative Advantage with Lynda and another very impressive thinker Tammy Erickson.

 

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We were enquiring into the nature of collaboration and connections within complex organisations. We were experimenting within our own businesses.

And what did we find? Well I cannot do it justice in a brief blog so I will try to pull out some key threads which I hope will inspire ideas.

To quote Lynda: “When Hot Spots arise in and between companies, they provide energy for exploiting and applying knowledge that is already known and genuinely exploring what was previously unknown.”

You might say it is the same as a company being ‘in flow’ – a state which we coaches seek to create with individuals and teams in order to unlock their potential.

So what are the conditions which lead to the creation of Hot Spots? Lynda and Tammy concluded that they fall into the following key categories:

 

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1: A co-operative mind-set

The mind-set which is the foundation of the high-quality relationships that need to exist for high performance to exist between the different silos of a business. As an example: in PW Management Consultants in 1995 we were already hiring and managing performance against competencies which included Sharing – it was seen as key to organisational success.

So what are you doing really to promote Sharing as a behaviour? What does it mean in your organisation?

2: Boundary-spanning

There are people who just do this naturally. They are relatively rare. They work across the natural structures of a business, they create their own networks, they do not feel confined within their own place in the hierarchy. They are value-creators.

They (we) can also feel stifled or, in extremis, can start to derail as they are asked to stick to the ‘usual channels’. Thus can be organisational life.

So what are you doing to encourage exploration, to create the conditions in which virtual teams are created informally around your business, to recognise the contribution of people who cross borders.

For these people are potentially your value-creators.

3: A compelling purpose or ‘call to action’

Lynda called this an ‘igniting purpose’. We often talk about similar constructs in change management. But she summarised it well as ‘a question that is so exciting and stimulating that people immediately wanted to engage with it’. I would argue that this is even more relevant now with increasing numbers of people in your workforce who will be motivated by a compelling vision.

So what is yours? A clue: ‘enhancing shareholder return’ won’t wash (even if it is, of course, a constant objective).

4: Productive practices

I would call them ‘habits into which one wants more people to get’. They may be seen as simply good people practices. They include appreciation and recognition of behaviours and contributions which are well aligned with your goals, making commitments, resolving conflicts and establishing the right rhythm.

Asking someone to be a boundary spanner on top of their existing ‘local’ commitments could well lead to burnout so this last point is key.

 

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The driving assumption here is that you want (i) these Hot Spots to emerge and (ii) for them to be nurtured where they exist. And that there are ways in which you can create the conditions which allow them to emerge.

Devising your own combination of the above factors could start to lead you in the right direction and I commend this thinking to you, and Lynda’s book, if you are looking to unlock collaboration and value across your business. If you are looking to break down those silos.