From the Business World: Collaborate for Real

images-1In an abbreviated article from Harvard Business Review by Alison Beard: “Collaborate For Real,” police can learn some things about working together and sharing information as a way to improve things.

I share this article because collaboration is a major part of the New Leadership and essential for effective community-oriented policing.



“As business buzzwords go, ‘collaborate’ and its derivatives are surely modern favorites. Applying for a job? Emphasize your collaboration skills. Courting customers? Promise a collaborative relationship. Wooing new hires or investors? Talk up your collaborative culture.

“Academics, practitioners, and especially consultants seem to be obsessed by these terms—and rightly so. Any business works better when its employees, teams, divisions, and leaders share ideas and resources to pursue a common goal [my emphasis]. But how do we turn the ever-present lingo into everyday reality? Four new books offer advice.

“You’ll find the most interesting case studies—of organizations getting collaboration right and of those felled by the lack of it—in The Silo Effect, by Gillian Tett, an editor at the Financial Times (where—full disclosure—I once worked). Drawing on her background in anthropology and decades as a reporter, Tett shows us how Sony missed the digital music revolution because its competing divisions couldn’t agree on products, platforms, or strategy; how UBS, the venerable Swiss bank, lost billions through lack of coordination between its New York and London credit derivative desks and its three risk departments (credit, market, and operational), which left everyone clueless about the enterprisewide threat; and how tribalism among the world’s leading economists blinded them to the causes of the most recent global financial crisis. On the flip side, Tett explains how Facebook uses a hierarchy-free orientation program, frequent job rotations, and regular ‘hackathons’ to encourage cooperation among project groups; how the Cleveland Clinic reorganized its medical staff into teams that focus on ailments rather than their own skills to improve patient outcomes; and how data crunchers infiltrated bureaucratic police departments to reduce crime rates in New York and Chicago.

“Many readers will have heard those stories before, but the detail is impressive. And the lessons Tett offers at the end of the book are spot on:

  • Keep organizational boundaries flexible and fluid;
  • Use technology to disrupt them;
  • Share data and let different interpretations of it be heard;
  • Tie compensation to collaboration;
  • Reimagine corporate taxonomies and experiment with new ones.

“These are high-level, top-down recommendations. But she also has a few tips for any manager eager to fight silos from the bottom up:

  • Think like an anthropologist—with curiosity, healthy cynicism, and an appreciation for how things relate to one another so that you’re able to recognize when systems no longer make sense. Also,
  • Consider jumping across a corporate or social divide yourself once in a while.

“More advice for individuals comes from three other recent books about collaboration. In Friend & Foe, Wharton professors Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer (see “The Organizational Apology,” in the September 2015 issue) present reams of cool research showing why, although humans are inherently social animals, we’re also wired to vie with one another when resources are scarce and conditions are dynamic or uncertain. The most pertinent lesson for would-be collaborators:

  • Build trust by showing warmth and competence,
  • Appreciating others’ perspectives, and
  • Revealing vulnerability…

“Longtime management writer and consultant Ken Blanchard also believes that Collaboration Begins with You. That’s the title of his latest business fable, a story about Dave Oakton, the leader of a cross-departmental project—Primo—that fails because the units involved are too competitive with one another. The solution, he learns from his visiting sister-in-law, is to shift his and others’ hearts (intent), heads (thought), and hands (action) toward collaboration.

“He comes to see that leaders must:

  • Build on differences;
  • Nurture safety and trust;
  • Craft a clear purpose, values, and goals;
  • Talk openly about collaboration; and
  • Empower themselves and others to spread it.

“And, of course, there’s a happy ending: After sharing these epiphanies with his boss, he not only leads a successful Primo II but also gets promoted to chief operating officer!…

“Companies don’t fail at collaboration because not enough people will cooperate with one another. They fail when people work too closely in certain teams, functions, or departments without any regard for the rest of the organization. Coaching for collaborative thinking and behavior might help them break through those boundaries. But policy changes—such as the incentives and restructuring put in place at the Cleveland Clinic or the nudging mechanisms seen in Facebook’s orientations, rotations, and use of its own social network to forge surprising connections—are much more effective…

“So, yes, let’s encourage people to get better at collaboration, even train them in it. But let’s also design organizations that make it energizing and fun, not forced (my emphasis)… even the companies that excel at collaboration today can’t afford to rest on their laurels. Organizational silo busting requires constant vigilance.


[The original article as been edited here. A version of this article appeared in the September 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review.]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.