Collaboration : A Top Down Process!
My prior blog entry,”Teams of Rivals“, explored how the triptych of process, culture and technology must come together to enable a productive, innovative collaborative working environment. In this post, I want to offer an integral, related variable to the collaborative management equation: the role of the CEO and top management in fostering an effective participatory work environment.The road to collaboration is a journey. But it is a directed, not self-guided trip, one that must be carefully overseen by senior management. Guidebooks and maps are not readily available as the structure of most businesses over the past several centuries has been hierarchical. It was only in the 1950s when Peter Drucker, the leading management theorist of the past century, noted that while hierarchy is an important management principle, it is not sufficient for companies to thrive, particularly in turbulent times. He was the first critic of command and control structure, adopted from military organizations -where it usually made a lot of sense -to become the dominant organizational framework of most companies.Indeed the CEO must flatten decision-making and resource allocation hierarchies in order to allow market insight and innovation to flourish. As outlined in a recent Fast Company feature, Cisco has moved decision-making from a few fistfuls of senior executives to over 500 top managers across the company since 2001. The objective is to develop a strongly executing, global enterprise where leadership emerges anywhere and everywhere, unchained to the traditional management structure. The goal: market share, growth, and innovation. And this is only the beginning: in the next few years, thousands of managers could participate in this approach.While Cisco might be a most aggressive company in moving to a collaborative work culture, the dangers of excessive hierarchy, of concentrating information and decision-making, has been documented throughout history. In his seminal treatise on the dangers of executive decision-making by a single small group of individuals, Irving Jarvis, the author of Groupthink , outlined how President John F. Kennedy learned this lesson, both negatively (The Bay of Pigs invasion) and positively (resolution of the Cuban missile crisis).Groupthink reflects the tendency of a small group of individuals to reinforce each other in decision-making rather than work through all the information necessary to make good decisions and investments. Indeed, the role of the senior political (or business) leader actually inhibits good decision-making in situations where the managers wrestling with the decision are impacted as much by the presence of the executive as the facts themselves. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy was careful to not intrude on his managers’ deliberations too often.Given the complexity of most large, global enterprises, the idea of the”wise few” is giving way to the wisdom of the crowd. We are now seeing the emergence of a new leadership style where the CEO is both the final decider (the buck has to stop somewhere) as well as the chief collaboration officer, the person who drives a flatter, decentralized and participatory culture. For most large enterprises, the stakes involved here are considerable. Cisco’s positioning guru Ron Ricci said to me the other day that”Collaboration is the Six Sigma of the Information Age. If Six Sigma focused on removing variation from manufacturing processes, then collaboration is about putting it back in.”Indeed, the first wave of the Internet was about machine-to-machine or people-to-machine transactions; it was automating manufacturing, sales and support processes for industrial companies. And emphasis was on Six Sigma-type environments that focused on reducing errors in order processing, information gathering and utilization, and problem resolution.. To put it succinctly, the first wave of the Internet was about transactions at speed.The second wave of the Internet -is about variation and innovation at speed. It is about playing in new market segments and a global market place at speed and scale. Senior management plays a critical role in supporting this transition to the second wave of the Internet, as well.To successfully navigate the collaboration journey, organizations must have trust. They must have rules of the road -operating principles -on how collaboration works within their enterprise. The senior management team plays a critical role in establishing a trusting environment and protecting its success, transforming the corporate culture from the primacy of the individual — be it the executive, the team or business unit -to the primacy of the total organization.