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Teams of Rivals

By Alan S. Cohen, VP Enterprise/Mid-Market Solutions Marketing In her brilliant account of Abraham Lincoln’s political ascension to the White House during one of the bleakest periods of American history, Doris Kearns Goodwin details how the 16th President engaged the talents of his strongest political rivals, pulling them into a “dream team” during the darkest hour of the American Republic. Team of Rivals charts how Lincoln created a “collaboration effect” by fostering and communicating a common good to which even competitive, ambitious individuals could adhere. As we face the darkest business climate in a generation, working across corporate and geographic boundaries can play a critical role in determining whether companies survive or thrive during these tough times. With much of the world economy mired in tremendous uncertainties, there exists a unique inflection point for changing, for morphing the traditional rules of competition and commerce. There is now an opportunity for companies that have been rivals to work together, either structurally or in rapidly-formed, short term “mash-ups,” to jointly address the challenges and opportunities in front of them.

Bringing companies together to collaborate requires change in three areas: • Culture • Process • Technology Cultural change is a willingness to look to partnerships and business relationships well beyond the reach of your own company’s resources or your natural ecosystem of trading partners. This could include teaming with a company in one product segment while still competing fiercely with it in other segments. It involves a willingness, an orientation to find talent in new unexpected places and make it part of your business. And as Evan Rosen notes in his book and blog, The Culture of Collaboration, the biggest cultural change comes from building a new trust model for business. The process element envelops a new approach to management and measurement. It means different kinds of work teams – inherently more cross-functional and cross-company. Changing to collaborative processes requires an approach that unlocks the “cognitive surplus” of your own company as well as that of your partners. And it means looking for leadership at all levels of an organization – not just your own and not simply at the top. Entire organizations like InnoCentive have arisen to change the process of company innovation from the outside in. Technology fostering collaboration comes in many forms and devices. It can be team workspaces or new approaches to Telepresence-based experiences. It can be delivered as a service (including web meetings and messaging systems) or by leveraging a converged IP network like unified communications. The technology arena has been particularly challenging for cross-company collaboration because traditional communications and collaboration systems were designed to support a single-company enterprise IT model. Indeed, security requirements actually prevented the federation of IT systems and slowed the pace of application innovation (unlike the “widget” marketplaces you see with Webex Connect or Apple’s iPhone/iPod), restricting it to corporate IT or within the framework of a monolithic enterprise application suite. But now, as my colleagues will discuss in the next few blogs, the promise and reality of cross-company collaboration is at hand. Lincoln’s genius in holding together “the last best hope of mankind” involved tirelessly getting the best results from the talent he had assembled, regardless of whether that talent saw Lincoln and each other as rivals. Perhaps the manifestation of business collaboration shares some of these same breakthrough principles within and across companies. by Alan S. Cohen, VP Enterprise/Mid-Market Solutions Marketing

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13 Comments.


  1. Interesting post.The question to me is whether companies are really receptive to collaborative management and what an executive team must do to make this kind of decision making effective.

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  2. Michael Metz

    Relating technology-supported business collaboration to the collaboration of Kearn’s eam of rivals”” is an intriguing idea. In Kearn’s wonderful book it’s clear that successful collaboration in the Lincoln administration came from top down leadership, which is a requirement to make business collaboration work too. Obama seems to have bought into both aspects of collaboration, first hiring Hillary, second as an effective user of the technology which supports business collaboration (and election campaigns too). Alan calls out “”process”” as a critical piece in successful collaboration. Lincoln made this happen thru his personal interactional style. Let’s hope Obama’s interactional style can be as effective in government collaboration as it was in his campaign.”

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  3. Alan Cohen

    Ori:Thanks for the inquiry. There is a definite psychology and culture to building a collaborative work style. And it must, interestingly, have support from the top. Senior executives must make a conscious decision that the benefits of the group are stronger than the benefits of the individual in various forms of resource allocation and decision-making. In addition to the journey at Cisco, we are seeing companies in various stages (from studying collaboration to fully-embracing it) of this journey. In many cases, the CEO is the lead change agent.The citation of Evan Rosen’s work, above, is worth exploringThanks, Alan

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  4. Alan Cohen

    MikeI think you actually raise the issue of executive style/approach as well as process. The President-elect, perhaps because of the economic and world environment, appears acutely attuned to getting people to collective and creative solutions.My thesis: if it can happen in politics, it can happen in business, Alan

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  5. Great post, Alan. One of the things most often overlooked in the collaboration toolkit is that it must support *all* kinds of interactions — among close co-workers, prickly peers, arms’ length partners, and distrustful adversaries. And certainly a team of rivals.Of course, the collaboration platforms themselves are still fairly generic, which makes configuring them for a team of rivals a bit challenging.I think it will take us years to get to a truly humanizable collaboration toolkit, particularly for extranet collaboration, but we can take some cues from the physical world:1. Allow circles to trust to be created and visualized. This happens in personal settings all the time, but usually unnoticed. For example, a trust circle in a town hall meeting typically comes from placement in the room; in an executive team by history with the CEO; in a multi-company project by previous relationships and barring that by school or professional society affiliations.2. Place control in the hands of the individual WITHIN the boundaries established by the designated authority. For example, as a participant, I may wish to opt into a preferred area with additional technical content, but the project manager sets up what I can opt into.3. Allow the circles of trust and access to change over time. This one’s a hairball for extranet collaboration, where today’s partner is tomorrow’s competitor. But it’s critical. This is solved in the real world with corporate email addresses and passkeys to buildings. Got any ideas on how to solve it in a collaboration platform? I’d love to hear about it!Cheers,Ted

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  6. Alan Cohen

    Hi TedVery thoughtful response. I think there are two short-term technology solutions emerging to items 1 & 3 of your thoughts1. The most humanizing element of collaboration, of course, is live interaction, face-to-face. Barring the issues of travel and time, we see Telepresence and such solutions emerging to re-humanize the experience. There is no — LOL, :-> — replacement for body language, especially as business globalizes3. As you will see in the next few days in a blog post, we see Policy as a critical enabler of trust and capabilities that allow for flash”” collaboration among various parties on an inter-company basis, across companies, technologies and security regimens. We are now at the point where we can insert governance policies into collaboration and, I believe, this will grow significantly over timeAlan”

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  7. Dear Alan,This is a well written, thought provoking piece. As I read your post, I am struck by the similarities/linkage between innovation and collaboration. Many of the things you discussed, such as the ability to partner outside of your company, are the main principles of successful innovative companies. In fact, companies that practice customer- led and customer tested innovation like P&G are already examples of this at work. But these companies are few and far between today.I agree with the three ares of change that you mention. I also agree with Ted’s comments on the time it takes to change in a meaningful fashion. Collaboration is of course not a new idea or term. We have been progressing towards this stage for some time as was mentioned with Extranets. The technology is getting better but still has not hit that transparent level that allows anyone to securely interact with the right people over the best available methods. One thing the iphone did extremely well was to prove that consumers would do more if they understood how to access and use the available. This is one challenge that must be tackled even for a company’s internal use. The second is accessibility across companies. The third as noted is the ability to create ad hoc communities. There are also numerous nuances of which modes people will use and how to match the different modes (i.e. I like IM but my boss likes voicemail. Do we translate his voicemail to IM and how does that get set up?)One big difference that I am seeing now is that we have several human and technological forces”” combining that are helping businesses move toward cultural change. The availability of social networks is changing the way both old and young interact. This has changed the expectation of what can be possible in terms of ease and accessibility of communication. Web 2.0 technologies like blogs and wikis are also breaking down knowledge silos. While this is a good start, it will take time for employees and managers to build new corporate protocols. We need to address several questions in the process aspect, such as how employees are evaluated and compensated in a “collaborative” world? How is IP maintained or is it more of an open source model?Also on the technology side, Telepresence is great but suffers from the ghosts of past video systems. Much like Tivo, you almost have to experience it to see the difference. If you have not seen it, you believe it is simply another slight enhancement to what was an amazingly poor video experience. I believe one way to solve this is to have more carriers offer it as a service that is collocated with data centers. (Similar to the go to Kinks conferencing model but with a company that has space and accessible bandwidth.)Just a few thoughts”

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  8. AlanYour company is very unique in how it governs. Most companies are more traditional. They are more hierarchical.How do you implement collaboration in this type of environmentrespectfully, Enrique

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  9. Alan Cohen

    EnriqueCollaboration is a TOP-DOWN process. :->I will explain that in my next blog. Alan

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  10. Alan Cohen

    MaribelLet me try to respond to your excellent post. The main ingredient is human software replacing human middleware. What I mean by this is the experience is dictated by the end user, increasingly including the creation of the app (in a Web 2.0 environment).I think the TP/Video is a eing is a believing”” situation. As more users experience TP, just as they experience Facebook, they will want to use it more and more. This is simply time and the user universe is ramping rapidlyLook forward to these discussions at C-Scape”

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  11. Excellent piece. Re your comment about “bringing companies together to collaborate requires change in three areas,” I think “people” should have also been listed here. At first I thought culture covered people, but then I realized that people have specific work styles and it’s important to take the individual worker – their job, needs, goals, styles, preferences, etc. into account. There’s the corporate culture and the individual work style – both need to be taken into account.Also, I think the idea of dynamic teams and workgroups needs to be mentioned – you may be competing with someone on one project, and partnering with them for another. Teams will be built up and torn down dynamically based on the situation – whether it’s putting together a dream team for a specific project, or partnering with competitors for another. I think the idea of teams being fluid is an important one that ties in with many of your points, but wasn’t specifically mentioned. That’s my two cents.

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  12. Collaboration can truly transform a business and more importantly transform the way companies communicate with their customers and partners. Take a look at technologies like WebEx.In order for collaboration to be successful it has to come from the leadership team. It must be TOP DOWN. If their is zero sponsorship at the management level, success across the entire organization is very difficult.Thank you for the read, well written blog!!!http://davidchao.typepad.com

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  13. Humm… interesting,the title alone inspired me, the thaught of a team of rivals would increase productivity and there would be a sense of competition improving practicaly everything, thanks for the post, Keep up the good work

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