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Productivity Gains Through Culture, Visuality, and Collaboration (Part 2): The Importance of Organizational Culture and Leadership

July 25, 2012 - 0 Comments

In my previous post, I described the challenges senior management faces in scaling collaboration capabilities to address business needs and the way work is done today.

Electronic and whiteboard displays, lean practices, and collaboration tools by themselves are clearly not enough. Management needs to take a holistic approach to develop and integrate capabilities in three areas to address the challenge of capturing the next wave of productivity gains: culture and leadership, extended workplace visuality, and pervasive collaboration.

Organizational culture and leadership are probably the single most important factors in enabling gains in employee productivity and innovation that result from knowledge work. Morten Hansen, in his book Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results, provides an excellent perspective on what management can do to identify barriers to collaboration and design solutions to overcome them. Most of these barriers are cultural and particularly severe in large global corporations with multiple business units, complex matrix organizational structures, and operations that span multiple countries.For example, the “Not Invented Here” barrier describes a culture in which employees are unwilling to reach out to others in different business units, geographies, or a different organization. The “Hoarding” barrier suggests a culture in which employees believe that “knowledge is power” and hesitate to share information and insight with others. The “Search” barrier results when employees are unable to find the right information and people with whom to collaborate, and the “Transfer” barrier occurs when employees find it difficult to share and disseminate experiential knowledge.

Hansen suggests solutions that management can implement to address collaboration barriers specific to their own companies. These solutions include creating a set of unifying goals to unify people, implementing a common business vocabulary, implementing a culture of transparency and accountability in decision making, and making it clear that even those with lofty titles must collaborate effectively for the business to grow and run profitably.

A second solution is focused on cultivating “T-shaped” talent. This includes employees who not only excel in their own work, but also know how and when to collaborate with others. In fact, knowing when to collaborate is extremely important because collaboration does not come for free; employees have to invest their time and effort in reaching out to others, sharing information and context with them, involving them in discussions and decisions, and incorporating their input. And this investment costs the company in terms of opportunity cost and employee productivity. Hansen suggests a simple formula for deciding when to collaborate: collaborate only when the benefits from collaboration exceed the opportunity cost (i.e., projects or other work that employees would be doing if they were not working on collaboration) and the cost of collaboration itself (i.e., time and effort spent reaching out to others, traveling, arranging meetings, and so forth).

Performance evaluation systems that incentivize, motivate, recognize, and reward the right collaborative behaviors also need to be in place. Employees should be encouraged to build companywide networks to be more effective in their jobs. Knowing who to reach out to, who are key decision makers, and who are subject-matter experts are all factors that can make collaboration both efficient and effective in globally dispersed organizations. Employee networks are the basis of a “Networked Organization” that can overcome limitations of functional and hierarchical silos to enable virtual teams comprising the best experience and expertise required for a specific project or task (please see figure below).

Source: Cisco IBSG, 2012

How is your company addressing “culture and leadership” to enable effective collaboration? What is your company doing to address barriers related to functional, hierarchical, and geographical boundaries? I am interested in your thoughts.

In Part 3 of this four-part series, I will continue to describe the framework introduced above, and provide additional details on “Extended Workplace Visuality” and “Pervasive Collaboration.”

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