Nov 21, 2007

What Is Collaboration?

People are so junked-up on new catch phrases in business. It seems like "collaboration" caught on as the big buzz back in the late 1990's, but it's re-emerging as something of interest. Why?

Because people will always find collaboration useful when they are building anything new.

Collaboration has been around since the dawn of time. In fact, I think of the Tower of Babel, the story in the Bible, where people from all over the world got together to create this massive tower touching the heavens. If you want to build massive projects, or communicate across various cultures, collaboration seems to be the key to making it happen faster, and more impressively. This may not always be a good thing, but we can hope to make it so. The Wikipedia definition of "Collaboration" drills deeper into the meaning of these teams:

"Collaboration is a structured, recursive process where two or more people work together toward a common goal by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus. Collaboration does not require decentralization. In particular, teams that work collaboratively can obtain greater resources, recognition and reward when facing competition for finite resources."

Let's look closer at Collaboration. Collaboration may not require decentralization, but to maximize it, a paradigm-shift to a new model of organizational structure is suggested.

Collaboration is another word for teamwork, in a sense. But moreover, a certain type of teamwork can accomplish almost any goal, and seemingly more effectively than people could do on their own, by utilizing the knowledge, talents, and resources of the collective group experience towards a common purpose.

I've been investigating the structure of teams for about ten years now. The most common structure of teams is to build the team from the top-down. This reminds me of the old playground system where two "popular" students pick other favorite students to be on their team from the kids standing there thinking "pick me, pick me!" Why teachers ever thought this was a good idea was beyond me. If you were picked first, you figured you were popular, while if you were picked last, you didn't even want to play (mostly due to the emotional damage to your self-confidence). But, this is exactly what business leaders, organization leaders, and education leaders are still doing to this day:

1. The people at the top of the pyramid get paid the most and have the highest and most "important" rank. 2. The people at the top pick the people under them, and so on, until you get to the ranks of sales, customer service, admin, and the mail room. And it all usually ends up in the mail room, doesn't it? Want to find out the health of a company, start there before reading the annual report. Anyway, looking at the top, everyone else in the pyramid has to answer to their direction, and either "get in-line" with the program or get out. It's not a very empowering situation, unless you're at the top. And, even if you're at the top, the experience is a bit like the Lord of the Flies, as described in the classic by William Golding, where the lieutenants often seek to tear down the chief at their first opportunity in their own greedy thirst for supposed power. As the cliche goes, "it is lonely at the top."

The situation in schools, businesses, and government organizations is much like that of this quote by Shakespeare, within King Lear - "As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods, — They kill us for their sport". (King Lear Act IV, Scene 1[1]). Isn't that how it feels when we're in a top-down organization?

I recall watching a political debate last week, the concept of "merit pay" for teachers being discussed. My parents, who were both teachers, were watching this debate with me. My mother said, "they were discussing this merit pay thing thirty years ago. It isn't a good idea. The teachers that kiss-ass the most would be the ones promoted to higher pay and administrative positions." Well, that's kind of what happens now, anyway, but it would just make it worse by putting money behind it, wouldn't it?

I've been evaluating a new approach: the concept of turning top-down systems inside-out(SM). I believe that if our spiritual strength is at our core, then that is how an organization ought to be structured. Everything goes out from there. Plus, this allows more natural concentric circles of movement to occur. Jobs become less about the functional descriptions and more about organically and properly distributed use of talent.

I just stumbled across a book that is discussing exactly this situation in schools, called Deep Change: Professional Development from the Inside Out By Angela B. Peery. In this book, Peery makes arguments that all the pressures to "horizontal-ize" teaching methods have come "top-down" or "outside-in" when the profession of teaching is an "inside-out" affair. Is it any different for any OTHER job? It is for me. I've always felt that if I'm not SPIRITUALLY motivated, I'm not that into it. More than that, if it isn't FUN, I'm really not that into it, no matter how much they're paying me.

In a quote from page 15 from this Deep Change book, the author quotes Ann Twigg, a teacher struggling with the movement to standardize teaching. Twigg, who is described as an "exemplary, passionate teacher in her 17th year of teaching," shows uncharacteristic dissatisfaction from the teaching community:

"I'm still tremendously frustrated by my feelings about standardized testing. . . sometimes the angry feelings turn into apathetic shrugs: I never thought I wouldn't care about what I am doing. I've been waking up prior to the alarm, but not wanting to get out of bed just because I don't want to face another day at school. Who wants a teacher with these feelings? I wouldn't. Of course, my teacher self takes over by the time I arrive in the parking lot, and I give it my all. And sometimes I'm not satisfied with that! Where's the fun?"

How poignant.

I felt the same way in my final days at EMC2. I remember feeling, "where's the fun?" I remember feeling distrust in the system and in the organization who employed me. After all, this is the same company that, according to my former CEO at Data General prior to the merger, had promised to keep the company intact, keep the same teams, and move forward with the Data General company as a positive move. Two months later, my entire line of command was eliminated in ONE DAY. I remember not wanting to be there anymore. Those feelings cannot help but overtake us at some point and affect the quality of our work.

It seems that a pressure is mounting from top-down organizations to continue to cling to a broken system. But there is another pressure mounting within these organizations that is aching to be set-free.

It is the system, not the person, who is at fault in the modern organization. Moving into a post-modern organizational era, life has become more chaotic, more unpredictable. The expansive movements of open-source, grass-roots, and global dynamics are making it difficult even for the shadow leaders to control what is really happening. Why?

We've moved into an information era. From the industrial age to an information-age, the shift has occurred to an era where simply "producing something" is no longer the primary goal. It is now about how we share ideas, and how we share what we've produced; with "share" being the operative word. And that is where the model is breaking down.

Pyramid models are excellent for creating marching orders and going off and executing them. Notice my words: they sound like words you'd hear in the military. Because that is how a pyramid feels: like you've been stripped of your individual rights and made to conform to a system for a common purpose. And, last I checked, the military isn't really described by most people as spiritually empowering, or even as fun. But, within the traditional pyramid, sharing isn't a primary directive. And, the nature of rungs in the ladder, along with functional hierarchy, and pay systems that support this pyramid, all reinforce the mistrust in whether sharing is wise or a good idea. Certainly, more than one executive has had an idea stolen by a peer, in order for that peer to get ahead in the system. Other creative-types get stagnated, frustrated, and leave to try to find something better elsewhere (often only to get more frustrated with the next pyramid-system organization). And, this is also why so many women are leaving to start their own companies. Believe me, most women agree that the system is broken. And, this is another reason why we must embrace a new system: women in the workplace need to be women and not have to act like men to get along in that workplace.

Isn't about time someone stood up and talked about the elephant standing in the corner of the room? Forcing women to work a male-dominant model (pyramid) is not healthy to women. Women need a new model, based upon a structure that integrates male and female energy.

This is why it is time for a change. The change we need is to move from top-down to inside-out. I've created a model that makes it easier to facilitate this transition. It takes more than HUMAN RESOURCE buy-in to initiate this process. Sales, Customer Service, or Operational groups can start the movement. But, the core executive must buy-in, too. Truly, it requires an executive approach, as well as human-resource approach, if the organization is to succeed in completing the paradigm shift.

Why is this change a paradigm shift?

Think about it: while trying to write about the change, I am temped to write, "it requires a top executive buy-in..." See the problem? If I wrote, "It requires an inside-out buy-in from the executive to the functional roles of HR, Operations, Marketing, to the outer fringes of Sales, Customer Services, and even the Mail Room, to succeed," that requires you to RE-ORIENT your mental picture, and how you perceive the organization. Literally, this perspective reorientation turns the organization from top-down to inside-out.

So, if you're an advanced, cutting-edge thinker, and you agree with me that "yes, we need this type of model in our organization," then why not engage me to help you implement it? I'd love to help. It is my calling in life to advise world leaders how to create more spiritually aware, more productive and powerful organizations, through facilitating this paradigm shift. I'm working on software to help implement this type of change, and other tools to make it easier for organizations to implement.

Collaboration is a buzz that becomes more important when we find ways to strengthen the circle that swirls through the post-modern organization. Work is becoming defined less and less from a functional role and more and more into ways to harness our talents and resources. This is what I've meant about empowering the individual, and empowering the organization. It truly is an exciting era. We can define how to make this new model even more powerful in the days ahead. The choice is ours to accept the old, outdated model of the pyramid, or to embrace turning the top-down inside-out with the Diamond-Circle Model (TM), and truly build more collaborative, productive, and powerful organizations.

Post by Scott Andrews, CEO of ARRiiVE Business Solutions.

ARRiiVE Business Solutions helps executives improve sales, launch products and services, and build dynamic, cross-functional collaborative teams. For more information, contact info (at)ARRiiVE (dot) com or call us at 1 (805) 459-6939.

Copyright © 2007 by ARRiiVE Business Solutions. All Rights Reserved. You may republish this article only if you publish in WHOLE with the COPYRIGHT and ALL ACTIVE LINKS intact.

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