Friday, February 5, 2010

Collaboration (Hansen): Part 2

This is a cross-post from my blog on the military Social Media tool milBook.

This will be the second part of an overview of the book Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results © 2009 by Morten T. Hansen. This post focuses on Chapter 2: Know When to Collaborate, and When Not To.

By way of review, leaders follow three steps to accomplish disciplined collaboration:

1. Evaluate Opportunities for Collaboration

2. Spot Barriers to Collaboration

3. Tailor Collaboration Solutions

The following will deal with the first of the three steps - Evaluate Opportunities for Collaboration. There are three guidelines for being disciplined about when to collaborate:

- The first task is to understand the case for collaboration and appreciate how collaboration can increase performance.

- The second task is to evaluate the upside and to consider the potential for the organization overall.

- The final task is to understand when to say no to a collaboration effort - to articulate a rule or set of rules for when to go ahead, and when not to, at a project level.

The Case for Collaboration
There are three areas of potential upside in business: better innovation, better sales, and better operations. In a non-business context, Hansen suggests these could be thought of as new services, greater client satisfaction, and better-run organizations. I would add that in a military environment that these would be innovative ways to resolve issues or win battles, better situational awareness, and more efficient and effective organizations.

- Innovative ways to resolve issues or win battles: Hansen refers to this when he talks about recombining existing resources in order to create something new out of something old. The military example would be using existing units, capabilities, and environments but instead of using established doctrine an organization could find new ways to defeat an enemy or provide nation building support that hadn't previously been tried. Another component of this would be to disseminate the new best practice so that other units could utilize the new knowledge to positively affect their battlespace.

- Better Situational Awareness: This is a more standard reason for collaboration, and has been perfected over the last few years in different theaters of operations. Here collaboration allows the real-time flow of information between echelons of command, between geographically dispersed units, and from deployed units back to the supporting base. This collaboration allows commanders at all levels to see faster, react better, and to finish decisively.

- More Efficient and Effective Organizations: Better operations is what Hansen calls this phenomenon, in that collaboration is used to lower costs and improve efficiency and effectiveness. This would refer more specifically to the non-combat functions of units and activities as opposed to what was referred to above. This would also apply to collaboration of non-unit parts of the military such as the various agencies, schools, and related organizations that support the combat units.

What's the Upside of Collaboration?
A leader needs to be disciplined in evaluating the potential upside from collaboration. Hansen uses two ways to approach this evaluation:

- Overall Calibration: One way is to look across the entire organization and ask, "What is the potential for improvement in innovation, situational awareness, and efficiency/ effectiveness based on collaboration, assuming that we could do it well?" This quick assessment can produce a shared understanding of the upside. However, taking such a broad sweep overlooks differences within an organization. There might be different types of opportunities in different areas. This reality means you need a nuanced approach to evaluating the upside, as discussed next.

- The Collaboration Matrix: One way to gain a nuanced evaluation of your organization's upside is to use a collaboration matrix. The idea here is to divide the evaluation into pairs of units within the organization and systematically evaluating pair-by-pair where the opportunities for collaboration exist. Generally, when leaders use this approach they engage in a disciplined and fine-grained evaluation of where the upsides really exist and where they don't. Hansen provides a detailed example in the text (pages 36-38).

Another key to determining this upside is to make sure that the leaders doesn't overshoot or undershoot. This involves overstating or understating the benefits of collaboration to the organization. This can skew the overall evaluation one way or another and give an incorrect indication of whether collaboration is the right course of action.

When Do You Say "No!" to Collaboration?
Should you start a collaboration project or not? Leaders need a rule to help them decide when to collaborate and when to say, "No there is no business case. Let's not collaborate." This rule needs to be different from the usual go, no-go rule for projects. Leaders need to take into account two additional costs: opportunity costs and collaboration costs. People should launch a collaboration project only if the net value of collaboration is greater than the return minus both the opportunity costs and collaboration costs.

Hansen calls this net value the collaboration premium, and the principle can be expressed as a simple equation:

collaboration premium = return on project - opportunity costs - collaboration costs

Opportunity cost is the answer to the questions, "What else could we do with the time, effort, and resources going into the collaboration project?" There may be better uses of people's time and effort - projects with better returns altogether.

Collaboration costs refer to the cost of working across organizational boundaries, efforts to solve conflicts, and other costs associated with a collaboration project. There could also be a cost associated with collaboration technologies as well. Hansen has a detailed example of this computation on pages 41-44 of the text.

However, this computation may be very hard to quantify in a military context. There are no sales figures to refer to, and sometimes cost savings are difficult to identify. However, leaders must make some effort to subject a collaboration project to a collaboration premium test before giving it a go.

Leaders can drive collaboration costs down to nearly zero by tearing down barriers to collaboration. "Collaborate for Results" becomes much easier if people know how to collaborate. Spotting those barriers to collaboration will be the subject of the next post.

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