Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Collaboration (Hansen): Part 3

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

This will be the third 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 3: Spot the Four Barriers to Collaboration.

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

Hansen explains that while people naturally tend to collaborate, decentralization can work against this. The essence of modern management is a decentralized system where there are clear lines of responsibility, a great deal of accountability, and rewards for those who perform. This system works well as it encourages good performance, but leaders become more focused on maximizing their unit, and disinterested in how the other units are performing. This creates a series of silos or fiefdoms and encourages sub-optimal solutions at an enterprise level. This paradigm is also present in the military.

The solution to this is not to change to a rigid centralized model- extreme centralization- but instead to come up with a better model. Hansen stresses that disciplined collaboration requires that organizations be decentralized and yet coordinated. To build this model, leaders must detect the barriers to collaboration and overcome them without sacrificing a decentralized structure.

There are Four Barriers to Collaboration:

1. The Not-Invented-Here Barrier

2. The Hoarding Barrier

3. The Search Barrier

4. The Transfer Barrier

Here are reasons each of these barriers happen:

1. The Not-Invented-Here Barrier
The not-invented-here barrier has four underlying reasons:

a. Insular Culture: People who work together closely they tend to restrict the influx of new viewpoints and reinforce their own beliefs. The more this happens, the more the group members turn inward and shut themselves off from the rest of the world.

b. Status Gap: If individuals think they are of a higher status than others, they will be less likely to reach out to collaborate with that group. Trying to collaborate with high-status groups is one of the last things a low-status group wants to do. These status gaps thus run both ways: high-status people don't want to sully their image of themselves, and low-status people do not want to let high-status people make them regret their circumstances. Both attitudes create a barrier to collaboration.

c. Self-Reliance: While some amount of self-reliance is important, the tendency to fix all of their own issues keeps people from reaching out for input. This usually comes from a deep-seated belief that people need to solve their problems on their own instead of asking for help. When this attitude crops up in a unit, chances are that the not-invented-here barrier will set in.

d. Fear of Revealing Shortcomings: Reaching out to someone and saying, "We're not doing well in this area and need help", can be interpreted by others as failure- "these guys are not very good". People generally fear exposing their weaknesses to others, especially to experts. This can be very pronounced in the military environment. In asking for input, people make themselves vulnerable and allow others to stand in judgment. As a result, people decide not to reach out at all, or only to people they know and trust (even if they are not the most knowledgeable). Fear of revealing shortcomings then becomes a barrier to collaboration.

2. The Hoarding Barrier
There are four reasons for the hoarding barrier:

a. Competition: Competition inside an organization undermines people's willingness to collaborate. When different parts of an organization perceive that they may be competing with others for resources, they are more likely to hoard information

b. Narrow Incentives: When individuals are rewarded only for how well they do their jobs, they tend to focus exclusively on their jobs. This incentive structure creates hoarding behaviors, because people pay attention to their own targets to the exclusion of helping people outside their unit.

c. Too Busy: As people are pressured to perform, and with operational tempo being what it is these days, they feel that they don't have the time to help others; reasonable requests for help are seen as burdens that could put them behind in their own work. So people are faced with a trade-off - to do their own work (but not help others), or to help others (but get less work done).

d. Fear of Losing Power: It is said "Knowledge is power" implying that a person is more powerful in an organization the more he or she knows about something and the less others know. So why share that knowledge with others and thereby make oneself less powerful and ultimately redundant? If people fear that they will become less powerful and less valuable to the organization by spreading their wisdom, they will be inclined to hoard it.

3. The Search Barrier
Search becomes a barrier for four reasons:

a. Company Size: The bigger the organization, the greater the search problems. The military is a very large and geographically dispersed organization with multiple networks, many units, posts, camps, and stations. Search is an ongoing issue. This spread of information across many different areas makes finding pertinent information in a timely manner a real challenge.

b. Physical Distance: The spread of physical distance is another factor in creating search issues. As mentioned above the military is a very physically distributed organization, and this inhibits the exchange of information. People prefer to interact with others who are close by. While networks have enabled remote knowledge sharing to an unprecedented degree, it is still inconvenient to look for knowledge and people in units far away.

c. Information Overload: The sheer volume of information made available by networks, databases, and knowledge management systems has created a condition where there is too much information and it is hard to sort the noise from the useful information. Information overload makes search harder because of information noise- the ratio of the total amount of information available to the amount of useful information. Information systems, including knowledge management systems, increase the noise ratio by making too much information available, and that complicates the search for the right
information or person.

d. Poverty of Networks: There is a myth in our society that we live in a small world. While this is sometimes true, there are still instances where there are many degrees of separation between people. That there is a small world should give us great comfort for search. But again, the world is not always small. In even fairly small global organizations there can be many degrees of separation, and that separation is not consistent from individual to individual. It may be a small world for a few well-connected people, but it's a big world for many others and that's a formidable barrier to search.

4. The Transfer Barrier
There are three reasons that transfer becomes a barrier:

a. Tacit Knowledge: This type of knowledge makes transfer hard. Tacit knowledge refers to information that is hard to articulate orally - in writing, in manuals, in equations, and in software code. Explicit knowledge on the other hand, can be easily articulated. Whereas equations and formulas can be written down and are explicit knowledge, how to effectively counsel a subordinate is more tacit knowledge. It is easier to collaborate when people deal in straightforward, well-documented, technical knowledge or clean and reliable environmental data. It is much harder to collaborate when people have to share novel technologies that are poorly understood, ambiguous situational data, or intuitions about what an enemy may be planning.

b. No Common Frame: People who do not know each other have no common frame- an understanding of each other's working habits, subtle ways of articulating something, a liking of each other, and an appreciation of each other's moods. Lack of a common frame might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Consider the flip side- situations where people who collaborate have a strong common frame. Have you considered why there are such long-lasting duos in sports, science, and music? These collaborations happen because there is a strong common frame. Without it, people become strangers in the sense of lacking a deep understanding of how to work well together.

c. Weak Ties: People find it hard to transfer knowledge when they don't know each other well (a weak tie). They need strong ties- relationships where people talk often and have a close working association. Weak ties create havoc when people need to transfer tacit knowledge. Hansen cites an example where weak ties caused teams of engineers to take over 30 percent longer to transfer information than those with strong ties. Weak ties are very common in the military due to the size and dispersion of the organization.

From Barriers to Solutions:
The first step in overcoming barriers is to accurately assess which ones occur in a situation. The second step is tailor management solutions to each barrier. These barriers may occur in different degrees from organization to organization. Hansen has a short subjective survey in the text that helps to identify which barriers exist for an organization, and to what extent. Once the barriers are known, then the tailored solution can be applied to overcome these barriers. Hansen has a barrier-to-solution map in the text that shows which of the three tailored solutions are most effective when applied to which barriers.

The three solutions:
1. Unify People: Craft a unifying goal, state a core value of teamwork, and use the leadership pulpit to signal collaboration.

2. Cultivate T-Shaped Management: Use recruitment, promotion, firing, and rewards to cultivate collaboration.

3. Build Nimble Networks: Encourage formation of the right kinds of cross-unit personal relationships to help search and reduce transfers problems.

These solutions will be addressed in more details in subsequent posts.

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