Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Collaboration (Hansen): Part 5

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

This will be the fifth (and last) 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 6 Lever 3: Build Nimble Networks.

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 three levers used by leaders to tailor collaboration solutions are:

1. Unify People

2. Cultivate T-Shaped Management

3. Build Nimble Networks

Lever 3: Build Nimble Networks

Collaborative organizations run on networks, those informal working relationships among people that cut across formal lines of reporting. If the formal org chart shows how work is divided into pieces, networks reveal the informal organization- how people actually work together.

However, networks- or wrong ideas about them- often get in the way of disciplined collaboration. To better understand how networks can help collaboration, these myths must first be dispensed with:

- Networking is always a good thing: The idea that networking is necessarily a good thing can cause us to overlook the fact that networks can sometimes undermine performance.
- The more the merrier: Research shows that "the more, the merrier" does not necessarily yield the best results, at least not when it comes to networking in business, because networking is costly.
- Success goes to the socially gifted: Research shows that personal traits related to being socially gifted, such as being extroverts, do not determine whether people are effective networkers. Good networkers can be found everywhere. They can be introverts or extroverts, shy or gregarious, insecure or cocky.
- Networking is an art: People believe that networks belong to the realm of company life that cannot be pinned down, but recent advances in the social science of networks have changed that premise. With the help of this social science networks can not only be measured but also better managed.

For the leader demanding disciplined collaboration, the first thing to ask is "What are networks good for?" First, they help people identify opportunities- a technology, an idea, an expert, a collaboration partner. Second, networks help people capture value; people realize benefits from the resources they have identified.

These network benefits reduce barriers to collaboration. Networks reduce all four barriers outlined earlier, although to different degrees:

The not-invented-here barrier: Networks can help reduce a reluctance to communicate outside the organization, because people who interact with others tend to be more open to input from the outside world.
The search barrier: Networks can have a huge impact by helping people search better.
The hoarding barrier: Networks can help people overcome the hoarding barrier somewhat, because people are more willing to help those they know.
The transfer barrier: Good networks can lower transfer problems. Good relationships among colleagues help overcome the difficulty of passing along complicated knowledge people need to do their work.

Six Network Rules

Six network rules help people identify opportunities and capture value. Here are the four rules for identifying opportunities:

- Build outward, not inward
- Build diversity, not size
- Build weak ties, not strong ones
- Use bridges, not familiar faces

Here are two rules for capturing value:

- Swarm the target: do not go it alone
- Switch to strong ties; do not rely on weak ones

Pursuing the six network rules allows leaders to build nimble networks that are effective and do not waste people's time. Such networks follow the principle of disciplined collaboration. The rules help people identify opportunities and capture value from those opportunities. Leaders can apply these rules to their organizations; three steps help:

- Map the network
- Evaluate the network
- Tailor the intervention

Managing company networks has evolved from an art to a science: we know a lot about what makes networks work and how they can help disciplined collaboration. Networks are manageable: managers can collect network data, assess it based on network rules, and implement specific remedies. Leaders who pursue disciplined collaboration retire aimless networking luncheons and annual networking retreats and apply the six network rules in a scientific way.

I highly recommend this book for any KM professional or leader. The insights that Hansen puts forth should benefit any organization that implements them using the methods outlined.

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