Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results by Dr. Morten Hansen

Collaboration: col, meaning together; laborare, meaning work. Together work. But, the goal of collaboration is not collaboration, to get along, or to share hard-won expertise.   

Collaboration is an effort by a group to produce greater results.  

When deciding whether collaboration will produce greater results, Dr. Morten Hansen, the author of the 2009 book Collaboration*, encourages us to ask: “[Assuming we could do collaboration within our company well,] what is the potential for innovation, sales, and operations?” In other words, make it a mandate to construct a business case to determine collaboration value, taking into account: 1) Opportunity Costs. “What else could we do with the time, effort, and resources [we’re putting into this]?” and 2) Collaboration Costs. Delays, budget overruns, poor quality, and lost sales.  

Although Opportunity Costs are generally black and white, go-or-no-go indicators, hazier barriers beset Collaboration Costs. E.g., unexpected friction between people and/or teams, lack of buy-in, reluctance to share specialist information, and ego-driven leadership. Management solutions can dissolve those barriers, but Professor Hansen states that when these barriers are high, in many cases it is better to work independently to attain the results needed. Hansen’s recommendation is to focus on “Disciplined Collaboration”.

 Disciplined Collaboration is knowing when – and when not – to collaborate.  

Disciplined Collaboration depends on you and I knowing the difference between good and bad collaboration. The essence of good collaboration is a solid business case, clear responsibilities, good communications, and leaders whose egos are in check and who get measured on collaboration performance. Generally, bad collaboration is over-collaboration brought on by a lousy project, endless meetings, and tenuous assumptions. E.g., Acquisitions are often made on assumptions that people from the two companies will gladly work together …  a too common, costly mistake made by many out-of-touch c-suites.  

The book has three simple but incisive sections.  

Section 1) Opportunities & Barriers: Professor Hansen examines and clarifies what happens when ‘together work’ works. E.g., how President Kennedy used collaboration to put a man on the moon; the hundreds of collaborative teams at P & G, who, since 1837, have made a point of creating the next leading product using previous research findings.  

Hansen then delves into Barriers, the ‘why, when and where’ of bad collaboration, such as: Sony’s fragmented approach to a digital music player called ‘Connect’ which was easily guttered by the smooth, cohesive, road-roller effort behind Apple’s iPod that was already winning in the marketplace; the abysmal state, pre-9/11, of inter-intelligence communications between the FBI, CIA, Immigration & Naturalization, National Security, Defence Intelligence, State Department, National Reconnaissance, Federal Aviation Authority, White House Counterterrorism Security Group, and National Security Advisor. It is clear in Hansen’s mind; the fiefdoms and silos of decentralization permitted 9/11.  

Section 2) Solutions: The resolutions and strategies are highly relevant and easy to take on: a) Unifying people, b) Cultivating T-shaped management that rewards both independent results and cross-unit contributions, c) Building ‘Nimble Networks’ across the organization.   

Section 3) Personal Challenge: This frank section tells us exactly how we can become great collaborative leaders. Hansen includes a superb measuring tool that allows us to uncover our individual and private obstacles. (p. 161)  

Throughout the book, numerous determining tools, tables and diagrams support premises, provide insight and offer practical advice. Additionally, the book is an absolute pleasure to read … jargon-less, concise and wonderfully free of any attempts to impress us with its belief-shattering, counter-intuitive findings. So, slip the best management book we’ve read in a while into your summer reading, or between your eyes and thumb fad pad.   

* M. T. Hansen (2009). CollaborationHow Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results. Boston: Harvard Business Press

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