Cultivating collaboration

The Economist has an article, Getting togetherness, which supports my own view on the critical importance of company cultures in supporting – or killing – collaboration.

The article talks about Apple’s iPod, launched in 2001, and Sony’s inability to produce a comparable product due to a “long-standing culture of internal competition”. It then discusses research by Morten Hansen at the University of California, Berkeley. He suggests investment in web-based social media projects doesn’t always deliver a good return on investment as organisations can forget about opportunity costs and costs associated with fostering co-operation. The latter can be substantial, particularly if there is existing friction within organisations or divided leadership. Networks and software platforms can help lay a foundation for more collaboration, but they cannot overcome resistance to change at the top, Hansen says:

All too often, senior managers say they want people to work together but then bicker among themselves. In part, this is because one of the main trends in management over the past ten years or so has been to decentralise organisations, giving divisional heads more autonomy and rewarding them largely on the basis of their individual units’ performance.

Hansen goes on to suggest the development of ‘T-shaped’ managers—”executives who are equally adept at working across an organisation and up and down a vertical niche“—and recommends that companies link a reasonable chunk of managers’ annual bonuses to evidence of collaborative behaviour. This is something that I have long advocated for the UK construction industry in relation to collaborative working. Writing my book about construction collaboration technologies, I devoted the longest chapter to human aspects of collaboration:

“Organisations may need to alter their organisational structures and cultures, to change their internal management processes and to promote a different style of leadership if their staff members are to succeed at working in teams. … For example, managers could amend employee job descriptions to emphasise team performance and, while accepting there is still room for individual brilliance, place less emphasis on individual achievement alone. Senior managers ought to be seen to preach and practice collaborative working (sometimes described as ‘talking the talk, and walking the walk’ – as distinct from those who are ‘talking not walking’). Collaborative working should be rewarded, thus motivating and incentivising employees to change their attitudes and behaviours. … (p.126)

This was just part of an exhortation on collaborative working which also covered individual attitudes and behaviours, inter-organisational behaviours, and industry/structural issues. Sadly, the current recession is – despite the best efforts of progressive membership organisations such as Constructing Excellence – likely to see many construction organisations revert to type (to use Don Ward’s phrase) rather than embrace collaboration.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.