Jul 20, 2011

All Together Now

The traditional industry model is built on institutional loyalty. The new “free agent” model is built on individualism. But neither of these, according to an article in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review, “creates the conditions for collaborative trust that business today requires.”

And so the piece—by Paul AdlerCharles Heckscher and Laurence Prusak—calls for a “new type of organization that excels at combining the knowledge of diverse specialists” to create “a collaborative community.”

Successful examples of such collaborative communities, the authors say, can be found at IBM, Citibank, NASA and Kaiser Permanente. What these places have in common are, among other things, an “ethic of contribution,” a “shared purpose,” and an “infrastructure in which collaboration is valued and rewarded.”

While Peter Drucker rarely wrote about “collaboration” per se, he certainly captured its spirit. “The modern organization,” he wrote in his own HBR essay 19 years ago, “cannot be an organization of boss and subordinate. It must be organized as a team.”

Beyond that, Drucker hit on many of the same components of collaboration that HBR highlights. For instance, the ethic of contribution, as we’ve noted before, was one that Drucker frequently stressed. “The question is not: ‘What do I want to contribute?’” Drucker declared. “It is not: ‘What am I told to contribute?’ It is: ‘What should I contribute?’”

Likewise, imbuing an organization with a sense of shared purpose was also something Drucker considered to be essential. “Every enterprise requires commitment to common goals and shared values,” Drucker asserted in The New Realities. “Without such commitment there is no enterprise; there is only a mob.”

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And Drucker devoted a lot of thought to how organizations should foster what HBR calls the “infrastructure of collaboration.” “The knowledge worker. . . is usually a specialist,” Drucker wrote in his 1967 classic, The Effective Executive. “By itself, however, a specialty is a fragment and sterile. Its output has to be put together with the output of other specialists before it can produce results. The task is not to breed generalists. It is to enable the specialist to make himself and his speciality effective. This means he must think through who has to use his output and what the user needs to know and to understand to be able to make productive the fragment the specialist produces.”

What do you think is the most important way to foster healthy collaboration in a company? [/EXPAND]

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