How leaders can encourage effective collaboration in their organizations
by Kate Pavao, February 2011
Globalization and technology have made it easier than ever to work together to create new solutions and reach new customers. However, the rapidly changing way we do business also demands executives develop new strategies for successful collaboration.
Profit recently spoke with Mehrdad Baghai, managing director of Alchemy Growth Partners and one of the authors of As One, which outlines eight different archetypes for collective leadership. “Our goal is not to make an organization more collaborative,” he tells Profit. “Our aim is to help leaders get what they think is really important done better because people are collaborating more effectively. Our thinking is all around how do you enhance collaboration where it matters most.”
Here, Baghai’s reveals the most common archetype, explains why hierarchy still matters — and describes how identifying your own management archetype can shape your technology strategy.
Profit: What is the origin of this project?
Baghai: About three years ago, I was chatting with Jim Quigley, CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited and my client, and he said the thing that was keeping him up at night was: How do you get 170,000 people on the same page in terms of strategy and organizational thinking and so on? He said when he met with other CEOs, it seemed to be a really common theme.
If you think about growing companies, the biggest challenge you have is on-boarding large numbers of people. Often times the culture, the strategy, the organizational model, everything gets diluted as you bring lots of new people in quickly. And so we created a very large research project around working as one, or what we call “collective leadership.”
One of the first things we noticed was that people would either say, “Well I am a command and control type of person,” or “I’m a bit more of a collaborative empowerment type.” And that was the extent of it. It was like it was binary. There seems to be way more different types of ways people working together, so we decided to see if we could discover a range.
Profit: Is there still a place for hierarchy?
Baghai: Absolutely. If you pick up most business books around this space, they sound like command and control is dead, or you’re brain dead if you think you should use it. Because the new way has come and low and behold everyone should be more collaborative and empowered and so on. What we found is that it really depends on what you’re trying to do. Three of our eight archetypes are variations of command and control.
“Conductor & Orchestra”, for example, is great if you’re doing anything where the tasks have to be executed precisely, Look at Medco Health Solutions: If one of its 3,000 pharmacists prescribes the wrong drug, someone dies or is hospitalized. You’re not going to depend on individual judgment. You are going to have very robust systems that tell people exactly what they should do in each situation, based on 8,000 rules.
We can come up with lots of examples where variations of command and control are appropriate and effective. Apple’s app store is an example of the “Landlord & Tennant” archetype. People give it a lot of grief for being reasonably strong about the rules of the app store: Apple can choose not to approve an app, and its going to take 30 percent of the revenue share. Apple’s view is, “Look if we want to create and experience that works end-to-end, we’re going to have some control over it and make sure that anyone who wants to be a tenant in our building is going to abide by certain rules.”
Profit: How is technology impacting how we work and collaborate?
Baghai: Particularly for the five archetypes that are less command and control and more agile and adaptive, technology ends up being really, really critical. If you look at “Architect & Builders,” which by the way is the most frequent model we observe, technology systems are really important. The most important thing is getting everyone on the same version of the blueprint. This is a mode you see whenever there’s a major project requiring a really current up-to-date information system where everyone can go back to a single source of truth.
Look at Tata building the Nano, the $2,000 car. There are hundreds of suppliers simultaneously designing bits of pieces. If someone changes the crankshaft, there are down flow changes for 20 other suppliers. They literally had a daily conference call to synchronize people, but the idea was that everyone had to stay on the current version of the blueprint.
We think another archetype, “Captain & Sports Team,” is really important in highly turbulent areas where you need people to be able to have agility and make decisions in the field independent of head office. They need real live information systems so ERP information can be pushed out to them and available on their iPhone or iPad or whatever they’re carrying. That way they can make the best decision on the spot based on the information that’s available.
As you even begin to think about an ERP process, thinking about the dominant archetypes of an organization can actually highlight the way the ERP can reinforce business success.
Profit: How do you want executives to use the book?
Baghai: We see this not as a book that you read and stick on a bookshelf, but as a book you hang on to. We lay out the eight archetypes and describe each one in depth — and we share what the analytics said were the six most defining characteristics of each model. But most importantly, we talk about where each model is effective and where it is not. And we also offer 21 questions at the end of each chapter that people can ask themselves to be more effective.
Initially it’s helpful for leaders to say “Let’s just be clear about how we work and communicate throughout the organization.” But every quarter, or every six months, this is a book that you might pull out and say, “I am still trying to enforce this ‘Conductor & Orchestra’ culture in this place — is there anything else I haven’t done that might help me be even more effective in this place? Let me just go through this list of questions.”
And leaders can copy some of the case studies we’ve given and say, “I just want to share these four pages with my people because it’s a great example of dissent and I don’t thinking in our ‘Producer & Creative’ team we’re dissenting enough.” So, again, we’re creating material that a leader could use to align people to the culture they want.