Collaboration: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 29th, 2011 by bobmorris

Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results
Morten T. Hansen
Harvard Business School Press (2009)

Hansen provides a brilliant explanation of how “disciplined collaboration” can help to enable leaders to avoid or free themselves from various traps, create unity of commitment and effort, and “reap big results.” He asserts, “bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration.” Why? Here are two of several reasons. First, bad collaboration never achieves the aforementioned “big results”; worse yet, bad collaboration makes good collaboration even more difficult to plan and then achieve.

With regard to the “traps,” Hansen identifies six in the first chapter and then suggests that there are three steps to disciplined collaboration. That is, the “the leadership practice of properly assessing when to collaborate (and when not to) and instilling in people both the willingness and the ability to collaborate when required.” These are the three steps: (1) evaluate opportunities, and when making a decision, asking “Will we gain a great upside by collaborating?”; (2) identify barriers to collaboration, next asking “What are the barriers blocking people from collaborating well?”; and (3) tailor solutions to tear down the barriers, keeping in mind that different barriers require different solutions.

Throughout the book’s first six chapters, Hansen explains how to formulate the underlying “management architecture” of collaboration, of disciplined collaboration, and then shifts his attention in the final chapter to explaining how his reader can “grow to be a collaborative leader” and to help others to do so also. As Henry Chesbrough once observed, it is imperative to have an “open” mindset, to make decisions that are guided and information by what Roger Martin characterizes (in The Opposable Mind) as “integrative” thinking. Those leaders who pursue disciplined collaboration “take their organizations to higher levels of performance…know where the opportunities for collaboration exist and when to say no to lesser projects…avoid the trap of overestimating benefits and overcollaborating…tear down the barriers that separate their employees…set powerful and unifying goals and forge a value of teamwork…cultivate T-shaped management…help employees build nimble, not bloated, networks…look within themselves and work to change their own leadership styles…And in cultivating collaboration in the right way, they set their people free to achieve great things not possible when they are divided.” Those who aspire to become such a leader are strongly encouraged to read this book so that Hansen can collaborate with them on achieving that objective.



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