If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done….

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Frustrated because efforts to encourage greater teamwork and collaboration aren’t working? Part two of this series challenges leaders to focus on what they do more than what they say.

Perhaps you’ve been to awards ceremonies like the one described in yesterday’s post: Do You Inspect What You Expect?   Have you participated in change efforts where buzzwords were one thing and the behavior quite another? Thirty seven years ago, Steve Kerr wrote a classic article:  On The Folly of Rewarding A While Hoping for B, citing the frequent inconsistency between what gets said and what gets rewarded in many organizations.  If A gets rewarded, A gets done – regardless of the number of colorful posters extolling the virtues of B.  To get something different we must do something different.

For organizations that want to experience expected behaviors beyond vision statements or values lists, Morton Hansen describes the basic routes to get there in his book Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results.  First, know what you want when you see it.  Then, choose associates who demonstrate these behaviors, especially in hire and promote decisions.  Finally, encourage change in associates already in your organization by recognizing the behavior you want.

Yeah, But…

Are your eyes rolling? Oh, if it were only that easy. It’s not easy, but it’s also not as hard as some might think. It’s certainly not as hard as rewarding A and hoping for B.  There are three ways to modify behavior to aspirations that organizations of all types, sizes and resources can effectively use.

1. Describe it.  Words like “Teamwork” and “Collaboration” conjure up all kinds of behaviors for people.  The characters rewarded from the last post are good examples. The Region X leader might legitimately feel his role is to lead the team.  He leads, you follow. Know people who think like that? The Breakthrough Innovation leader thinks she collaborates because she brings people together for everything. Don’t assume people understand expected behavior through labels alone. Be explicit.  Hansen offers an example.  In German software maker SAP, the leaders didn’t just state they expected “collaboration” and hoped everyone would know what they meant. They stated an expectation that “leaders would ensure the appropriate involvement of others across roles, departments and locations to accomplish goals.”  It’s clear, has room for adaption, yet specific enough to spot it when it happens (or doesn’t).

2. Measure it. The gift of stating expectations in observable behavior means that people know it when they see it. When that happens, measurement is possible. In rewarding behavior change, how you measure is as important as what you measure. To really understand how someone is changing his or her behavior, ask peers and subordinates. Tools like Survey Monkey make this type of anonymous feedback easier than ever.  Hansen cites an unnamed investment bank that asks associates to rank their peers on a scale of helpfulness, and the list of the top ranked is provided to the senior team.   What a powerful idea! Can you imagine the behavior change in some organizations if rating and ranking of behavior came from the bottom up as well as the top down?

3. Reward it. This is the most obvious and brings us back full circle. Think of rewards, including incentives, promotions, and honors, as spotlights. They illuminate behaviors the organization wants and brings its intentions to life. Rewards also take the most discipline. It’s tough to tell Region Leader X that he’s not getting the award because of his behavior.  It’s difficult to deny the enthusiasm and effort of the Breakthrough Innovation Leader because her focus is misdirected.  Resist the temptation to dodge disappointment. Disappointment is temporary, your message is lasting.

These three steps look simple. Simple doesn’t mean easy. Easy is doing what you always do and expecting something different. While Hansen’s three steps for changing behavior of incumbents might not ultimately be enough, it’s hard to imagine a change plan without them. And, it’s a place to start. Sometimes, that’s the hardest place to find.

Part Two of Two

References

Kerr, S. (1975). On the Folly of Rewarding A While Hoping For B.  Academy of Management Journal, vol. 18. No. 4, pp. 769-783.

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

Photo from istockphoto.

 

Should Your Organization Play By Pick Up Game Rules?

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Remember playground pick up games? Can the enthusiasm of creating games, rounding up players and adapting on the fly become a model for collaboration in organizations? 

The ability to collaborate is an organizational requirement for the 21st century business. More wins happen in the white space working between organizational structures than within dedicated units and teams.  Resources and intellectual capital often span borders. This distributed capital combined with the speed of change and intensity of competition requires organizations to break the chains of reporting relationships and work across as well as up and down. There simply isn’t enough time to re-organize the boxes every time an opportunity arises. As Amy Edmonson writes in her article “Teamwork on the Fly” in the April issue of Harvard Business Review, organizations need to play more like pick up teams and less like carefully managed professional teams.

Why The Effort Is Worth It

Organizations that figure out how to collaborate are well rewarded. In Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results, Morton Hansen (2009) suggests attractive results. Hansen identifies three categories of collaboration benefits: innovation, better sales and better operations. His research suggests organizations that effectively work in the white space realize improved profit growth and asset efficiency, with a resulting healthy boost to return on equity.

What Gets In The Way

The reasons for building collaboration as an organizational competency are inherently obvious, which is why so many try. My guess is that more try than truly succeed. Hansen documents challenges to collaboration that perhaps you have experienced.  Incentive and performance systems that reward based solely upon unit and personal results contribute to organizational hoarding of people and ideas. Knowledge management systems are weak, so people don’t know how to connect with experience and expertise elsewhere. Support mechanisms are not in place to transfer resources across boundaries. These infrastructure challenges are real and must be changed to improve collaboration.

Just Get Better

While the infrastructure barriers to long-term collaboration must be removed for sustained success, those barriers should not excuse failure to get better at working in white space.  Edmonson (2012) shows the way.  Use the pick up team model for flexible, temporary organizations to capture unique opportunities. You don’t need to change infrastructure to play by pick up rules. 

The Pick Up Game Rules

Define the Game. Edmonson calls this “scoping.”  Before organizing the team, define the game. What’s the opportunity? Why do we think we can win? Where are the boundaries? What are we willing to commit? How do we keep score? Some organizations throw smart people together and ask them to “figure it out.” This not only wastes time, but also adds more chaos to an inherently messy proposition. Even in pick up games, the game and the rules are defined before teams are chosen.

Design the Team and Its Support.  Edmonson thinks of this as “scaffolding.” It’s the temporary design that supports the project, but is flexible enough to change as the work changes. What resources does it require? What roles? What knowledge management tools does the team need, at least to start? How are team members switched in and out? Don’t over think this. Unlike intact teams; pick up teams stay together only long enough to win.  But the more of the basic scaffolding the team doesn’t have to figure out, the quicker it can focus on the opportunity.

Pick the Players. Pick up players are talented volunteers. According to Edmonson, the best players are those confident enough to experiment, speak up, listen, reflect and integrate. A team is doomed when parts of the organization are asked to offer a team member as a “tax” and the most expendable member is offered.  The right talent is vital for pick up games, where speed, creativity and collaboration wins.

Practice Some Plays. Pick up games are more chaotic. People have to build trust and mutual understanding in the midst of the “fuzzy front end” of an opportunity. Make it easier by encouraging the team to develop assumptions about how it will work together. What are the interdependent relationships between the team and the rest of the organization? How does the team manage hand offs and communication? How does the team connect to learn? The best way to accelerate pick up team functioning is to experiment, observe, evaluate and adapt practices. Experiment early and deliberately rather than late and accidentally.

Have a Coach.  Pick up teams can be burdened with organizational drama. The right coach is vital to keep the effort focused and members motivated. According to Edmondson, a pick up team leader has the special role of emphasizing purpose, which can get lost in the commotion of white space projects. He or she also needs to provide the emotional support needed for members to freely and quickly test, try and share. Part of the emotional support is to reframe failure from something to be avoided to something that produces progress.

Embrace Messiness. Innovation comes from the creative destruction of boundaries and barriers replaced with something better. Expect the inconvenience of broken processes and the emotional dust ups of destruction. These are the price for a better solution that the old structure could not deliver.

The next prize for your organization may be in the white space. Practice collaboration by playing by pick up game rules. Encourage people to get better at working across and around instead of the comfort zone of up and down. Find the energy from a good short-term game that can help your organization win in the long season.

Resources

Edmondson, A. G. (2012). Teamwork on the Fly. Harvard Business Review, April, 2012. pp. 72- 79.

Hansen, M. T. (2009). Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and reap Big Results. Boston: Harvard Business Press.