How to Avoid Collaboration Traps, Create Unity and Get Results

Summary:Collaboration - How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big ResultsMorten T. HansenHarvard Business PressISBN 978-1-4221-1515-2The great power of Morten Hansen's book 'Collaboration', the result of fifteen years of research into internal collaboration in companies, is in providing leadership with a very solid underlying 'management architecture' with which to make decisions on collaborative efforts.

Collaboration - How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results Morten T. Hansen Harvard Business Press ISBN 978-1-4221-1515-2

The great power of Morten Hansen's book 'Collaboration', the result of fifteen years of research into internal collaboration in companies, is in providing leadership with a very solid underlying 'management architecture' with which to make decisions on collaborative efforts.

Hansen is a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and at INSEAD, France. Formerly a Harvard Business School professor Morten's research has been widely published in academic and management journals.

The reasoned approach posited in this book debunks all the current mile wide, inch deep happy talk across the business media about 'collaboration'. Hansen discusses how many ill conceived efforts at business collaborative synergy backfire spectacularly - wasting money, resources and time.

Bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration...while well thought through 'disciplined collaboration' will reap big results within the known parameters Hansen proposes.

Drawing from some great historical examples, this is big league business strategic thinking.

Leo Apotheker, SAP co CEO " provides clear recommendations for how to master the challenges leaders face today and make disciplined collaboration a powerful means to improve productivity. It's an excellent example of how management research can lead to significant business value"

My video interview with Hansen

I recorded a 20 minute video discussion with Morten for Open Enterprise 2009 two weeks ago where we go into some detail about Enterprise 2.0 and also the fate of the knowledge management movement ten years ago. This is well worth spending a few minutes digesting from a technology perspective.

9/11, Moonshot and iPods

Citing examples as diverse as the next generation Sony Walkman being eclipsed by the Apple ipod, US intelligence community fragmentation failures leading up to 9/11, the unity of the Kennedy moonshot mission and many other thought provoking examples that provide context to the ideas Hansen discusses, this is a very well organized read.

The three overarching sections of the book are:

Opportunities and Barriers, which discusses when collaboration works and when it hinders projects and also provides four barriers to collaboration. These are Not -Invented-Here syndrome, Hoarding, Search Problems and Transfer Problems. Reducing motivational barriers and getting "buy-in" toward a common goal are discussed as goals.

Solutions, with three practical levers: Unifying people, cultivating 'T' shaped management that reward both independent results and cross-unit contributions, and building 'Nimble Networks' across the organization designed to deliver results

A Personal Challenge How to put the above ideas into practice and become a collaborative leader.

Here's a couple of concise examples from chapter two's key points to whet your appetite:

Know when to collaborate, and when not to

• The goal of collaboration is not collaboration but greater results.

Leaders have to infuse this discipline principle throughout the company so that people do not collaborate for the sake of collaboration but are able to say no to collaboration projects of questionable value. To be disciplined about collaboration is to know when not to collaborate.


• Leaders need to assess the potential in three areas: better innovation through collaboration (cross-unit product development and new business creation); better sales through collaboration (cross-selling and better customer service); and better operations (cost savings through transferring best practices and making better decisions). These potentials vary by company. Leaders need to calibrate the opportunity in their company and avoid both over- and undershooting the potential.

Technology Tools

Hansen's book doesn't focus on uses of information technology to enable collaboration: video-conferencing, social networking tools for business, company blogging, etc get one brief mention right at the end.

My takeaway from the book (which I've now read twice) and our discussion on the technology topic is what I regularly say on this blog: don't put the technology cart before the business case horse. Selecting appropriate technology to facilitate collaboration should only be done in the context of well thought through objectives.

Won't Get Fooled Again

This book is a huge help in providing seasoned practical thought around what collaborative leadership is all about - I hope it becomes a business best seller because that will really help consultants like myself who are evangelizing a strategic and tactical approach.

Promoting a disciplined approach to help managers separate good collaboration opportunities from bad, and drawing on more than a decade of research on companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Procter & Gamble, Apple, and BP, proven techniques are outlined and discussed to achieve cost-savings, better innovation, and increased sales.

There is inevitably an academic element to 'Collaboration' but the sheer pragmatic common sense and the way it resonates makes it for me the best business book I've read in the last couple of years and I strongly recommend it, particularly to my C suite readers.

If I have one concern it is maybe the 'levers of power' level. The book is essentially for top down managers - although it does explicitly spell out that one of the enemies of collaboration is modern management techniques - and that not enough of this audience will read it. I will be strongly recommending it to my clients as a component of my consulting work.

Topics: Collaboration, Enterprise Software


With extensive senior management practical experience, Oliver consults with companies on international digital transformation strategy. Oliver previously ran HP's Global Digital Enterprise Transformation team, managed the Sony PlayStation 'WorldWide Studios' collaboration and workflow environment and has worked with the American Managemen... Full Bio

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