From Command & Control to Collaboration & Teamwork

From Command & Control to Collaboration & Teamwork

Summary: Cisco's John Chambers explains their approachI think this is a wonderfully succinct interview with Cisco CEO John Chambers by Harvard Business School Publishing, which is well worth 6.5 minutes of your life if you're interested in modern 'lead from the middle or behind' management strategy.

TOPICS: Cisco, CXO, Collaboration

Cisco's John Chambers explains their approach

I think this is a wonderfully succinct interview with Cisco CEO John Chambers by Harvard Business School Publishing, which is well worth 6.5 minutes of your life if you're interested in modern 'lead from the middle or behind' management strategy.

Cisco is essentially a very modern conglomerate - this list of acquisitions demonstrates the patchwork quilt built on their core competency of computer networking.

Chambers talks about the gradual huge transition in the management of the company - the shift from Command and control management to collaboration and teamwork.

This started with Cisco's innovative use of the internet in the '90's to essentially move all the company's internal and external operations online, ushering in a decade of productivity through increased efficiency.

More recently Cisco's internal processes and discipline applied to web 2.0 technologies and social networks is transforming the giant corporation again, with 'business networks'. The hierarchy is essentially an operating committee (11 people) which is the C suite brain, 'Councils' that run $10 billion opportunities, 'Boards' which run $1 billion opportunities, and 'Working Groups' that can support the councils and boards or other transactions within the company.

Cisco is now configured to combine and mix personnel from each of these groups to create operating committees that collaborate on any topic. It took Cisco about six years to go through this transformation with some struggles to 'unlearn' command and control but now it is part of the company's DNA.

John makes a terrific point at 4 minutes in where he - as 'leader' - enforced, command and control style, an initiative to save money by using increased video conferencing instead of travel. This was pushing through a collaboration working group's findings and not an arbitrary decision. In my opinion this final say approach can break log jams and avoid group think gridlock.

Cisco, as I've said before, is selling the pickaxes and jeans to the gold miner style 2.0 evangelists so it's in their interests to demonstrate effective use of their networking and communication tools to their prospects and customers.

Nevertheless I'm a huge fan of Chamber's approach in enabling collaborative so effectively and stepping back to 'lead from the middle'.

I hope to interview Chambers soon for the Open Enterprise 09 initiative I'm working on with Stowe Boyd; please feel free to suggest questions I should ask.

Tomorrow's Leaders

Linda A Hill, a professor at Harvard Business School who was a fellow keynote speaker at the HCL Unstructure Conference we both attended last year, has some typically well thought through ideas on the concepts Chambers discusses.

In the search for effective future leadership there is a shift in perspective, with team builders the key.

Stepping down from command and control formal authority and instead overseeing a web of relationships and inter dependencies requires you to be able to build an inclusive collaborative approach, more of a leading from behind perspective, to be an effective leader. To allow leadership as collective genius requires you to subjugate your own ego in order to allow others to thrive. Linda is working on a book which outlines this perspective.

In my opinion, this 'leading from the rear' still requires significant cachet and credibility for the 'leader' not to be subsumed by rivals, and in a less clear cut model than Cisco's might require more of a gradual transfer of authority to avoid ambiguity.

Focusing on leadership rather than looking to 'the leader' is the key to collaboration and teamwork.

Topics: Cisco, CXO, Collaboration


Oliver Marks leads the Global Digital Enterprise Team at HP, having previously provided seasoned independent consulting guidance to companies on effective planning of business strategy, tactics, technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models that make best use of modern collaborative and social networking tools to achieve their business goals.

These are Oliver's views and not those of his employer HP.

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  • Managing Interactively

    It's gratifying to see that this perspective on management is gaining ground. I wrote about it my book "Managing Interactively" (McGraw-Hill 2001) almost 10 years ago now. I had chapters on "Sharing Power" and one about egos called "Get Over Yourself." I basically was forecasting how the use of interactive technologies would transform management practices. Mary Parker Follett wrote about management needing to share power in the 1930s. Will look forward to Linda's book.