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Archive for the ‘Collaboration’ Category

In working with many organizations on a wide range of complex decisions, I never fail to be amazed at the reaction to this question; “What is the goal of this decision?, what are we trying to decide?” Almost invariably, the question seems as though it triggers a line of thinking that has not been explored before. The question is usually met initially with a bit of silence, then a moment of anxious glances exchanged around the room, and lastly a free wheeling groping for the answer. In defense of those who seem to be the hot seat on the receiving end of this question, it is an easy although risky thing to overlook.

So how does something so central to decision making (what it is that is actually trying to be decided) get overlooked? Is it that so many casual decisions are made each day that we’ve come to believe it’s easy, and take this step for granted in our more complex deliberations? We shouldn’t assume that all decisions are created equal. Think about the tremendous levels of data collection and the amount of time spent by teams and individuals occupied with trying to inform these decisions.  Given all this activity it seems something must be well enough defined to drive the action, so there may be something more at play. I’ve begun to believe that perhaps the objective isn’t so much being overlooked, but that people often immediately switch in to a mode of mind reading and trying to manage the group agreement without giving the group and opportunity to disagree in order to resolve their conflicts productively and find their points of agreement.  As such, they are reluctant to say too much for fear of saying something that deviates from what may still be the unknown group norm or consensus. The idea is beautifully set out by Jerry B. Harvery in his article The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement.

Here is the short version of the paradox, you can read the more detailed discussion at the link above.

On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles north] for dinner. The wife says, “Sounds like a great idea.” The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law then says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.

One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I wasn’t delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.” The wife says, “I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.” The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.

What is so compelling to me about the Abilene paradox is that the entire chain of events can be undone by the simplest expression of transparency or personal preference by anyone involved (including the father in law making the suggestion to go to Abilene) that they are content where they are, doing what they are doing.

This of course all points to, and highlights, several well know challenges in group decision making related to pluralistic ignorance, group think, and pseudo-consensus. When psychologist Irving Janis coined the term Groupthink in 1972, he identified eight symptoms of groupthink. Of the eight, these two seem to be most at play in the Abilene paradox.

  • Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
  • Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.

These express themselves in a very distinct way in what is called pluralistic ignorance. The research on pluralistic ignorance is very interesting. When college students were asked about the high levels of alcohol consumption on campus it was found that most did not want to partake at such extreme levels but were all acting as if they did out of fear of rejection from other like minded people also feigning a desire to partake. But it seems no one can break the ice in these situations. There is actually a silent majority awaiting a leader to coalesce and provide an opportunity to express their true feelings and act in accordance with their preferences. Watch Dan Ariely present the topic below, it’s truly interesting and relevant.

So taking all this into consideration, what if we could break through?

Let’s imagine the conversation on that porch in Texas goes a little differently;

On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles north] for dinner. The wife says, “Sounds like a great idea.” “Are you kidding, it’s a miserable day to do that drive, and I’m pretty content here enjoying the company” The husband, despite havinghaving had reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step learns his preferences are right in line with the group and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.”“Yeah, you know, I don’t need to go anywhere, life doesn’t get much better than this right here.” The mother-in-law then says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.” “I hate Abilene, he suggests this silly idea every time someone comes by, always worried that no one is content just setting here having a good time.”  THE END

Easy peasy. Ah, the simplicity of the transparent and explicit expression of real preferences. All it takes is one courageous person to break the dam and start the rush toward real consensus. Here are three things to consider to interrupt these groupthink processes in a collaborative decision;

  1. Assign a facilitator: This is someone who has the role of challenging the group and asking the hard questions. It is best that the facilitator have a limited, or better no, stake in the decision outcome. They can read body language and draw out asymmetrical information and try to find those silent majorities if they exist.
  2. Bring in outside experts: These outsiders to the group can be brought in and asked for expert opinion and can be given the role of devil’s advocate by the facilitator. These experts can be positioned on the fringe of the group making them more inclined to disrupt the group norm and draw out differences. These can be carefully chosen rogue or maverick type experts who are empowered to express their ideas.  The facilitator needs to support these experts and capitalize on the productive conflict they may generate.
  3. Use a decision process: Use a methodology like the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) to anonymously source preferences and aggregate the group point of view. Allowing each individual to state their preference independently and then discussing this as a group can provide a mechanism for finding the points of disagreement that can ultimately become the conflicts that are resolved to create true consensus and agreement.

Please offer your thoughts and insights about these issues, have you experienced any of these kinds of phenomena and how have you or your organization tried to resolve them?

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In this second part of this discussion we will talk about how applying a structured decision process can help to temper, if not overcome some of the biases we pointed out in the previous post.

Let’s start with a brief description of a structured approach to decision making.  For this example we will consider the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) developed by Dr. Thomas Saaty.  This approach has been made accessible by Decision Lens, Inc., who has developed a software solution that enables application of this process to organizations to collaboratively make complex multi-criteria, multi-stakeholder decision where these organizations are faced with many possible courses of action that can be taken.

The Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) is a theory of measurement that uses the principles of comparative judgment, first to make comparisons of decision criteria with respect to some property and then derives scales of priority measurement from these judgments.  In doing this the AHP can be used to derive measurements for anything and the meaning depends on the judgments. This allows creation of a measurement system with regard to the criteria to derive the scales and establish a prioritization framework.

The application of AHP follows a structured, while sometimes iterative, format.  Before we look at our example, let’s briefly review the essential aspects of the AHP process.

  1. Develop a hierarchy or tree of criteria- in clusters from high level categories at the top level to more specific sub-criteria, down to ratings and measures that will be used to differentiate the strategic value of options.
  2. Comparison of criteria to each other using a pairwise approach to establish their relative priorities for use in assessing options
  3. Rating the options against quantitative or qualitative scales that are derived to describe each criterion, and measure how well options reflect the priorities expressed within them.
  4. Optimize the allocation of resources among the options by way of cost/benefit analysis and performing sensitivity analysis to determine the robustness and drivers of decision outcomes.

So how can this impact many of the biases laid out in our previous discussion?  Let’s see.

We will look at an example of how some of the anchoring introduced by our fictional Committee Chair is impacted by item 1) and 2) above.  Similarly these techniques can help with many of the other issues highlighted in the way the group interacts in our example.

Committee Chair:  So we have a decision to make.  Which of these two product options are we going to pursue?  This is a critical strategic decision for us, and key to our ability to hit next year’s numbers.

Ideally the group of stakeholders to the decision would take a collaborative approach to defining a decision goal, and establishing the criteria that best enable achieving the goal. The weights of these criteria can then be derived before going down the narrow path being presented by the committee chair.  In this case, the group would be asked what the key factors that shape their decision are.  They may ultimately conclude that the criteria of “next year’s numbers” is the primary consideration for their decision, but without first defining the goal of the decision and articulating the issues that should shape the framework for making the decisions they can fall subject to this anchoring.  Among the important criteria may be the short term financial impact, but perhaps also the long term impact.  The question is which is more important and by how much?  By surfacing these counterbalancing criteria, and having the group weigh in on which should be the larger consideration in the decision, some anchoring from a single influential member can be buffered.  The group in our conversation goes on to talk about a variety of topics in a somewhat random, circular  and unstructured way; what the customers prefer, how easy it is to manufacture, and the overall technical feasibility of the product, etc.  Considering these other criteria can even further balance the thinking of the group and create a more holistic view of the decision.  Once a determination is made by the group of stakeholders to the decision as to which of these criteria is most important, the options can then be put to the test for how well they meet these criteria and the objectives imbedded within them.

If we look at the nature of the conversation, the key stakeholders are speaking of a decision structure that might look something like the following:

This all becomes very interesting in the process of making the comparative judgments.  It becomes virtually impossible for the group to get into single criteria based arguments when posed with a decision structure like this.  By virtue of the comparison exercise you can’t say something doesn’t matter, you can only say how much more or less it matters than something else.  There are often cases like the following where an outlier may need to defend their position in an attempt to influence a group, or have to concede that the rest of the group has a different point of view.  The question is, is this outlier Henry Fonda in “12 Angry Men” or Jim Carey in “Yes Man”.  In some cases information comes to light in these discussions that either substantiates or negates the position of the person who opposes the group, but one way or another, this kind of conversation moves the group to greater understanding and alignment by making all of these preferences and biases more explicit and transparent.  Making this quantifiable using AHP, may look something like this when engaging on the question, “with regard to this decision, which of the following pair is more important, and by how much?”

Provided the decision makers have the ability to stay independent in their assessments and not play “follow the leader” (which can be accomplished by anonymously sourcing these judgments), we can see that despite the very strong preference of the Committee Chair to have the financial focused considerations trump other factors that the opinions and preferences of the entire group give it only a slightly larger consideration on average than the Customer Preference for instance.  The arguments of others may run along the lines of “if we give the customer a preferred product, they’ll buy it, and we’ll meet our financial objectives.  Anyway, our financial forecasts tend to be less reliable than our customer research”.  Often the person with the extreme judgment will consider the positions of their colleagues and scale back the strength of their preference. In other cases, they may hold their ground, but have to accept that theirs is not the popular opinion.  In any case, voices are heard and fair process is at work.  This approach assures that at least participants have to hear perspectives that may interrupt biases.

Let’s look at the next level down in the decision.  When talking about financial impact, which is more important the short term or the long term?

Here again, we can see that the diversity of opinion in the group allows for some greater consideration of the short term, but the more extreme preference of a single stakeholder (which may be completely justified given their incentives, or political pressures) is again dampened by those who feel the long term should be given a more equal consideration, or even preferential consideration.  Collectively the group leans Short Term, but can create a framework that brings a considerably more balanced perspective to the decision.

Using a similar approach the decision makers, or other subject matter experts that they appoint, can be tasked with evaluating how well each option meets each of these criteria for selection.  The same principles of bringing multiple perspectives together and having a structured conversation about outliers can be used to temper the effect of biases and have a counterbalancing effect on more extreme positions while allowing for all of these perspectives to be considered.

This ultimately has the effect of creating a tangible view of the mental model that a group may be bringing to a decision.  These differences in perspective and strengths of preferences can remain invisible in discussion except for the way they are expressed in disagreement, power driven arguments, and advocacy based discussion.

The basic principles as outlined by James Surowiecki in “The Wisdom of Crowds” can be made real using such an approach.  The use of AHP as a decision framework allows for;

  • Independence:  Each member can independently provide their priorities
  • Diversity of Opinion: The AHP actually promotes the expression of diverse opinion
  • Local Knowledge – Stakeholders from different subject matter expertise are able to evaluate the information through their own lens of local knowledge.
  • Aggregation – The mathematical underpinnings of AHP create a unique aggregating mechanism where the decision makers derive the measurement system and establish priorities in a process of transforming implicit considerations into an explicit value model for their decision.

One possible approach to limiting the influence of biases may be to tackle them head on by bringing them to light with a degree of structure and process rather than allowing them to run wild in an unstructured, circular, power driven, advocacy based debate.

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I hope you like the title of this post. It tees things up pretty well for what follows in this first of a two part series on cognitive biases.  The title demonstrates a Bias Blind Spot, suggesting the “I’m not biased, but THEY are”, and the famous “I knew it all along” type of thinking that accompanies the Hindsight Bias.  I had an opportunity to speak on behalf of Decision Lens at the recent Cambridge Health Institute conference on Portfolio Management last month, and one of the parts of my talk that stimulated the most interest and conversation, was the portion on cognitive biases and how structured decision making may help overcome them.  So, having had these conversations during and after the conference and given some thought to them in the context of portfolio decisions and project or product choices, I thought I would share a typical project selection type discussion that I have found myself in over the years and then break it down to look at what might be going on to help illustrate a few points.  Next post we’ll talk about possible remedies of structured and collaborative decision making and their potential to positively influence the process.  Enjoy.

Setting: A product or project Steering Committee meeting in a large company delivering  about 60% of its strategic planning goals from new product development (like many companies).

Committee Chair:  So we have a decision to make.  Which of these two product options are we going to pursue?  This is a critical strategic decision for us, and key to our ability to hit next year’s numbers.

VP R&D (Joe):  I think there’s not much to decide really, clearly WonderWidget is the superior option.  Acme consulting’s report said as much, and Maria, didn’t your team’s study find it to be preferred?

Director Market Research (Maria ): Well, I’m not sure how much value I put in Acme’s assessment, but yes, we did on the whole find WonderWidget the better choice. However, some groups preferred GreatGadget.  In fact, look at these numbers.  When I broke them out by age group against our target, an iron clad case can be made for GreatGadget.

VP R&D (Joe): OK, but c’mon. We’ve tried the GreatGadget approach before, and it has failed outright.  As I recall, the WonderWidget prototype shown to those groups didn’t even include our latest greatest improvements, isn’t that true Maria?

Director Market Research (Maria): Well, um…, I think…

VP R&D (Joe): I’m also not sure how we recruited those participants in the study, but they certainly didn’t seem representative of the typical savvy of most of our users, wouldn’t you agree Maria?

Director Market Research (Maria): I have some concerns about a couple of aspects of the study design, that may have contributed to what you observed.

VP Operations (Andre): Joe, there has to be considerable value in GreatGadget, it is right in our wheelhouse, it’s basically repurposing known technology!

VP R&D (Joe): I wouldn’t say that… Are you saying that because of the common interface?

VP Operations (Andre): We would have to be able to have GreatGadget commercially ready in a fraction of the time and cost!, 6 months max, and very little incremental investment based on our existing capabilities.

Director Market Research (Maria): We’ve had some quality complaints from product produced on that platform, though I do think it has some merit…

VP R&D (Joe): It may be faster and cheaper Andre, but Maria’s right, no one wants it.  We knew when we launched it that it may take a long time to work out the bugs.

VP Operations (Andre): Maria, those are minor problems, we can overcome those from my shop.  I’m 99% sure of it.

Director Market Research (Maria):  I didn’t say…

Committee Chair:  OK, I’ve been listening very objectively.  We have a track record of not always being very good at these decisions.  While we’ve been in a bit of a drought; we’re due for a win.  It sounds to me like we are reaching a general consensus that we should pursue GreatGadget.  So, how do we move forward?

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Now, let’s replay this conversation and take a little deeper look into what’s going on…

If you need to reference the biases discussed below, you can follow this link or those embedded in the discussion.

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Committee Chair:  So we have a decision to make.  Which of these two product options are we going to pursue?  This is a critical strategic decision for us, and key to our ability to hit next year’s numbers.

Comment >> Our committee chair leads out of the gate to trigger the Framing Effect, immediately limiting the options to two. Then throws in a dash of Focusing Effect, and Hyperbolic Discounting to drive the group to viewing the decision through the filter of next year’s number.

VP R&D (Joe):  I think there’s not much to decide really, clearly WonderWidget is the superior option.  Acme consulting’s report said as much, and Maria, didn’t your team’s study find it to be preferred?

Comment >> Joe responds with what could be Positive Outcome, Wishful Thinking and Optimism bias inferring a foregone conclusion about the route to successful decision. He then evokes the Interloper Effect about the objectivity of the consultants with no substantiation, and pursues the Confirmation Bias as he seeks corroboration for his position from Maria.

Director Market Research (Maria ): Well, I’m not sure how much value I put in Acme’s assessment, but yes, we did on the whole find WonderWidget the better choice. However, some groups preferred GreatGadget.  In fact, look at these numbers.  When I broke them out by age group against our target, an iron clad case can be made for GreatGadget.

Comment >> Maria counters Joe’s Interloper Effect with a dose of Ingroup Bias rewarding her group for their superior research efforts, she then seems to have an episode of the Framing Effect as she begins to parse the data in ways to support an argument that runs contrary to Joe’s position.

VP R&D (Joe): OK, but c’mon. We’ve tried the GreatGadget approach before, and it has failed outright.  As I recall, the WonderWidget prototype shown to those groups didn’t even include our latest greatest improvements, isn’t that true Maria?

Comment >> Whoa!  Maria hits Joe right in his Semmelweis Reflex as he responds to reject the new evidence that contradicts his position, he reels and strikes back with a combination of the Subjective Validation, The Primacy Effect, and Negativity Bias as he doesn’t substantiate the outright failure, gives the initial failure more emphasis than the current research, and gives more weight to the negative aspects of the previous effort, than any positives.  He then slips in an uppercut that tags Maria right in the Suggestibility Bias.

Director Market Research (Maria): Well, um…, I think…

Comment >> Maria is now suffering from some combination of False Memory, and Cryptomnesia as she fights her confusion to sort facts from suggestions and is likely moving down the path to some form of Information Bias to try to shore up the data to make the case when the data is either unavailable or irrelevant to the influence driven argument.

VP R&D (Joe): I’m also not sure how we recruited those participants in the study, but they certainly didn’t seem representative of the typical savvy of most of our users, wouldn’t you agree Maria?

Comment >> Joe doubles down on triggering Maria’s Suggestibility Bias with his Fundamental Attribution Error about the participants in the study.

Director Market Research (Maria): I have some concerns about a couple of aspects of the study design, that may have contributed to what you observed.

Comment >> Maria hints at the fact that she may be concerned about a variety biases, like the Hawthorne Effect, Herd Instinct, Expectation Bias, or  Selection Biases to which studies may be prone.

VP Operations (Andre): Joe, there has to be considerable value in GreatGadget, it is right in our wheelhouse, it’s basically repurposing known technology!

Comment>> Andre is new to the party, and comes with a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bias) of Status Quo, and the Mere Exposure Effect.

VP R&D (Joe): I wouldn’t say that… Are you saying that because of the common interface?

VP Operations (Andre): We would have to be able to have GreatGadget commercially ready in a fraction of the time and cost!, 6 months max, and very little incremental investment based on our existing capabilities.

Comment>> Andre goes on to fall victim to the Planning Fallacy, by likely underestimating the time and cost required to undertake this similar but entirely new effort.  He is likely in the throes of the Overconfidence Bias.

Director Market Research (Maria): We’ve had some quality complaints from product produced on that platform, though I do think it has some merit…

VP R&D (Joe): It may be faster and cheaper Andre, but Maria’s right, no one wants it.  We knew when we launched it that it may take a long time to work out the bugs.

Comment>> Joe makes a huge leap, and by way of the Authority Bias he attributes expertise to Maria and exaggerates her position through a bit of Egocentric Bias, and the Availability Cascade bias (a.k.a; if you say it enough it is true).  Then he pulls out the Hindsight Bias!

VP Operations (Andre): Maria, those are minor problems, we can overcome those from my shop.  I’m 99% sure of it.

Comment>> ???… Overconfidence Bias run amuck.

Director Market Research (Maria):  I didn’t say…

Comment>> Sorry Maria, looks like this train is leaving the station…

Committee Chair:  OK, I’ve been listening very objectively.  We have a track record of not always being very good at these decisions. While we’ve been in a bit of a drought; we’re due for a win.  It sounds to me like we are reaching a general consensus that we should pursue GreatGadget.  So, how do we move forward?

Comment>> Lastly, this is a mix of Bias Blindspot (believing you are not biased), Outcome Bias (judging the result rather than the quality of the decision at the time, i.e. knowing what you knew then), and the Gambler’s Fallacy that biases one to think that a series of losses must be leading to a win, while the odds in the meantime remain exactly the same… all with a False Consensus Effect cherry on top.

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Sound familiar?  In my next post I’ll talk about how to use a structured approach to decision making to help neutralize some of these effects and increase the chances that the group makes the best decision possible with the information available.

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I  don’t typically like discussions on a topic that start with an etymology lesson or definitions, but as I started thinking about the collaborative aspect of collaborative decision making, I really found myself having to give some consideration to the meaning of the word because it wasn’t immediately apparent to me exactly what everyone’s talking about, other than the basic idea of working together, when the word gets thrown around.  So I’m making an exception despite my misgivings and exploring the definition.  Turns out the word is pretty interesting and nuanced.  When we talk about working together within an organization, collaboration includes the ideas of being jointly accredited or rewarded and recognized.  When it is between different organizations the nuance includes usually, though not necessarily, willing cooperation, and also the idea of partnering outside your ordinary circle of connections.  This first dictionary definition represents the positive connotation I believe is intended by the typical use of the word in most organizations and business environments today.

  • To work together with others to achieve a common goal. (emphasis added)
As in; Let’s collaborate on this article, and get it completed faster.

Note it doesn’t say how to work together.  Interestingly though, this second definition seems to describe something like the atmosphere around the experience of many people I talk to in my work at Decision Lens.

  • To cooperate treasonably as with an enemy occupation force in one’s country.
As in; If you collaborate with the enemy, you will be executed.

The word actually comes from the French, collaborateur (Very saboteur like), which comes from the Latin Collaboratus, past participle of Collaborare which means “work with”.  Look at this discussion on Wikipedia

    Since the Second World War the term “Collaboration” acquired a very negative meaning as referring to persons and groups which help a foreign occupier of their country—due to actual use by people in European countries who worked with and for the Nazi German occupiers. Linguistically, “collaboration” implies more or less equal partners who work together—which is obviously not the case when one party is an army of occupation and the other are people of the occupied country living under the power of this army.

    In order to make a distinction, the more specific term Collaborationism is often used for this phenomenon of collaboration with an occupying army. However, there is no water-tight distinction; “Collaboration” and “Collaborator”, as well as “Collaborationism” and “Collaborationist”, are often used in this pejorative sense—and even more so, the equivalent terms in French and other languages spoken in countries which experienced direct Nazi occupation.

In fact the French word collabo (collaborator) was often coupled with the adjective sale (dirty) and considered a supreme insult.

OK, it’s all starting to make sense to me now.  This feels a bit more like the nature of what’s going on in the political and social dynamics of many organizations with regard to decision making.  Given this context it appears we may actually be getting what we are asking for…

So this got me thinking about that “water tight distinction” mentioned above for this idealized and desired positive form of collaboration, which is what prompted me to come up with the new spelling –  “Collaberration” in the title.  Because in my experience it is rare, and simply not the norm.

We often hear talk, in lofty terms, about working together to achieve a common goal in ways that conjour images of a Koombaya singing Utopian organization where productivity effortlessly expands.  If we’re honest we would have to admit that when this happens it is an aberration. But it does happen on occasion.  Conversely in the worst cases, while often well intended at the outset, hidden motives, personal agendas and reluctant compromises that are kept from the light of day, can create passive aggressive behaviors that can result in coalitions of the unwilling feigning cooperation while actively resisting progress. There’s nothing like a dose of this dysfunction to significantly undermine decisions and stifle real progress against goals.  If you believe that words have power (which I do)  it’s interesting that we’re using a word (collaboration) that is loaded with baggage and inferences to the very kind of behavior I think many are hoping to weed out by evoking it.  Which makes me think perhaps collaboration isn’t always necessarily the objective.  It may be a desire for alignment, cooperation, or maybe even more so, outright submission.  I know I have been in some environments where unconditional surrender seemed to be what was being asked for under the guise of collaboration.

The Corporate Executive Board released a new research report that stated the following;

…even small efforts to improve collaboration through technology can improve bottom-line performance by 0.3 to 1.0 percent of total enterprise costs

No wonder we hear calls for Collaberration.  In “Organizing Genius – the Secrets to Creative Collaboration”, Warren Bennis talks about what he called “Great Groups”, and the dynamics by which they tend to operate.  Often times they are short lived, and members of these groups lose themselves in their work in pursuit of the goal.  These rare, but high impact, environments seems to be a collision of talent and purpose that blows away expectation and any imagined result.  Disney Animations, Xerox PARC, Apple’s MacIntosh project, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, The Manhattan Project, etc.  are some of these cultures he explored.  Interestingly, they are hard environments to maintain, and sometimes they fall apart not long after a monumental achievements leaving their members longing for another chance to work in such an environment, and often saddled with a sort of postpartum  malaise.   Three of the most compelling insights he had about these creatively collaberrative environments were

  • Great Groups think they are on a mission from God
  • Great Groups are optimistic, not realistic
  • Great work is its own reward

So why is it so difficult for us to get people to work together and make decisions to advance their objectives?  I’ve noticed that my various standing alerts and feeds for Decision Making and Collaboration, tend to bring forward stories from Sports & Politics for the former, and the Arts and Academia for the latter, almost every single day.  These human endeavors seem to in some way help define the concepts in our minds, or at least have the most demonstrable examples where the language fits.  I’ve touched on decision making in sports in past posts, and so thought I would look to the arts for a bit more inspiration and insight into collaberration.  I found the video below, and thought it a wonderful example of a group of artists/athletes working together to do something no one of them could do alone.  Now, while we don’t know their back story, or the personal intrigue or their group dynamics there are some thoughts it provoked that I’d like to summarize in tandem with what we’ve read above.

Fascinating. Beautiful individual contributions and simply amazing teamwork.

So if it is collaberration we want, with all of the messiness that comes with it, here are 5 key considerations that can contribute to enabling the kind of creative, and productive environments where it can take place.  These ideas are interdependent, and self reinforcing of each other.

  • Vision & Purpose: In the case of our video, no one member of the troupe can achieve the vision. A single person can propose the concept of a group shadow puppet (perhaps to a reaction of some laughter initially), but teamwork is needed to realize it. There has to be a compelling and inspiring purpose to get people to reach beyond the limits of self, a purpose that stems from a vision that aligns their self interests and individual contributions to mutual benefit and achievement of the group objective.
  • Transparency & Tolerance: For our artists, there is nowhere to hide as they contribute to the silhouette on the screen, their contribution to the whole and the ability of that contribution to advance the objective has to be open and visible. There MUST be a desire and tolerance for Transparency in collaberration, no matter how difficult and uncomfortable. Transparency enables members to respectfully dissent, express and resolve differences in opinion and build alignment (i.e., agreeing to disagree and move forward in a unified direction) This allows investment in the purpose, to achieve commitment and allow members to operate above board.
  • Creative Conflict: We can be sure that there is argument amongst our artists and directors about the optimal configuration of appendages to create wings, wheels and triggers.  Conflict is inevitable, and necessary.  We should assume we will be challenged by the ideas and perspectives of others whatever the position we, or they, hold in the group. Disagreement and contradiction are a source for creative solutions.  Compelling Purpose and the tolerance for Transparency can help sustain the group through the conflict.
  • Incentives & Alignment: If our artists are given the incentive to stand out from the group, they will likely undermine the cohesiveness that creates the composite effect of their work.   Individual incentives can not undermine the group purpose, and need to be crafted in a way that aligns rewards and/or recognition with unique individual contributions that are clearly enablers to the group’s goals (i.e., those kinds of contributions the group would agree “we couldn’t have done it without them”).  Transparency and purpose increase, and conflict decreases, the better this is done.
  • Execution & Results: If our artists believe in the vision, are given the incentive to advance the group objective in a way that is enabling of productive conflict and promotes transparency, they can create a stunning collaberrative result.  The end goal is to “work together” to produce something extraordinary; an outcome or product.  The execution and coordination necessary to achieve that desired result are most likely a byproduct of the points above, whether deliberate or circumstantial, and execution would be difficult as a goal in and of itself.

Breaking through the barriers of competing interests, beliefs, perspectives and motivations is a challenge that is not easily solved.  Please join in the conversation and seize the opportunity to collaberrate to better understand how we might achieve more positive and breakthrough experiences in the process of decision making within groups.  It would be great to hear about the experiences of others in achieving collaberration.

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