The mortgage meltdown, global financial crises, and sweeping changes in many industries have created the Bounty Effect for teams, businesses, governments, universities, foundations, non-profits and organizations of all kinds. Facing unprecedented challenges that will linger long into the economic recovery, leaders are sensing that change is no longer a choice, but rather a necessity. There is a growing realization that command-and-control oriented organizations are expensive luxuries even in the best of times. But heightened awareness is just a start. When the Bounty Effect hits, effective organizations recognize and seize the opportunity to evolve.
Collaboration can drive a recovery and create more sustainable business models, because collaboration creates greater value. But how in the world do we shift an entire organization replete with silos, entrenched interests, turf battles, jealously-guarded perks, information hoarding, internally-competitive behavior, and back-stabbing tendencies? How do we get our organization to adopt collaboration?
So, like the chieftains of Sumer and the vassals of the Middle Ages, the executives would carry out orders. The managers who reported to these executives would, in turn, carry out their orders without hesitation. Hierarchy and formality prevailed, and the CEO’s power was nearly absolute.
As technology has rendered time and distance barriers less significant, the legacy command-and-control organization has become an anachronism. Far-flung regions are no longer far-flung as our ability to communicate has shifted from weeks to days, from days to hours, and from hours to real time. Command-and-control, once an efficient approach to manage people and resources at a distance, now stifles efficiency and impedes value creation. At least from a technical standpoint, we can now interact with anybody on the fly regardless of geography. This critical shift requires a rewriting of the script and a new mindset about the role of people in organizations.
Formality poisons collaboration. Yet, incredible as it sounds, many companies cling to formality as if this principle were a revenue generator. Some actually value formality over results. In these organizations, failing to go through channels puts people in career jeopardy faster than losing a major customer or missing the opportunity to grow an existing account. Government entities are particularly vulnerable to this imbalance, because results are more difficult to define and quantify than in private-sector organizations. So in government there are fewer perceived push factors for people to abandon formality.
The Bounty Effect can create more tangible yardsticks for assessing value creation. We have witnessed the impact on governments of such exigent circumstances as terrorist attacks and financial crises. In the wake of 9/11, the need to prevent further attacks diminished the requirement to “go through channels” within government agencies. Senior officials worked shoulder-to-shoulder with people at all levels.
Seven years after 9/11, the United States government faced exigent circumstances of another kind. In September of 2008, the impact of the housing market bubble in the United States reached a boiling point. Financial institutions had overly exposed themselves to collateralized debt obligations (CDO) and a form of credit insurance called credit default swaps (CDS). Now people were rapidly losing confidence in the financial system and were withdrawing heavily from money market funds that normally invest in commercial paper, which are short-term loans corporations use to fund their operations. As the system faced the abyss, it was all hands on deck.
The “M” word creates more outbursts of opinion than practically any other word in business. I’m referring to the word meeting. Most of us have a negative gut reaction to the word and the notion of meetings. Plenty of people would prefer being grounded on a tarmac than stuck in a meeting. Water and snacks may be available at meetings, but our time belongs to others. On the tarmac, there’s no guarantee of refreshments, but at least our time is our own.
The physical meeting environment often discourages collaboration. In designing physical spaces, we must consider the culture and behavior we are seeking to reinforce. The extreme example is a mahogany-gilded boardroom with leather chairs arranged around a long rectangular table. This physical space intimidates many people. In this realm, formality reigns. How likely are people in this environment to relax, let alone collaborate? Not very likely. In some organizations, particularly in government, an outer perimeter of seats surrounds the meeting table. Those who occupy these seats are considered less important than the primary meeting participants. So, the traditional meeting setting reinforces hierarchy.
The most meaningful process change supporting collaborative culture and behavior involves the recognition and reward system. Many organizations that embrace collaborative principles, practices and some processes nevertheless remain mired in command-and-control culture and have difficulty advancing along the Collaboration Spectrum. Why? Often it’s because the organization continues to recognize and reward internally-competitive, command- and-control behavior. If we are paid to compete with colleagues, why would we share ideas and information? Why would we collaborate? We won’t. The solution is to change the recognition and reward system to incent collaborative behavior. This process shift goes a long way in institutionalizing collaboration. Changing the recognition and reward system lets the organization put its money where its mouth is when it comes to abandoning command-and-control practices.
Planet and sustainability are inextricably intertwined with collaboration. Consider the interlocking ecosystems impacting every organization. Team members depend on the organization, which in turn depends on them to survive and thrive. The organization is also interdependent with its customers and business partners. And this ecosystem, in turn, depends on the vitality of communities in which the company and its partners do business. And communities depend on the planet. Just as a team member works to preserve the organization in ensuring his or her livelihood, the evolving organization works to sustain communities, natural resources, and the planet.
So collaboration spreads from the organization’s core to its edges and beyond. Collaboration begins internally. Then the organization collaborates with business partners and, when appropriate, with competitors. And as the organization evolves, it also collaborates cross-sector with government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to protect the planet.
How can we as organizations evolve and embrace working together to create value if our actions harm the planet? We can’t.