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Comments on: On Vertical Collaboration





Last Build Date: Sun, 07 Jan 2018 18:09:25 +0000

 



By: Dan

Fri, 17 Aug 2007 00:37:36 +0000

You are raising a provocative issue, Andy: how collaboration changes the higher one goes in a traditional hierarchy. I've often seen very difficult situations related to vertical collaboration between a president, CEO, or COO and the executive team, and between members of the executive group and their own direct managerial reports. In fact, I think I agree that the most challenging problems are, as you say, at the interface between political/strategic and operational levels of the organization. The types: abandoner, blocker, micro-manager, dictator are certainly more obvious there and the stakes are often very high in terms of careers, reputations, and public exposure. Are top people typically less good at vertical collaboration than other managers; less effective, for example, than cross-functional collaborators elsewhere in the organization? Yes, I think it is often so, though not always. Big power and responsibility seem to work against close, mutual problem-solving because of the complex vagaries of high-level self-protection. Deflection and "spin" are the norm. But this is not always so, and more enlightened leaders are constantly aware, learning, and working to break down artificial barriers in their relationships.



By: andy

Thu, 16 Aug 2007 20:11:00 +0000

Thanks Dan. It's something I'd like to say more about it but I'm up against time constraints - just about to start packing for going away on holiday tomorrow! The way in which organisation structures and cultures affect peoples interactions in organisations is fascinating. So much potential gets lost. The organisation I work for at the moment - the BBC - would make an excellent case study, it is so rich in so many examples of both effective and limiting structures. In some ways, heirarchy retains a lot of power, yet there is also a rich web of cross-connections which completely ignore heirarchy - up to a point. I'd not thought about it until your post, but I suspect the area in which we are weakest is indeed that of vertical collaboration. Cross-functional collaboration works well at the operational levels, but further up the pecking order, heirarchy, politics and power struggles dominate. Where vertical collaboration may well have the greatest value is where it bridges those two halves of the culture, and indeed that's where two of my own personal examples have been successful. Maybe if I get bored with Scotland I'll give it some more thought over the next couple of weeks!



By: Dan

Thu, 16 Aug 2007 17:00:05 +0000

Andy -- thank you. To me, the beautiful thing in what you are saying is that each of the people allows a rigid definition of role and position (boss or worker) to diminish in favor of a deeper state of knowing one another. That's always been my experience, too. Beyond the roles, we can let our humanity emerge and cease to be a threat to one another -- whether that threat comes from the ambitions of the employee or the control needs of the boss. I like to imagine a conversation in which an employee acknowledges that he or she would like the boss' job and then together they form a "development alliance" to help the employee achieve that end -- not necessarily through succession into the boss' job, but promotion into a position, perhaps in the same organization, perhaps someplace else. I like to imagine a conversation in which the boss acknowledges his or her control needs and the two people then engage in a supportive and honest dialogue about the boss' own learning curve and what will facilitate understanding and new behavior in their relationship. It seems to me that the traditional culture of hierarchies often makes avoidance or dismissal of one another all too easy, with contempt just around the corner -- based on a worst case image of how things could turn out. I believe this means that we have to know ourselves and one another well in order for real respect to flourish -- and take the chances that self-disclosure and connection offer. We have to set the organization aside in a sense, all its rules, roles, and expectations that form the initial container for getting work done, and embrace the risk to actually meet another person. This challenge can be regarded as a gift or a curse -- and indeed it may be a little of each for "meeting another" is not free of vulnerability and conflict -- but it always offers itself as the opportunity to be genuinely in touch with life and to discover what two or three or four of us or four hundred can actually accomplish together.



By: andy

Wed, 15 Aug 2007 09:15:57 +0000

Interesting perspective, Dan, and one which is often ignored in conventional leadership development, even though it’s easy to see those four quadrants played out in organizations time and again. Perhaps one of the necessary conditions for success is that the one in the traditional position of power has to believe that it’s truly okay to have a fully collaborative relationship, and that means letting go of some of both the outward show and the inward attitudes of power. One of the factors which can get in the way of this is the fear on the part of the ‘leader’ that the ‘employee’ is after his or her job. If that dynamic exists then it’s doubtful whether real collaboration can happen – there will always be a barrier, a reason for the ‘leader’ to keep the ‘worker’ in his/her place, and for the worker to subvert the wishes of the leader. But in the absence of that combination of fear and ambition, great things are possible. I’ve worked in some very successful collaborative relationships with people more senior in the pecking order than myself, and I think the one common factor has been a willingness by both parties to be open, take risks in self-disclosure, so that little by little each gains a deeper understanding of the other – or in other words, exactly as you say, the relationship becomes more intimate, in the sense that it’s no longer a purely boss-worker relationship but has broadened to encompass much more of our being.



By: Charlie

Thu, 09 Aug 2007 06:38:37 +0000

Nice post. Dictators do hold failure in their hands. Once they started demanding things on people, their is no longer collaboration between them. Their decision is the only thing that matters.