ARE THE BENEFITS OF COLLABORATION ENOUGH FOR SUCCESS?

"It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed." - Charles Darwin.

Companies and academics have trialled and reviewed a myriad of organisational forms and technologies to align people in dynamic environments. If executed well, collaboration can provide an answer to the challenges of information overload, poor decision making, program underperformance and leadership failure. But is it enough to ensure success?

In Charles Carnegie and Dennis McDonald’s new book, “Network Centred Leadership: How to lead in an increasingly complex and interconnected world”, they introduce a refinement they call Network-centred leadership which provides a new way of collaborating in a network framework. Their approach takes all the goals, opportunities, problems, tasks, systems and risks and puts them into context using a network map providing all stakeholders with a shared point of reference and a common set of information on a continuous basis. Reframing the organisation as a network provides a better way to distribute leadership and manage work, capability, information flows and decision rights. This constitutes a rejection of the traditional hierarchical management structure.

In complex environments (See our blog on complexity here), demands can overwhelm the capacity of most leaders, remote from the day to day challenges, to make sound judgements on a multitude of issues. Rather, the authors believe, leadership should be considered as work to be assigned to meet the demands of specific circumstances. Networks therefore provide a good mix of structure and flexibility which can absorb change and be responsive to its demands. In short, networks offer a better way to organise work streams and motivate people to deliver valuable knowledge work in complex environments.

The call for collaboration has become commonplace in recent times (http://www.twyfords.com.au/ and http://hbr.org/2014/04/the-collaboration-imperative/ar/1). This is recognition of the high degree of uncertainty and volatility that accompany complex environments and acceptance that to expect leaders to guide teams single-handedly through this turbulence is unrealistic. The incorporation of a diverse set of perspectives are seen as essential. Moreover, the need for intellectual and decision-making authority to be distributed more closely to and sometimes within the actual work arena has become clear.

But is collaboration, even in a network framework, sufficient for success?

Welcome and necessary as these democratic trends might be, one is still left with the question; how are these conferring stakeholders to arrive at wise and practical decision? Simply deploying a greater number of human minds representing a wider set of interests and viewpoints does not necessarily simplify the task of arriving at a consensus as to how best to act. It could even hinder it.

We believe that the most promising approach is indeed to embrace a network representation of the forces, entities, criteria, alternatives, objectives and issues but not merely in order to identify and represent the influences amongst them but rather also to measure them!

This is done by having appropriate subsets of the collaborative team rate the relative importance of these influences with respect to the overall objective, using a series of pair-wise comparisons. In the method known as the Analytic Network Process (ANP), these evaluations can be synthesised quantitatively to provide a collective opinion on the optimal course of action. A key contribution of the method, and one that sets it apart, is its ability to form and utilise measurement scales for intangibles such as quality, value, welfare and attitude. Vitally, this is all achieved in a transparent, consultative and scientific manner which is likely to garner the support of all players, even those whose initial intuition may have led them to alternative positions.

In following blogs, we will demonstrate this method and how it can be used in conjunction with Carnegie and MacDonald’s leadership network as well as provide a model for dealing with the challenges of a complex business environment.

Image: NASA Flight Director, Gene Kranz (front left) collaborates

with fellow mission controllers during Apollo 13

Anthony Sive is the Managing Director of Canrock Asset Advisory and Sam Sharp is the Managing Director of Numerix.

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