Review Headline: Excellent book on executive collaboration, falls a little short in other areas.
Every company wants collaboration, but few know how to go about it.
Collaboration by Morten Hansen is highly recommended reading for those who want to create collaboration rather than just read about it. Collaboration is often held up as a universal virtue – something we all should do to be good citizens. This makes books on collaboration preachy, reading more like a sermon than a serious analysis. This book is serious analysis presented in a clear, logical and actionable way.
Hansen covers this complex issue in 169 pages of tightly focused, well researched and action oriented approach. This makes the book, highly recommended for executives and managers looking to figure out how to create the right kind of collaboration in their companies.
However, the book has some serious limitations and hence the 4 star review. First it does not address technology at all. This is a major weakness given the flowering of collaboration technologies and systems. A book in 2009 without a discussion of this is somewhat incomplete. The second major weakness is that Hansen talks almost exclusively about executive/corporate collaboration – head office type of work rather than the operational, sales, service problem solving collaboration that drives and sustains performance. Both of these gaps seem to be due to his limited research base (large companies and product development)– perhaps areas for a second book, which would be welcome.
Hansen provides a realistic and practical view of collaboration. He points out that the need for collaboration is a balance and that there are four traps for collaboration:
- Collaborating in hostile territory –
- Over collaborating
- Overshooting the potential value
- Underestimating the cost
- Misdiagnosing the problem
- Implementing the wrong solution
These traps cause collaboration that is characterized by high friction and a poor focus on results (p.14) Hansen then goes on to provide insight into how to address these traps through overcoming four barriers and their root causes. The list is provided here so you can see the depth contained in this book.
The not-invented-hear barrier created by:
- Insular employees, Status gap between employees
- Self-reliance as a virtue in the management culture
- Fear that keeps people from sharing and working together
The hoarding barrier
- Competition keeps people from sharing
- Narrow incentives
- Too busy to help others
- Fear in the loss of power from sharing
The search barrier
- Company size
- Physical distance
- Information overload
- Poverty of networks
The transfer barrier
- Tacit knowledge
- No common frame
- Weak ties
Well reasoned and structured: Hansen uses his extensive research to create a logically structured argument that he lays out clearly rather than embarking on a preachy discourse of the merits and virtues of collaboration. This is what really sets the book a part.
Tools and tables: the book has multiple assessment tools, tables and graphics that support both Hansen’s argument and your application of the ideas in the book. Tools on how to assess the business opportunities for collaboration (p. 37), creating unifying goals (p. 78) and assessing your personal barriers to your collaborative leadership (p. 161) are particularly helpful.
Comprehensive: the book looks at social, technical and managerial issues related to collaboration proving that this is a complex challenge without a single simple solution. This book goes beyond collaboration in the small to challenge larger management issues of leadership, measurement, organizations structure and mission/vision.
Failure mode/barrier construct: the book is practical and focuses on what does not work and how to fix it. This gives the reader a clear and concise discussion of the issues and focused actions rather than a virtuous lecture.
The book is based largely on research conducted in the 1990’s so it has little to say about technology in general or new collaboration technologies. This is a gap and one that could have been plugged, but it is dismissed in the final chapter as the author resets his goals on formulating the underlying management architecture for collaboration. This is unfortunate.
The issues of collaboration are mainly discussed for corporate/ executive/higher management tasks such as decision-making, product development and the like. It does not address lower level collaboration required for customer service, sales, operations, etc. This is a big gap in the book and part of its 4 star rating.
The use of “T” skills in the book is more aligned with how you spend your time than the knowledge you have—this may be confusing to people using the “T” skill term in other ways.
Overall a good book, recommended but the challenges are pretty big given the importance of this issue, the use of technology available, and the need to focus on lower level collaboration.
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