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Is Collaborative Leadership the Enemy of Efficiency?

So what is to blame for the slow pace that plagues so many collaborative companies? Unclear accountability, parochial interests, and political jockeying among senior managers. Here's how to stop it.
Collaborative Leadership: How to Reconcile Teamwork and Efficiency
photo by Tanais Fox

The short answer is no. The longer answer merits a few more words — in the form of tips for fostering efficient teamwork.

1. Assign a DRI — a “directly responsible individual” — to all collaborative projects.

“Clarity about where the buck stops is one of the most critical enablers — and speeders — of teamwork,” note INSEAD professors Herminia Ibarra and Morten T. Hansen in a Harvard Business Review blog post.

Credit the cult (and culture) of Apple for spreading the DRI gospel. “At Apple, there is never any confusion as to who is responsible for what,” writes Adam Lashinsky in Fortune. “Often the DRI’s name will appear on an agenda for a meeting, so everybody knows who is responsible…. A common phrase heard around Apple when someone [seeks] the right contact on a project is ‘Who’s the DRI on that?’”

2. Let leaders make decisions.

Ibarra and Hansen cite the policy of U.K.-based consumer-products giant Reckitt Benckiser. “Managers debate vigorously in teams, yet the decision rule is clear: If no decision has been reached, the person chairing the team calls the decision. This prevents endless debate from slowing down the company; they argue, reach a decision, and then act swiftly.”

3. If you don’t need CEO approval, don’t ask for it.

Consider this story about Alcatel-Lucent CEO Ben Verwaayen. “On his first day on the job, he got an e-mail asking him to sign off on the hiring of a secretary for a Poland office, after 16 executives had already done so,” write Peter Burrows and Matthew Campbell in Bloomberg Businessweek. “He forwarded the e-mail to all employees, saying, ‘This ends now. Hiring from now on is the responsibility of a manager and his or her boss.’ ”

In other words, you can speed up collaboration by avoiding it. “Unclear accountability, parochial interests, and political jockeying among senior managers, and not collaboration per se, are what really slow things down,” Ibarra and Hansen conclude. “Leaders set the tone by making clear what they want people to collaborate on and what they expect them to handle expeditiously themselves.”



In one of their HBR articles, “Getting Collaboration Right,” Ibarra and Hansen list some powerful consequences of a failure to collaborate:

“Sony was unable to come up with its version of iPod/iTunes because divisions competed with one another,” they note. “Microsoft, according to a former company executive, had developed a viable tablet computer more than a decade ago but failed to preempt Apple’s smash hit because competing Microsoft divisions had conspired to kill the project.”

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