On February 17, 2011, the Engineering Leadership SIG of the SD Forum met at SAP headquarters in Palo Alto, California. Featured was a presentation, “Keys to Collaborative Leadership”, given by Mark Voorsanger and Liz Agnew. Both are Certified Coaches.
The presentation was organized as a meal in a fine restaurant, with three “courses”, an appetizer, a main dish and dessert. Each “course” came with a challenge and a goal. The first part, an introduction, was designed to whet the audience’s appetite. The overall goal of the presentation was to inspire new thinking.
Mark V acknowledged that “collaborative leadership” might seem to be an oxymoron, and responded with a quote from Albert Einstein: “if an idea is not absurd, it is not worth pursuing.”
Whetting Your Appetite
To demonstrate the need for collaborative leadership, Mark V quoted two sets of statistics from a recent survey of American employees. The first divided employees into three groups:
Not Engaged 54%
Actively disengaged 17%
They then asked the participants in the survey if their current job brings out my most creative ideas. The results were broken down among the three categories:
Not Engaged 17%
Actively disengaged 3%
Not surprisingly, most of those who were not engaged or actively disengaged felt their job did not bring out their most creative ideas.
Now the current paradigm for leadership is Hierarchy. Decisions are made at the top. The currencies are power and authority. Mark V characterized hierarchy as working well when:
· People at the top have all required information.
· People being managed are doing rote tasks.
· People being managed are easily replaced
This of course does not characterized modern engineering organizations. Mark V though did stress that hierarchy has its place, especially when decisions need to be made quickly.
At this point, Mark V asked the audience to participate in an exercise. Gather in small groups and discuss how ineffective collaboration is costing you and your organization. Afterwards, several members of the audience shared their responses. They included:
· If you don’t do it my way, you are not collaborating
· Decisions are made without adequate information.
· Software is not reusable.
· There is no safe environment for unusual ideas.
Appetizer: Defining Key Terms
Challenge: No common language
Goal: Define key terms for a collaborative process
Mark V spent several minutes defining some key terms.
Collaboration: All relevant stakeholders have ownership and alignment around what we are going to do and how we are going to do it.
· People with the power to make a decision.
· People with the power to block a decision.
· People affected by a decision
· People with relevant information and expertise.
Ownership: the extent to which people feel or believe that a process, decision or outcome is theirs.
Alignment: The extent to which people see and understand a problem or decision.
Here is a metaphor for ownership vs. alignment:
Ownership: get everyone on the boat.
Alignment: get everyone rowing in the same direction.
And he provided this insight regarding Content vs Process: Content gets attention; process, not so much. Content is What; process is How.
And finally: a Collaborative Leader is someone who leads according to the principle of ownership and alignment.
Regarding introducing the principles of Collaborative Leadership, Mark V pointed out that one needs to be careful with change. Organizations tend to reject change the way one’s immune system rejects a foreign microbe. A suggestion: think small.
Main Dish: Problem Solving Template
Challenge: No common process
Goal: find a common process
A Problem is any situation that you want to change.
There are three obstacles to solving problems:
1. Groups don’t know how to (or don’t even think to) align around the problem that they want to solve. No agreement on the problem = No agreement on the solution + infinite arguing about solutions
2. Groups use implicit processes to do their work. Collaborative problem solving relies on explicit win/win processes.
3. People solve problems iteratively – so that nothing is transparent.
Mark V presented a structured process with a 5-step problem solving template
1. Context (what effect is the problem having; what happens if it is not addressed?)
2. Problem statement – a one sentence statement
4. Desired outcomes
5. Action plan
Mark V cautioned against “baking a solution” into the statement or intent. And one should build ownership and alignment at each step.
Finally there is the question of time. One of the advantages of hierarchical decision making is it is faster; collaborative problem solving takes longer. So it is necessary to concede that hierarchical decision making sometimes is required. But beware of creating a false sense of crisis. This will only work a limited number of times.
At this point, Mark V opened the floor for questions.
Q: How do you deal with the fact that not all stakeholders are equal?
A: Those who are less important are gently and politely informed of this.
Q: How do you avoid “baking the solution” into the problem statement?
A: By actively blocking these attempts. By reminding everyone of the importance of ownership and alignment.
Dessert: The Number One Missing Ingredient in Meetings
Challenge: Unproductive meetings
Goal: More productive meetings
The number one missing ingredient in meetings is the Process – the How. Make it explicit.
One final question:
Q: How to decide on decisions without a hierarchy
A: Some suggestions:
· Unanimous consent
Be explicit about the process.
Mark Voorsanger is the Founder of Skyward Coaching (www.SkywardCoaching.com), 415-606-2101. His emal address is Mark@SkywardCoaching.com
Liz Agnew is president of Integrative Leadership Strategies (www.Integrative-Leadership.com), 415.401.7822. Her email address is: email@example.com
Robert Lasater maintains this blog for the Engineering Leadership Special Interest Group of the SD Forum.