Collaboration Ninja 忍者

Work-in-progress: please join in and share your insights

The Human Element

Whether you instigated the collaboration, or you joined later, there are times when it can be challenging to be a good collaborator. How can you bring the best out in yourself and in your fellow collaborators?

Be a good participant

As cliche as it sounds, the best way to encourage good participation is to lead by example. (Roland Harwood)(Dominic Campbell)(Johnnie Moore). In the world of networked leadership, leadership is more about influence than about being an all knowing all seeing heroic leader on a pedestal (Johnnie Moore). So as a leader exercise your influence by acting with the integrity, respect and the good communication you know is necessary to sew the seeds of trust. We’re keen in our culture to put leaders up on a pedestal, and then tear them down when things go wrong. But in order for collaborations to succeed, we need shared risk and shared reward so you need to encourage that responsibility and mindset and understanding as a good participant.
As a participating leader, we also have the responsibility to “set a tone that embraces diverse opinions… a practiced invitation to a way of being in the world” (Johnnie Moore) so that even if we disagree, or are challenged by someone’s opinion, in listening and being open to it, we encourage others to do the same. This can be reflected also in text-based communication:  for example on a blog being willing to take comments will foster a space for openness.

Leading in the networked world….

A recent phenomenon within the marketing world is a re-emphasis on the tribal nature of man. When you look at human evolution, it is clear that we’re actually a herd species: meaning we succeed as a group, so are hard wired to seek out where we belong. One of the greatest impacts of the Internet is it allows us to find our tribe faster and more effectively. With the rise of the Internet we can track our ‘networks of influence’ and find our tribes. (Mark Earls, and Seth Godin are both good sources to explore for more information on the tribal man).

Within these tribal networks of influence leadership can look quite different. Chris Thorpe encourages us to consider leadership as the person within a certain sector of a network that has more influence; who’s voice is amplified. The reason for this influence is often based on social capital and reputation points that increase someone’s standing in the community. But in many of the quick, self-organizing successful collaborations we are seeing today: “You don’t necessarily have leaders- you just have one of your friends who sits at the forefront of each of these things, who gets you involved.”Chris Thorpe

Because of this influence and these networks, the Internet makes it easier for leaders to step back and allow the tribe members or the community of practice members to start taking more responsibility and interacting with each other far more than in a geographical community (Geoff Brown). When this happens, when this chaordic structure takes over, it’s important for leaders to focus on empowerment. Empower people to step up, participate, and have their voices heard and become new leaders of new cells, bringing new people in, empowering further self-organization.

Leadership as facilitation- hold the space and allow for real creativity and innovation

“More and more the problem solving model for leaders is not how I can fix the problem but what community can I bring together to fix the problem”- Dan Munz

The new model of leadership for this networked world may be closer to what we consider facilitation: finding a way to channel the desires of the community you’re participating in. The best leader/facilitators invite people to something meaningful, then hold the space to allow different voices to be heard and true creativity to emerge. It’s very difficult to facilitate a group well, demanding a high degree of presence: “There’s a real skill and a real art to taking a real temperature of the room, of how people are feeling about a particular conversation – allowing it to emerge. Sometimes that can be a bit uncomfortable, and sometimes there are silences: you need to be careful not to close things down too soon, to move things on to the next stage. A loose, open style is important.”Roland Harwood

Johnnie Moore and Geoff Brown both draw on the knowledge and wisdom of improv comedy. In improv the rule of thumb is ‘yes and.’ Every conversation that is brought to the table is an invitation. Say yes to that invitation, and….

If all conversations are an invitation, than an important role of the facilitator is to help route all conversations to a productive place without killing the creativity. We all know the difficulty of flame wars (prolonged exchange of deliberately hostile messages over the Internet) and disruptive argumentation. The facilitator needs to find a way to make those conversations productive, frame them as an invitation without killing the value of the conversation.

“we become blind to the importance of relationship, then we start to loose the trust… If a group is getting bullied into getting on with it and getting to the outcome..whats also then happening is, people are getting interrupted, people’s contributions are being dismissed because somehow they’re being seen by one person as not relevant to the goal. Then you start to undermine the fabric of the group, and although you might appear to be getting back on task, you might have killed off quite a lot of the creative spirit.” – Johnnie Moore

Facilitation in on-line communities

It’s still difficult to know what facilitation looks like in on-line communities. But Joel Marrion has shared some ways to consider the leader/facilitator/enforcer:

“Terms of use, clear mandates, vision statements, simply worded introductions, and even collectively accepted taxonomies (via glossaries or FAQs) go a long way towards keeping people “on track.” These give leaders clear guidelines from which to shift from collaborator to enforcer. ie: “it’s not me (and my perceived self-interest) telling you to stop your flame war, I’m just enforcing the terms of use. Also, leaders have to accept a high degree of chaos, and the reality that it may take a thousand dead-ends to come up with one amazing result. Finally, learning how to paraphrase, summarize, and organize ideas in an objective manner are fundamental to productive collaborations. If a leader is seen to be directing a collaboration in their own preferred direction they will quickly lose others’ buy-in. From this vantage, technologically speaking, tools like tagging and associating related content become essential.”

Different types of leadership are needed at different phases of collaboration

We would hate to give the impression that you don’t need leaders in the networked world. Leadership is just as important as ever, it just might look a bit different than the ‘heroic’ leader our culture has become quite used to. The first thing a leader needs to ask is where along the collaborative process are you?

  • Are we exploring something new where we’re barely certain of the problem?
  • Are we trying to develop an idea that’s pretty well formed?
  • Are we trying to bring some new idea to the market and proliferate it?

All three phases require different types of leadership. Dominic Campbell encourages us to think through those phases as needing different levels of openness and control. At the beginning we need great openness and creativity and room for exploration, in the middle we need to close things down a bit and develop, and at the end we can open up once again to find creative ways to utilize the idea.

As an expert regarding the collaborative innovation process, Roland Harwood has particular advice for those of us leading through these phases. During exploration, he encourages us to consider the concept of robust uncertainty and what it’s like to lead through robust uncertainty. This involves stating upfront how things will work. “You give people comfort that there’s a framework. You’re also very clear that you don’t know what the outcomes are going to be and anything can happen”(Roland Harwood). Once we move past this robust uncertainty in to the development and exploitation phases we can return to more familiar command and control: “Where people have established roles and responsibilities and someone clearly taking the lead for some of those things”. –Roland Harwood

Let go of control, following a principle of empowerment

It’s important once we move into the development phase where there are greater roles are responsibilities that these roles are inspired through self-organization and empowerment. “That means you don’t give people orders, but you give them a task to do and then its up to them to decide how they want to self-organize and they want to do the task” (Peter Gloor). This ensures we don’t violate the principle of empowerment: “Its always this principle of empowerment, of listening to your employees or delegating decision making to the individual.”Peter Gloor

When examining collaborative networks, they can be stand alone ventures. However they are often operating within traditional hierarchical structures as well. In this case, Peter Gloor has some thoughts on the dangers of dis-empowering the participants in a collaboration:

“The biggest roadblock is if you have an emperor or a dictator or people in charge who do not respect the opinion of others. If in existing companies you get collaborative innovation networks off the ground, usually these are started below the radar screen of senior management, and then they are hijacked by the manager who thinks its a great thing, converts it into an official project team and he makes himself the boss. That is the best way to kill a collaborative innovation network because you have the people who wanted to feel in charge, and if they don’t feel in charge anymore they will just quit.” –Peter Gloor

Championing Leadership

Perhaps the most important role of leaders is to ‘push’ the vision. We know vision is critical for success, and at the beginning it is the leader who evangelizes on the vision’s behalf. Mark Klein calls it evangelizing, and Jon Husband calls it championing. But both identify that to jump start a project, your vision; the idea, needs a champion bringing new people in. Once that network has grown, the leader needs to refocus their energy on maintaining the project and channeling the appropriate resources. As Jon Husband says champion, then channel. Or Mark Klein puts it evangelize, then maintain.

“I think leadership is important in at least two ways. One is that every social computing tool has to get over the hump of getting a critical mass of participants. Often the way that that happens is that evangelists beat the bushes to get people to start contributing. Once enough people are contributing then it becomes self sustaining:  people start contributing because others are contributing.  But at first they’re doing it because someone asked them to. It also seems leadership can be important, as the system grows, in terms of helping to make sure the community rules evolve in a coherent way that most of the community finds satisfying. It does seem that at least initially you need someone with a clear workable vision of what those rules could be”-Mark Klein

Leadership from the top is important for organizational cultural shifts

When faced with strongly hierarchical institutions and organizations, the movement towards a flatter organizational structure is difficult, because it involves a reworking of the entire culture of the organization.  It is made much easier if it is supported from the upper echelons of leadership.  “There needs to be leaders at every level, but especially at the top. The reason the TSA idea factory worked is because the person at the top was the one that was saying we’re going to do this. We have to find a way. that was really a critical success factor in breaking down the culture and having it be successful.”Danielle Germaine

Howard Rheingold in his work consulting to make institutions more collaborative has drawn similar conclusions.

“Most people already have 100% of their time obligated to delivering what they need to deliver for their job. So if you’re going to ask them to add 10% of their time 20% of their time to participating in a new kind of collaboration…without incentive for doing that or some lack of penalty for doing that then it’s unlikely to happen. If the boss if the person at the very top is enthusiastic about it that makes it different. But….unless some positive measures are taken by the upper most management then people will regard this as an intrusion into their milestones.”-Howard Rheingold

Its all about balance

There does not seem to be a rule of thumb, but most people talk about some balanced combination of leadership. Dominic Campbell calls it a ‘classic tight-lose situation’. You need your core, your nuts and bolts that are tight, but then you need to be loose and give people the freedom to breath. Geoff Brown prefers to think in terms of Seth Godin’s book on tribal leadership where a leader initially motivates, creates action, then steps back while always keeping an eye and knowing when to step back in and create more movement. “The posture is  leading and creating movement and activity and then stepping back but not doing nothing”Geoff Brown on Seth Godin

Jon Husband sums up the combination of leadership mentalities nicely:

“In terms of leadership, there are thousands of articles about command and control vs. some degree of letting go of control. I coined a phrase that’s complementary: champion and channel. Champion ideas, channel resources to where ideas can take route, than coordinate the activities… leadership as champions as facilitators and as coaches for supporting innovation extending it throughout an organization and into a market.”Jon Husband


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