Collaboration is one of the key elements of President Obama’s signature Open Government Initiative. However, federal agencies’ Open Government Plans don’t seem to address it very well. But collaboration expert Russ Linden says “collaboration is vital, difficult, and learnable.” And he’s written a book that makes all three of these points.
If you, like many other in government, think collaboration is becoming a critical part of your being successful, his “how to” book is worth reading. In “Leading Across Boundaries,” Linden draws on two decades of insights, noting:
“Most people in Western countries have two fundamental needs that must be met if they are to be effective in the workplace. These needs are (1) to be competent (and respected as such) and (2) to belong, to connect to something larger than themselves.
“These two needs are expressed in four questions that most team members ask (not necessarily out loud):
- Do I have something to contribute that is needed, recognized, and used by the team?
- Are we working on a project that is important to me and my own organization?
- Are we making progress: do we have a reasonable chance for success?
- How will this project support or threaten any of my core needs or interests (and those of my home organization)?”
He goes on to observe that when team members can answer these positively, that there’s a greater chance for collaborative behavior in the team, and that collaboration is a means to an end, and not an end in itself.
It’s Vital. Linden illustrates how a collaborative mindset is vital with the story of Hurricane Katrina, where FEMA director Michael Brown thought his job was to manage FEMA and couldn’t control other agencies outside his span of control. In contrast, his successor, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, saw his role as coordinating a huge network of agencies. He did this by emphasizing transparency of information a ongoing communications.
It’s Difficult. Linden covers all the tough parts of doing collaboration: how do you create and sustain trust among the group’s members? How do you share information? How do you navigate the different organizational cultures that may be involved in a collaboration (for example, how do you. blend law enforcement and social workers on the same team)? And how do you deal with difficult people? He notes that “collaboration inevitably requires negotiation, give and take, and compromise. Each is easier in the context of a trusting relationship.” But you often face “huge egos, empire builders, information hoarders, and cultures that reinforce them.” He offers examples, and techniques to help overcome these difficulties.
It’s Learnable. The most encouraging part of Linden’s book is that collaborative mindsets are learnable. He offers key collaborative factors (such as ensuring the appropriate people are at the table). He defines the tasks and roles of champions and sponsors. He offers tools and techniques. He describes strategies for establishing commitment to a project. And most importantly, he does all of this by using real-life case examples and not theory. These examples are federal, state, local, non-profit and international in scope. These include examples of co-locating operations, such as state fusion centers, and the use of data-driven approaches, such as Washington State’s GMAP initiative.
And why is Russ Linden passionate about collaboration? He concludes his book with: “I am convinced that a collaborative mindset is the leadership characteristic most critical for dealing with the networked world of the twenty-first century.” I agree!