Collaboration and Change


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I’m an expert on change and leadership, but my most popular speaking topic this past year, and the one I’m already getting the most requests for in 2006, is “Creative Collaboration. ” This is because my corporate clients around the world (two of next year’s programs are scheduled for the UK and Belgium) are realizing that successful organizational transformation is increasing dependent on employee engagement – which, in return, is increasingly linked to employee participation in the change process.

It takes a village – or at least a workforce. Over the past 23 years, I’ve worked with a variety of very talented leaders, and one thing I know for sure: As talented as a leader may be, he (or she) can’t transform an organization, a department or a team without the support and engagement of others. Whether the change involves creating new products, services, processes - or a total reinvention of how the organization must look, operate, and position itself for the future - success dictates that the individuals impacted by change be involved in the change from the very beginning.

“I think that people will challenge any leader who states, ‘here’s where we’re going!’ before asking the question ‘where do you think we should be going?’ The most powerful leadership strategy is to allow the group to come to their own conclusions about what the challenges and solutions are. ” Joseph P. Pieroni, President, Sankyo Pharma

Visioning is a team sport. Today’s most successful leaders guide their organizations through transformation not through command and control, but through a shared purpose and vision. Leaders adopt and communicate a vision of the future that impels people beyond the boundaries and limits of the past. But if the future vision belongs only to top management, it will never be an effective force for change. The power of a vision comes truly into play only when the employees themselves have had some part in its creation.

“We created a vision for the future by engaging everyone in that conversation. Vision facilitators guided the process for the national organization, at each and every affiliate, and among the different constituents - medical directors, clinic directors, educators, etc. Although my views were strongly represented, everyone’s input was considered. The result is a cohesive vision that is owned by the entire organization. ” Gloria Feldt, President, Planned Parenthood Federation

Diversity is crucial to harnessing the full power of collaboration. Experiments at the University of Michigan found that, when challenged with a difficult problem, groups composed of highly adept members performed worse than groups whose members had varying levels of skill and knowledge. The reason for this seemingly odd outcome has to do with the power of diverse thinking. Group members who think alike or are trained in similar disciplines with similar bases of knowledge run the risk of becoming insular in their ideas. Instead of exploring alternatives, a confirmation bias takes over and members tend to reinforce one another’s predisposition. Diversity causes people to consider perspectives and possibilities that would otherwise be ignored.

The following is excerpted from a letter to Marriott managers from the Lodging Director of Diversity: “We must begin to see diversity as an asset to our business and encourage the special talents and diverse perspectives of each associate to produce quality service of superior value for all of our customers. ”

Relationships are key. The successful outcome of delegating change management to teams depends on how well you have developed trust-based relationships among team members. All too often, in the rush to get started on the project, we put people together and tell them to “get to work. " This approach proves less than productive, as the group hasn't had time to discover each other's strengths and weaknesses nor to develop a common understanding and vision for the project.

Here’s what a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) employee had to say while participating on a conference panel about collaboration in catastrophes: “We must know others before working together in an emergency. If we are strangers in a crisis, that is a BIG problem. ”

And, by the way, when I’m called on to share my insights on “Creative Collaboration, ” it’s not only to speak about it - but also to facilitate an actual session.

That’s because today’s corporation exists in an increasingly complex and ever- shifting ocean of change. As a result, leaders need to rely more than ever on the intelligence and resourcefulness of their staff. Collaboration is not simply talking about the need to seek input from employees. It’s about actually giving them ownership of change efforts and acknowledging the essential truth - that none of us is smarter than all of us.

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph. D. , speaks on creative collaboration, change and leadership to association, government, and business audiences around the world. She can be reached by phone: 510-526-1727, email: , or through her website: .


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