The Courage of Collaboration

This week, my friend Elliott Masie has written a guest blog.

We share    a fascination for the amazing power and complexity of collaboration and its importance in all of our endeavors.   Unfortunately, it is surprisingly difficult to implement in a way that produces great results and most folks don’t get it right.   Some of the best collaborations don’t look very good from the outside, and some that do look great, are “pseudo-collaborations”, designed for show, but hollow on the inside.  Elliott discusses some of these challenges and how to address them along with some insightful examples of innovative collaborations.

Thanks Elliot!

John Abele


Guest blog by Learning guru, Elliott Masie

  • Collaboration takes courage.
  • Collaboration can be risky – as we move from the security of our “headquarters tribe” – shedding some of our tribal identity.
  • Collaboration isn’t easy, natural or often rewarded by others.
  • Collaboration requires leaders to publically be learners – curious and open to gaining knowledge from outside their circles.

Yet, authentic collaboration is a powerful tool for leaders to stay aligned with rapidly changing marketplaces, sciences and complex missions.  Real collaboration with a diverse set of individuals and groups can deeply change both leaders and their organizations.

Over the past five years, we have been working with the 240 global corporations and government agencies in our Learning CONSORTIUM to track the changing nature of collaboration – and to study the impact of social tools/techniques on learning and leadership.

Leaders in settings as diverse as the United States Intelligence Community, technology corporations such as Google and Intel; and fields from medical to retailing – are reaching outside of their organizational walls – to collaborate with competitors, customers and unusual points of perspective.

Why?  The single motivator that these leaders from very different organizations recognize is their absolute need to be hyper-agile, continually learning and active players in knowledge/innovation networks that  are wired across corporate or agency boundaries.

Here are two very different examples about collaboration from our members:

Tablet computers, such as the iPad have posed an interesting challenge to senior corporate IT and Learning leaders of major corporations.  Once the iPad was released, employees at every level – including members of the C-Suite, showed up at work, intrigued and excited to use the new tablets as part of their everyday work process.

The problem was that Apple did not launch the iPad with a deep focus on Enterprise Computing.  And, most IT Directors were caught between their own personal interest and fascination with the new devices and a decision to keep them separate from corporate networks for a while.  Hmmm.  So, what is an IT Leader or CIO to do.

We tracked the rise of a number of unofficial Tablet Communities of Learning that sprung up outside of the enterprise – allowing senior leaders to plan, experiment and learn about what the iPad might do – without deploying them officially at first.  These IT Leaders found that they could gain better perspectives about the future of tablet computers from their colleagues in competitive organizations than they could directly from Apple.  And, they could take risks in the exploration without raising internal expectations prematurely.

These collaborations grew amongst colleagues that had grown rich and trust based external networks beyond their corporate boundaries.  And, these “communities” were not sponsored by vendors, facilitated by experts or focused on a product – rather they were just in time collaboration points needed by these leaders facing a disruptive technology.

Another great example that is ripped from the headlines is the recent “take down” of  Osama Bin Laden by the U.S. Government.  The task was not accomplished by the CIA, Department of Defense or any other single government agency.  In fact, it was the result of a multi-year intense effort that required leaders and teams to build collaborative trust, skills and behaviors that were new and essential to the mission:

  • Leaders took risks by working on joint efforts that were less about the color of their uniform, name of their agency or career ladder advancement.
  • Leaders needed to build common language, taxonomies and learning processes, to be able to collaborate from very different professional identities.
  • Leaders had to organize common collaborative tools, technologies and habits to be able to support each other as continuous, curious and evidence based learners.
  • Leaders embedded a “lessons learned” capacity into their collaboration, aware that they were moving into uncharted territory and wanting to study the impact of their own collaborative process.
  • Even in the celebration of the “take-down” there was a sense of shared and joint ownership during the process.  Many of the team members reported their own sense of collaborative process evolved dramatically through the mission.

As we look toward the growth of future leaders, it will be critical for business schools and leadership development programs to recognize the powerful role of collaboration.  Leaders will need very specific support to build, nuture and leverage collaboration as part of the strategic mission of our organizations:

  • Explicit Permissions to Collaborate:  We want to deeply permission leaders to join, lead, organize and utilize external collaborations – as an active and trusted part of their leadership roles.
  • Exemplars of Great Collaboration:  Often, a great idea was harvested from an external collaboration – but the stories about the success do not track back to the “wisdom of the crowds” moment.  Just as the Intelligence Agencies are using lessons learned models, we need to highlight and celebrate collaboration successes.
  • Some Will Fail:  Collaboration is also about failure.  Sometimes the external solutions don’t work and sometimes our ability to leverage collaboration is not yet ripe.  Prepare for a mixture of success and failure.  And, then fail forward!
  • Social is Not Collaboration:  We are not talking about having a Twitter Account, building a Facebook Page or bragging about the number of LinkedIn “Friends” you have.  This is not about social networking.  Rather it is about collaborative networking – where there are explicit understandings of knowledge, learning, innovation and best/worst practice sharing.  Some of our most “Social Media” leaders are lousy collaborators.  Let’s make sure we differentiate between the 2 phenomena.
  • Open Technologies:  Increased collaboration will create the need to have very agile and open technologies that allow a leader to participate in a range of communities and projects without visiting dozens of sites.  We need to build open models that will efficiently support collaboration.

Finally, let’s end where we started.  Collaboration takes courage!  Yet, as we go forward into the future – the lack of collaboration will be seen as stubbornness and stupidity.  I’ll vote for courage!

Elliott Masie is the Chair of The Learning CONSORTIUM and the CEO of The MASIE Center.  His website is



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About John

“John Abele is a pioneer and leader in the field of less-invasive medicine, For more than four decades, John has devoted himself to innovation in health care, business and solving social problems.” He is retired Founding Chairman of Boston Scientific Corporation. John holds numerous patents and has published and lectured extensively on the technology of various medical devices and on the technical, social, economic, and political trends and issues affecting healthcare. His major interests are science literacy for children, education, and the process by which new technology is invented, developed, and introduced to society. Current activities include Chair of the FIRST Foundation which works with high school kids to make being science-literate cool and fun, and development of The Kingbridge Centre and Institute, a conferencing institution whose mission is to research, develop, and teach improved methods for interactive conferencing: problem solving, conflict resolution, strategic planning, new methods for learning and generally help groups to become “Collectively intelligent.” He lives with his wife and two dogs in Shelburne, Vermont.”

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