MORE Collaboration: and..More DeMarco Banter


It has been several years now that I have been interested in pulling apart the Crisis, Complexity and Confusion (C3) we increasingly find ourselves living in. About the best I have come up with in doing so is to engage in Communication, Collaboration, and Creative thinking (3Cs).

I see much of the C3 in the world around us and I am sure many see this at work. The Communication piece of the 3Cs really should not be difficult, if you are indeed a Greater Good Leader or at best a Servant Leader. Taking care your team requires shared two way communication, but I am constantly amazed at how we lack clear and effective communication streams. I know I am guilty of less than stellar communication flow so I routinely try to default to over-communication. If the team gets too much data, so be it…but I have yet to hear someone say…wow, that is just too much information and now I can not perform my job.

Today I am really pondering collaboration as I don’t have a clear mantra on it. Sure I can tell folks we should over-communicate, but what do we say about collaboration? Part of the issue I believe….is we can not even begin to collaborate until we have excellent communication, so perhaps I have yet to get there in my life first.

Collaboration is working together to achieve a goal. It is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals.

Collaboration is probably the most needed quality among a team amidst the pressures of crisis, complexity and confusion–but how do we get our teams to collaborate? My plan is to focus on four areas.

1) Perception: The leader must view his/her team as collaborators, NOT competitors and that in turn must permeate the very identity of the team.

2) Attitude: We have to be supportive not suspicious of the people we work with and as leaders we must model this for our folks. Too many times we have all witnessed people that assume there must be an ulterior motive to people wanting to work together…not a healthy place for a team to be.

3) Focus: The concentration MUST be on the team, NOT the individual. How many times do we hear leaders say MY secretary, MY assistant, MY people, MY, MY, MY…. isn’t it really ours? The MY, ME, MINE attitude must be ruthlessly attacked and destroyed.

4) Results: Great victories may seem rare…but they truly occur through multiplication–collaboration has a multiplying effect on everything your organization does, it gives true ownership to the entire team…and incredible pride when the team can say… WE did that! Collaboration harnesses and releases not only the individual skills of your folks, but of everyone on the team.

Just a few thoughts for a Wednesday… anything to add or subtract? Does the above make sense?

The four principles above are adapted from John Maxwell’s book “The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player.” A must read for any leader…


21 Replies to “MORE Collaboration: and..More DeMarco Banter”

  1. Bill, good thoughts! One of the barriers to collaboration is an embedded NIH syndrome (Not Invented Here). I worked in an environment where a couple of us had had enough of that and decided to start openly celebrating PFE – Proudly Found Elsewhere. Once we showed it was ok to steal ideas, processes, etc. from elsewhere – along with putting our own stamp on it – others quickly followed. The main thing was to openly challenge the mindset to break the cycle. We joked about it a lot as well. The humor helped make it discussable. There that communication thing again…

    1. LOVE IT! And we get a lot of the same around here…and that was the thought process on bringing in business leaders and consultants at the 100th… we don’t need to have all the ideas…the ideas are out there, we just need to modify and implement. Thanks Roger

      1. A good point, Bill. When someone says that it’s time to think outside-the-box, the quickest route to those breakthrough ideas is to bring in fresh sets of eyes from people who live outside your box.

        A few weeks ago I head a keynote speaker, Bretrand Piccard, share an example of about innovation through collaboration. Bertrand is known for two things – first non-stop balloon flight around the earth and the first non-stop 24 hour flight by a solar powered airplane. During his talk he explained about the time when his team went with their design plans for a superlight composite frame to all the companies with experience building planes from composites and how all those companies said it couldn’t be done. So they then went to a company with composite experience but no airplane experience and they said “let’s give it a try”, and they succeeded.

        Maybe the personal development lesson here is to stop with trying so hard to think outside the box and start trying to expand networks outside one’s own industry and professional concentration and to bring in “outsiders” to help when old patterns no longer deliver breakthroughs. Didn’t you mention that in one of your recent posts?!

      2. There are several industry and academic leaders that we need to partner with in the DoD. The problem seems to be… having to acknowledge we (DoD) don’t have it all together. It would appear our “brand” is leadership in the military… and that is true to an extent, but if we are not growing, learning, stretching, we are failing… I am not sure I see the growing and stretching anymore. So partnering/collaborating is the way to continue the growth. This is nothing new…but I saw it in action when I took courses at Cambridge with The Judge Business School… Leaders from all over the world coming together and learning from each other…comparing and contrasting ways of thinking and processing information. It was very cool… so how do we institutionalize this form of collaboration? I fear I am thinking too narrowly when I say “institutionalize.” Hummm… more to think about today…
        Thanks Roger!

      3. These patterns are tough to break so baby steps and constant (peer) pressure is a way to get started. I did some work with a product development group within a large multinational that needed to stop burning up time and resources trying to create everything itself. One of the biggest innovations was in goal setting. Their SOP had been to always set annual targets. I advised them to institute 10-30-100 goal setting for all 2000 people involved and to look for ways to immediately recognize and reward the new “right” behavior. What will you do in the next 10 days to increase collaboration? (action) Over the next 30 days? (action) What will be the result in 100 days? (measurable result/target). They went for this and within 3 months, the organization was already seeing and reaping a positive return on the new mindset / way of working. If they had stuck with the old annual target setting then they may have never seen any results or been able to build momentum.

  2. I really appreciated this post and the discussion. Thanks for sharing it! Of course, I am very biased because it dovetails nicely with the message of my book “Power through Collaboration: When to Collaborate, Negotiate, or Dominate!”

  3. Sir, in some organizations, you can have all the communication in the world but without strategy, mission and vision (SMV) to build around, it’s incredibly tough to take that next step of collaboration. A team has to have goals as you’ve stated above. A subordinate leader can have plenty of “small” goals for the team to achieve but without that strategic view to drive towards, all you will be able to do is communicate. I don’t think there are flaws with 3Cs… But just like plants need oxygen and sunlight, collaboration requires a grander SMV to drive towards. I honestly believe that under your span of control, collaboration is occurring…. It’s just very small and hard to see because we don’t have that next level of focus to lead us to an actionable future… We’re all floating in the pond of professional life waiting for the next wave to bring us closer to shore… Reactive… But we can and we will get there. I can only imagine the depths of creativity our manpower saturated organization could create given the right push.

  4. Kevin, you raise an excellent issue. I agree regarding the importance of the SMV. A meaningful and compelling SMV is certainly part and parcel of the ‘process’ of collaborating. They go together, as in your sunlight and oxygen analogy. But in my opinion, it is best that communication and collaboration precede the SMV.

    Without pre-existing communication and collaboration, SMVs are are at greater risk of being useless, or even counterproductive or destructive. People who want to collaborate around it will feel disempowered. A non-contoversial example would be the SMV of Custard’s last stand. All of us have probably witnessed if not directly experienced more recent examples. Pick your choice.

    IMHO to generate an effective SMV requires that the person or persons performing that function be working collaboratively with the involved stakeholders.

    (P.S. Thanks Bill for posting the thumbnail of my book. It looks good!)

    1. To the points of both Stephen and Kevin, there is much research which shows that high performing organizations are rated very highly by stakeholders as have “open communication”, “trustworthy leadership”, and a “motivating vision of the future”. The statistical analysis also shows that these characteristics are highly interdependent. Should one begin to fail, the others will also begin to fail. The good thing is that it works the other way, too.

      1. Yes, Roger, I agree about all of these factors being highly interdependent. I prefer collaboration as the top domain factor because it involves and organizes for results all of the others.

        I also like you point that things potentially can go both ways – devolving or evolving. Thanks.

  5. Gentlemen,

    Great inputs to a critical concept for any 21st century organization. My question – do we need to chase collaboration? Other options: generate collaborative gains through a deliberate communication processes.

    My two cents from an industry immersion I did a few years ago: The company exposed us to its 4 DNA structures that (in their opinion) affect the rest of the organizational life (customer interraction, processes, learning and growth). Communication, or “how people communicate” was one of the four. Collaboration was not…;). This company was and remains an industry leader, posting profits and ever expanding its market share even in tough economic times.

    I am not saying collaboration is not important – we can all agree as to its criticality. But trying to enhance it directly may be similar to chemotheraphy – effective, yet brutal to the body especially in high dosage. On the other hand, constant “gene theraphy” may allow organic growth of proper collaborative efforts.

    Complex issues hide simple and elegant solutions. The money maker is in finding them…

    1. Drei: interesting points and I am not a big corporation, would never pretend to be…this is simply DeMarco banter as developed over several years…fighting C3 with 3Cs was something I began to ponder while at RAF Mildenhall.

      We live in a world of Crisis, Complexity, and Confusion…the way to fight or clear that is through Communication, Collaboration, and Creative Thinking.

      Communication is the first step…next collaborate, you can not collaborate without communication…next is creative thinking and of course you need the first 2 to get to the third…wrote a piece on this some time ago…might be simplistic, but I’m a pretty simple guy.

      Either way to solve problems, to get beyond the status quo,,, I content you need collaboration.,,you can force it, you can’t chase it, you need a compelling vision to drive folks to it…we are better together

      1. “Fighting C3 with 3Cs” is a great story line, Bill. I also like the way you have laid out how Communication first, then Collaboration, Creativity third. What comes next? May I suggest that when people are ready for an expansion of the story then it becomes “fighting C3I with 3CI” – the first “I” being “Information overload” and the second being “Innovation”. You often speak of the need for innovation so the theme has a secure place in your story. I also think it fits nicely after “Creativity”. No Collaboration without Communication. No Innovation without Creativity. To this point, I’d like to share a blog post I came across in WSJ that contends that organizations are demanding innovation while stifling imagination, aka. Creativity.

  6. Speaking as an advocate for collaboration even in challenging situations, I would suggest that complex issues only occasionally can be resolved with simple solutions. When they can, that is great, but not a reason to avoid directly working on complex solutions. An aircraft carrier and submarine and fighter jet and space shuttle are all complex solutions built on a foundation of other complex solutions. And despite being a cascade of complex systems and subsystems they evolved with effort and experience to work better and better.

    Ditto for collaboration in the people/organizational systems realm. Sometimes it is complex to achieve, but there are formulas and systems and methods and processes to do so. And when it works it works great.

    Sometimes collaboration is the best way to get results. Sometimes it is the only way to get good results. In those situations it is worth chasing and working hard for and directly dealing with whatever complexity is involved. Just like when building complex shuttles or carrier groups because they are the best options for their missions, etc.

    Peter Drucker is considered to be one of the top management consultants (and author of 39 books!!). He was a big advocate for collaboration, but infrequently used the C word. He typically referred to teamwork, shared values, effective communication, common goals, overriding mission, etc. Similarly with the company you describe. Research shows collaboration to be a powerful organizational success factor. I would guess that if the company was highly successful that collaboration was in the mix somewhere, regardless of what they called it, as all of these factors are interdependent (as Roger points out in his previous comment).

  7. Stephen: Agree, but I also believe we can simplify even the complex to allow for conversations at all levels. This is something I am learning in this job. Would love to take a deep dive into leadership theory, thought, and concepts… but many college students don’t even have the basics for that dialog– so we simplify. I found the same thing in many other commands… we have always had a strategy and a vision for where we are going… some can grasp the deeper more complex issues and as they do we bring the more junior folks along in a more simply form of the complex. Isn’t that where simplicity lives… in the complexity? Or does the complex live in the simple?

    “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” -Lao Tzu

    “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
    Leonardo da Vinci

  8. Yes, I very much agree and you put it well. We need to simply in order to communicate more broadly, and also especially to implement. The complex needs to be broken down into chunks that people can grasp and work with within their skill sets, responsibilities, and abilities in order to get anything accomplished.

    Whether simplicity lives in the complexity or vice versa is a great mind-bender. Too complex for me!!!

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