'As One': New book explores models for collaboration

Co-author Mehrdad Baghai talks about the new research-based approach to creating shared identity in organizations

A couple of years ago, business consultant Mehrdad Baghai and James Quigley, the global CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, were chatting about Quigley's formidable challenge of getting all 170,000 of his company's employees "on the same page," working for the collective good of the organization.

"So we started with that question -- what does it take to get large numbers of people to work as one," Baghai says during an interview stop in Boston while on a recent book promotion tour. One of the things they found was that management books tended to lay out broad advice about how leadership should work to build collaboration. "Every leader does this -- one, two, three, four -- and everyone should build an internal market, everyone should do this in innovation."

They knew that the one-size-fits-all approach wasn't what they had in mind to help groups of people develop a shared organizational identity as they worked together. "It just seemed to us that you should think about collaboration as a general good," Baghai says.

Armed with the notion that collaboration "is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and that because the purposes might be different you might need different styles" of collaboration for different situations, they set forth to find out what had been written and what analyses already existed. What they came up with were some "notable efforts," particularly among academics, but "we wanted to find one that in a pragmatic way would help leaders act differently, so it has to be a framework" that would identify ways of collaborating, says Baghai, who lives in Sydney and also is managing director of Alchemy Growth Partners.

Because what they were searching for didn't exist in quite the way they envisioned it, they created a method to identify collaborative archetypes and the characteristics of each, which they detail in their new book, "As One: Individual Action, Collective Power," published by Penguin. Their approach also has been a springboard for the Deloitte Center for Collective Leadership, which is now open in London, as well as related apps for Apple's iPhone and iPad.

Their pragmatic approach started with reviewing hundreds of perspectives on collective action taken from a variety of academic disciplines, including science, economics and psychology. They also pulled together 60 detailed case studies to analyze successful collaborative efforts, asking a set of questions for more than 100 factors about those organizations, such as their structure, systems and processes, leadership, and how they communicate.

They took that data and used a self-organizing map (SOM), a sophisticated forensic data analytic method to "identify distinct modes of As One behavior," as the book explains. The SOM helped them identify recognizable models of collaboration. For instance, some organizations operate akin to a "conductor and orchestra," with "highly scripted and clearly defined roles that focus on precision and efficiency in execution as defined by the conductor." The archetype "community organizer and volunteers" works from a bottom-up model, while "captain and sports team" has "minimal hierarchy" and is highly adaptable to a rapidly changing situation, as would be found on a playing field.

Each archetype is examined in-depth in individual chapters in the book, which reads like a combination of a management book, a textbook and a how-to primer. Each archetype is bolstered by explanatory case studies -- Apple's App Store, for instance, is highlighted as a case study for the "landlord and tenants" model of collaboration; Linux is a case study in the "community organizer and volunteers" approach (along with Gandhi); and Cirque du Soleil is a study for the "producer and creative team" method.

Part of the idea behind establishing such easily recognizable and understandable models of collaboration was to then provide "language around the archetypes." In other words, "how do you make a group conscious about what you need to do to succeed. If you give them language around the archetypes, they can focus on them." Baghai uses a recent real-life example from the sports world, recalling how the Miami Heat basketball team got off to a rough start this season, despite all of the hope -- and hype -- after LeBron James and Chris Bosh signed with the team. Their fellow superstar Dwyane Wade already played for Miami. But superstars do not necessarily a team make.

Asked if he'd seen the press conference where James said after the team started to gel that it just took him a while to figure out Wade's style of play, Baghai says he hadn't, but his eyes light with recognition -- that, too, feeds directly into the model of coaches and a team working together. "The key to being on a team is knowing what the other guys are going to do," he says, adding that it's also crucial to not go into games with a set playbook, but to be flexible depending on what the other team does as well. "You have to be reacting to the field of play -- one of the things they had to do was change their mode of play."

Other collaborative archetypes outlined in the book are more rigid and, as Baghai notes, it's often the case in work environments (and other interactions with people, in fact) that the best model for working together as one will shift now and again depending on the task or situation. For instance, even within organizations that aren't heavily hierarchical or rigid, there are times when a supervisor just has to tell someone how something is going to be done a particular way and that's that. The book offers guidance on moving fluidly from one collaboration archetype to another, lists and examines characteristics of each, and provides questions to ask to determine the archetype an organization most fits with and how to tell if a particular archetype might not be a good fit.

Establishing what archetype is in play in an organization, remaining conscious of how people interact in that model and seeking ways to support its use can help to overcome the "false sense of commitment" that can stymie attempts to get people to work for the collective good, he says. "Say you need to lift this conference table," Baghai says, gesturing to the table in front of him. "There will be those who circle around it and get at lifting it. There will also be those who say, 'it's a great idea to raise the table, but it's not my job to lift the table,'" and those are the people whose commitment is false.

While Deloitte has moved forward to put the "As One" approach globally into place internally and with its clients, and opened the center to support those efforts, research into collaborative archetypes continues. Baghai and Quigley -- who were assisted with the book by Ainar Aijala, Sabri Challah and Gerhard Vorster -- believe that eight archetypes just scratches the surface. They're now at work to establish a taxonomy around collaboration, which has in many respects been left to management intuition rather than being clearly established with identifying characteristics and behaviors.

He likens the continuing process to one of discovering an animal, naming it and then identifying its genus and species as part of the taxonomy. He expects that as they explore a taxonomy structure around the archetypes, they'll find subcategories within each and undoubtedly other archetypes, each with its own genus and species.

"These forms of 'as one' behavior exist out there -- it's just that we've never rigorously put a taxonomy around them," he says. "We see 'As One' as the first listing of this."

(A video of part of the interview with Baghai has been posted online.)

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Tags business managementIT managementAppleMehrdad BaghaiJames QuigleyAlchemy Growth PartnersDeloitte Center for Collective LeadershipDeloitte Touche Tohmatsu

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