Discover The 'Collaboration Code' For Innovation

Developing an alternative mindset for helping teams effectively 'collaborate to innovate'


Based on IBM’s 2013 C-Suite Study, we know that CEO’s are looking to grow their respective businesses through innovation – with collaboration being the key to achieving this goal. Technology was acknowledged as an enabler in this pursuit.

For organizations to be successful in their pursuit to innovate, the initial challenge is to develop a 'mindset' that aligns with genuine collaboration before pursuing the development of collaboration skills. Why mindset before skill-set?

Most people (and organizations) in the United States, for example, don’t really function with a mindset that supports genuine collaborative teamwork. The typical mindset supports 'group-work' that is more about cooperating with others, coordinating with others and the like. The terms 'team and teamwork' are used so frequently in our business culture to describe this type of group activity, they’ve become clichés. This all goes back to looking at how metaphors used in the past – and today – continue to reinforce individual performance and recognition over collective (team) performance and recognition. In their best-selling book, The Wisdom of Teams (HBR Press, 1992) Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith were two of the first to talk about this conflict when they wrote, 'at their core, most people have values that favor individual responsibility and performance over any form of groups, whether it be a team or otherwise.'

The importance of mindset (i.e., underlying assumptions) in shaping values and behaviors cannot be underestimated. If we go back and look at Edgar Schein’s model described in his book, Organizational Culture and Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 1986), he describes three levels that make up an organization’s culture…with underlying assumptions (i.e., mindset) serving as the core to understanding and managing culture. In Schein’s highly credible model, underlying assumptions shape values and eventually, influence behaviors.

If changing underlying assumptions to support collaboration is accepted as a key challenge to pursuing innovation, 'the next question becomes one of how to cultivate an alternative understanding of teamwork such that collaboration becomes more realistic or at least more realizable,' reports Danah Zohar in her 2007 Abstract, An Alternative Sports Metaphor for Understanding Teamwork as Complex: Soccer. 'And alternative mindsets aren’t simply inserted as new software – they must be learned,' she adds.

When I wrote my book, The Collaborator: Discover Soccer as a Metaphor for Global Business Leadership (2007), I described eleven operating principles, along with a series of competencies focused on collaboration, aligned with these principles to describe how an organization can cultivate an alternative understanding of collaborative teamwork by introducing soccer’s metaphor in the form of an operating platform. When applied, it unlocks the 'collaboration-code' for managing globally.

The Center for Creative Leadership stated in its Future Trends in Leadership Development report (published in 2014) that, 'researchers (over the past 10 years) have shown that innovation is a result of large numbers of connection points in a network that cause existing ideas to be combined in new ways. The report goes on to state that, 'innovation doesn’t emanate from individual people; it lives in the social network.'

With that being said, the game of soccer provides a viable option for understanding genuine collaborative teamwork. In soccer, for example, a large – if not infinite – number of connection points are created in a network consisting of eleven players on the field who operate in a dynamic fashion under constantly changing conditions. Moving the ball down the field equates to causing existing ideas (i.e., plays) to be combined in new ways for the purpose of scoring a goal – or innovating!


Inno balls small

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