A Collaborative Mind-set

This article was first published on 8 April 2014 in BT Let's Talk

We strive to be effective executives and managers, but what does that mean?

In answering this question, management thinkers have tended to focus on one particular aspect of managing. So Henri Fayol, the “father” of industrial management, says it’s about controlling. Tom Peters emphasises doing – “Don’t think, do” he extolls. Michael Porter prefers to equate managing with analysing. Warren Beavis likes to focus on leading and Herbert Simon on decision making.

We know that effective managing isn’t one of these things but all of them. What’s more we know managing is rarely well-structured and orderly. Rather it takes place in a spontaneous manner, with plenty of interruptions, changes of direction; in fact there is more reacting than initiating.

To answer the question about what makes us effective, Henry Mintzberg, in his book Managing, describes five mind-sets which managers must possess. The first is an analytic mind set – managers need to be logical and be prepared to go into detail but not be paralysed by it. As a counterweight, worldly is the second mind set- experienced in life, sophisticated and practical. Linking these two is the collaborative mind set – helping people work together. The fourth is proactive – be a change agent. The fifth is reflective – willing to learn from experience.

Rehan Khan, Regional Consulting Director, BT MENA

Let’s examine in some more detail the collaborative mind set. Collaboration is a social task – it relies on people working together to achieve a shared goal by getting them to talk, share, debate and create. The firm W. L. Gore & Associates is an exemplar in this. Famous for Gore-Tex, a waterproof fabric membrane, it is also a leader in electronics, fabrics, industrial and medical products. It has 10,000 employees or associates generating more than $2 billion in annual revenues. And it has no managers, no organisational chart and few people have titles. Even the CEO is selected by the associates. It’s set up as a lattice, so you serve your peers rather than a boss and collaboration is the only way to stick to the firm’s goal to “make money and have fun”.

Google is another firm, in which the founders maintain the principles of collaboration. Its headquarters, Googleplex, feels like a University campus and teams work in small units of three to six engineers. They are encouraged by the physical environment to bounce ideas off one another and collaborate. The founders know that serendipity played a huge part in their early success and they want to maintain a company culture in which it can keep happening.

Organisations today are employing a broad spectrum of technology tools to foster collaboration inside and outside the boundaries of the firm. These range from audio and video conferencing solutions to IM and Unified Communications, to name a few. One of the challenges managers face with collaboration technology is that there is no “off-switch” – immediacy of response has become the new normal. Employees run the risk of feeling bunt out as their work life encroaches on their personal time. More agile organisations have turned this problem on its head. They encourage employees to work in a flexible manner, so work isn’t a place you come to but what you do.

BT has circa 100,000 employees and in the past decade has steered away from a culture of “face-time” where we expect employees to sit at their desks during working hours; towards a culture of performance management, in which we see work as an activity, not a location. People are measured on what they achieved and how they achieved it. The What? for a Product Manager might be that she launched the product upgrade on time. The How? will be that she worked collaboratively with technology, service management and finance colleagues.

Dr Nicola Millard, a customer experience futurologist at BT, identifies five roles which managers need to perform in the digital age to foster collaboration and make them more effective in their roles. She says they will need to be architects, shaping the environment in which their teams collaborate. Secondly, craftsmen, choosing the right collaboration tools for the job – when is audio best, or Lync, or telepresence. They will need to be like a radio show host, galvanising the team to collaborate, particularly across platforms such as video conferencing. The manager will also need to be an empath, developing a highly tuned sense of how to energise and engage people working from remote locations who don’t have the benefit of using an office for social interaction. And finally they will need to be revolutionary, never satisfied with the status quo, always curious to understand how things can be done better.

If you’d like to know how things can be done better and how BT’s collaboration technology portfolio can help you become a more effective manager then please contact your BT Account Manager, visitwww.virtualshowcase.bt.com or download the BT One app from the App Store.