Collaborative Change

Collaborative Change

“The only thing of real importance that people in business do is to create and manage culture.”

~ Edgar Schein (adapted)

If we believe in the Myth of Leadership, we may leave it up to “the leaders” to lead change. Incollaborative organisations, where leadership is more distributed and diffuse, this can be a recipe for frustration, inaction and diffusion of effort.

For some clues on how to procede with collaborative change, how about we take a look at Schein’s culture change actions though the lens of fellowship:

Primary Actions


To what issues, and topics do we wish to pay our (limited) attention? What do we believe is most important? The present or the future? The business or the people? Revenues or growth? The exclusive needs of customers, shareholders, executives or employers, or some balance? The way the work works, or getting work done? Joy or wages? And etc. A collaborative organisation that does not pay attention to where it’s focussing its attention will find itself uselessly spinning its wheels.

Further, what are the limits to our seeing? How can we expand our horizons such that we begin to see things hitherto invisible and unknown to us?

“We do not think and talk about what we see; we see what we are able to think and talk about.”

~ Schein

Reactions To Crises

In times of crisis, how do we react? Do we hunker down and each look after ourselves, or do we rally round and look after each other? What do our reactions tell us about who we are? Is that who we aspire to be?

Role Modelling

People listen to others, and more significantly, carefully watch what they do. In any mismatch between someone’s words and their deeds, the actions generally say more than the words. “Actions speak louder…”.

People also tend to assume that the behaviours they commonly see in others are the accepted way to behave, and thus tend to conform to those behaviours. Are those the kinds of behaviours helpful? Will they lead towards the future we seek?

Allocation Of Rewards

When we’re trying to encourage collaboration, rewarding individuals might seem… discongruent?

Inclusion And Exclusion

Inclusion and exclusion – of people into or from working groups, teams, tasks, etc. – is critical for choosing who does what, and also often seen as a form of reward or punishment. Collaborative groups who lose sight of the kinds of changes they’re jointly trying to effect, and of the kinds of behaviours they’re jointly wanting to strengthen, often forget about the far-reaching implications of inclusion and exclusion decisions.

Secondary Actions

Design Of Organisational Structure

Conway’s Law (as applied to organisational systems) echoes the more familiar ‘function follows form’, and ‘first we create our organisations and then they create us’. The “shape” of our organization will have a subtle effect on how we operate. Organisations seeking to become more collaborative benefit from structure(s) which encourage and enable that collaboration.

Design Of Systems and Procedures

The systems, policies, processes and procedures by which an organisation is run have a wide effect on how people think. Such systems include budgeting, information systems, performance reviews and people-development activities. Deliberate design of these can ensure alignment with collaboration objectives.

Design Of Facilities

The layout of offices, meeting rooms, etc. often reflects subconsciously the values of an organization, both in terms of who sits near whom, and also in the differentiation in benefits that individuals are given. Effective collaboration does not necessarily require strict equality, but have you thought about the implications of these things?

Stories, Legends and Myths

The stories that people tell and re-tell in organisations typically reflect the values and beliefs of the culture. Hence, changing the stories will tend to change the culture. This is particularly powerful as it is spread at the individual level and hence has grass-roots support and credibility. How we choose to describe our histories and events have a profound effect on the emergence of a particular kind of culture. Creating and telling stories together, explicitly, can help us build the kind of collaborative culture we seek.

Formal statements

Formal statements by “the organisation”, although not always as credible as grass-roots whisperings, are the public face of the organisation – both internally and externally. Who gets to write and present these statements? Some individual(s) – or a group/groups?

– Bob