All Together Now

Posted on Jul 20, 2011 | 4 Comments

The traditional industry model is built on institutional loyalty. The new “free agent” model is built on individualism. But neither of these, according to an article in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review, “creates the conditions for collaborative trust that business today requires.”

And so the piece—by Paul AdlerCharles Heckscher and Laurence Prusak—calls for a “new type of organization that excels at combining the knowledge of diverse specialists” to create “a collaborative community.”

Successful examples of such collaborative communities, the authors say, can be found at IBM, Citibank, NASA and Kaiser Permanente. What these places have in common are, among other things, an “ethic of contribution,” a “shared purpose,” and an “infrastructure in which collaboration is valued and rewarded.”

While Peter Drucker rarely wrote about “collaboration” per se, he certainly captured its spirit. “The modern organization,” he wrote in his own HBR essay 19 years ago, “cannot be an organization of boss and subordinate. It must be organized as a team.”

Beyond that, Drucker hit on many of the same components of collaboration that HBR highlights. For instance, the ethic of contribution, as we’ve noted before, was one that Drucker frequently stressed. “The question is not: ‘What do I want to contribute?’” Drucker declared. “It is not: ‘What am I told to contribute?’ It is: ‘What should I contribute?’”

Likewise, imbuing an organization with a sense of shared purpose was also something Drucker considered to be essential. “Every enterprise requires commitment to common goals and shared values,” Drucker asserted in The New Realities. “Without such commitment there is no enterprise; there is only a mob.”

And Drucker devoted a lot of thought to how organizations should foster what HBR calls the “infrastructure of collaboration.” “The knowledge worker. . . is usually a specialist,” Drucker wrote in his 1967 classic, The Effective Executive. “By itself, however, a specialty is a fragment and sterile. Its output has to be put together with the output of other specialists before it can produce results. The task is not to breed generalists. It is to enable the specialist to make himself and his speciality effective. This means he must think through who has to use his output and what the user needs to know and to understand to be able to make productive the fragment the specialist produces.”

What do you think is the most important way to foster healthy collaboration in a company? 


  1. James Petersen
    July 21, 2011

    Not to detract from the message but as Marshall McLuhan said “The medium is the Message.” The reason you are having formatting spacing problems in the fully justified column around the graphic is that the copy was written by some one who learned to type on a mechanical typewriter or had a teacher who did. With mechanical typewriters, each character gets the same space. It was necessary to spacebar twice after a period to set of the beginning of a new sentence. (otherwise it would look like Latin inscriptions. Computers proportionally space and take care of that problem automatically. When you repurpose printed text to electronic media, the extra spaces are elements that must be taken into account. Ergo, you get those funky looking breaks. :)

    • admin
      August 27, 2011

      There aren’t any double spaces in this post, but thanks for suggesting a possible fix. We suspect that the issue is the diversity of web browsers in use these days — each has its idiosyncrasies in the way it renders text and images and it’s time consuming work to anticipate and work around all that variation.

  2. Sergio
    July 21, 2011

    Certainly trust is one of those ways. Having a solid foundation of trust among knowledge worker teams is the primary ingredient to boosting their effectiveness. We all know obvious things that make building this type of trust difficult. Less obvious, but becoming increasingly more known is the importance of intrinsic motivation and strengths-based focus.

    With intrinsic motivation, we’re realizing more and more each day how money is not only a poor motivator, but relying on it to motivate employees will result in their decreased performance over time. Better instead to find workers who have their own inner values and drive, and as managers, ensure the work continuously aligns with their goals.

    With strengths-based focus, the goal is to build teams where the unique talents of each individual are identified during the hiring process and used to differentiate and select the right candidates. The goal is to build teams where individual strengths combine to form a team capable of a level of performance that far exceeds expectations.

    In their book, First Break all the Rules, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman point out that an individual’s strengths and intrinsic motivation are closely related. Having a management strategy that focuses on building trust by assembling teams of intrinsically motivated and uniquely talented individuals provides a start to exceptional knowledge worker team performance.

    • Barbara Bowen
      February 13, 2014

      Sergio, Thanks for your contribution. Do you know of any research/writing on the use of transparency, via digital infrastructure, to foster trust?


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