The Collaborative Shift

The Collaborative Shift

Gene Rodenberry, the creator of “Star Trek,” had a great imagination, and many of the devices he created (Tricorder, which now looks a lot like my iPhone) have become reality

Gene Rodenberry, the creator of “Star Trek,” had a great imagination, and many of the devices he created (Tricorder, which now looks a lot like my iPhone) have become reality — or something close to it. (I don’t think the transporter will be created in the near future.) Rodenberry also saw “Star Trek” as a class of cultures (usually alien vs. human). In one such encounter, the Borg (a collective being, where all life forms were linked together) would fly around space in their cube-like ships and try to assimilate anything they came in contact with into their “collective.”

Thus, “Star Trek” is a metaphor for real life. Large corporations always have a culture, and anyone working for that company is absorbed into that culture. Trying to get that culture to shift is like trying to turn the Borg into Peter Pan. Any cultural shift has to happen one person at a time, as the culture is a summation of each person’s (in the company) behaviors, knowledge and experience.

In the collaboration space, most of these are shifts are in behavior. Behavior is very hard to change. If you don’t believe me, just look at the weight-loss or stop-smoking industries in the U.S. They are about $5 billion each, and their success rate is something under 5 percent. It is much easier to change a line of code than to change a person’s behavior. Trying to get people to collaborate is often like herding cats … you can expend a lot of energy and resources and not get anywhere.

For collaboration to be successful, this shift has to happen earlier. It has to happen through a change in the way people view the world or in their mental models.

As an example, I will use some of the work I have been doing (with a group of other experts) on collaboration and supply chain. Specifically, we have been working on the S&OP (sales and operational planning) process as it relates to the executives (ES&OP) making critical decisions for the next year (to build a new plant, to lay off some of the workforce, what resources will be required to produce new products in the pipeline).

Most people’s models today are sequential, focused on a step-by- step process like this best-practice model for ES&OP created by Tom Wallace (Fig. 1). Most processes are done like this one, sequentially, where each step is “siloed,” and only one or a few people at each step of the process get the information or analysis. While process provides a context and subsequently a value for collaboration, it can also be the hobgoblin of creativity.

How do you get people to shift their world view and mental models? It is not easy and usually requires some hard evidence, some training or learning on the part of the shiftee, and some guidance on how to appropriately apply this new model to work in the enterprise. In my example, this would be shifting the sequential siloed ES&OP process for more transparency. It has some distinct advantages over the stepwise process:
>> It’s faster. (simultaneous vs. sequential)
>> There’s greater transparency.
>> There’s no roll-up of sales figures, as they are continually updated and available.

>> Decisions are made publicly and online, which allows more buy-in by the organization.
>> You have the ability to let suppliers be part of the process and discussions (where appropriate).
>> There’s better communication between all of the parties involved; no silos.
>> Shortened cycle times to complete the process; no longer will it takemonths; now it can be done in days.
>> A better process leads to better decisions and overall savings.
>> Better alignment between the executives, the company goals and others in the company.
>> Serendipity — the ability to have “happy accidents” that may not have been available without the transparency, streamlined process and enhanced communication.

Now that we can see all the benefits from shifting from the old process to the new (Fig. 2), or from Web 1.0 toWeb 2.0 philosophies and technologies, how can we help this collaborative shift occur? It may be like a radical shift in thinking and behavior—and it is, but if you do what you did you get what you got! Fig. 3 shows a graphical comparison of these two approaches to the same ES&OP process.

In reality, this is more of an OD (organizational development) problem than a technology problem, and even more a holistic problem. Again: simultaneously looking at people, process and technology is critical for any collaboration success.

So what exactly is needed to help people and their mental models across this behavioral chasm?
>> a collaborative assessment and collaborative capacity assessment;
>> project management;
>> help in navigating change;
>> help in building more collaborative capacity;
>> business intelligence;
>> the ability to build more knowledge capital;
>> a variety of adoption strategies; and
>> the ability to integrate all these practices into a cohesive whole.

I invite you to make a shift in your world view this year around collaboration. Look at the processes you are involved in with a new eye, or “the beginner’s mind.” Throw all the rules out the window and say, “What if I had the perfect ability to interact with anyone I wanted to whenever I wanted to, or could find any information I wanted whenever I needed it?” Yes Grasshopper, you can do it!

If you need help, there are forward thinking organizations like HPSCM (high performance supply-chain management) that have expertise in all of the areas needed for a collaborative shift. So if you want to improve your supply chain performance, start your collaborative shift, and maybe your organization will follow.

—David Coleman is managing director of Collaborative Strategies ( He can be reached at or on Twitter @dcoleman100.

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