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Collaborative transformation

  • Posted On: 11th June 2013
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“Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” — Mattie Stepanek
Why do only 30 percent of organisational initiatives achieve their objectives, according to the Standish Group[1]? The complexity of human resistance to change and the difficulty of achieving buy-ins from multiple stakeholders are familiar to most leaders. Academics have been studying change management for decades. Yet, the cause of two-thirds of the failures, according to Standish Group’s research, remains ineffective collaboration.There is some good news. The latest generation of collaboration methods now offers more robust options to execute on a clear vision by transforming complex resistance into well-refined ideas and the commitment to implement and achieve them. Collaboration, particularly when the challenge is complex, offers a means of achieving high performance results much faster than you may have thought possible.

Technology leaders are acutely aware of the elements of complexity. They are challenged to make more complex decisions, create better solutions and produce higher results in a very dynamic environment. The required outcomes must be delivered faster and be sustainable. Due to multiple-stakeholder goals, frequent lack of clarity, resource constraints, planning and implementation requirements, leaders must have a deep understanding of the context and the structure in which their programs exist. Leaders need proven breakthrough approaches and methodologies to achieve their mission.

Minor improvements are not always enough. A cycle of “breakthrough thinking” must be part of the mindset and approach to meeting today’s challenges. Strategic transformations based on real innovation are essential to achieve success and sustained results. To realise the creation and implementation of the innovation towards transformation, proven collaborative approaches and methodologies are fundamental to create the conditions for success. The approaches must be matched to the nature of the situation and the elements of the initiative’s complexity. Solutions should leverage latest technology from the knowledge and experience of the players involved.

Deciding which collaborative approach is appropriate to achieve a desired business result is not trivial. To assist decision makers with their evaluation, there are a few critical indicators that help forecast complexity. These are common sense factors that intuitively indicate the magnitude of the challenge ahead.

Complexity does not necessarily mean beyond understanding. Rather, complexity refers to situations where many factors are at play, the inter-relationships are extensive and the impacts on the organisation are challenging to define. One example is when there are a large number of diverse stakeholders, at least some of whom may be unwilling to adopt the initiative at hand. Another is when things have become mired despite good intentions. This type of situation can afflict any significant business initiative, but any mid- to large-sized organisation working to develop and implement a new strategy, or deploy large Information Technology projects, or implement significant innovation, is likely to run into these challenges.

When managers are willing to stretch beyond the comfort zone of familiar approaches, complexity science can provide the exact method needed to get things done much faster than one may have expected. To achieve this, careful planning and a steady hand are essential. The fundamentals of any change initiative must be addressed.

Complexity science
When referring to collaboration methods based on complexity science, we encounter the terms “complex adaptive systems” and “self-organisation”[2]. Originally, these terms described the behaviours observed by scientists in several types of living systems. What these scientists noted is that living systems have an inherent capability to do exactly what needs to be done for the system to evolve and thrive in ways that could not have been foreseen. For living systems to adapt so appropriately to their current situation, there needs to be the foundation of clarity noted above. There also must be considerably more chaos present than one might expect. In fact, that can mean twice as much chaos as structure. Not enough chaos equates to not enough adaptive behavior. Without adaptive behavior, the implementations of our initiatives often go sour. This is a situation familiar to every seasoned manager.

The idea that chaos can be useful may seem to fly in the face of experienced leaders who have long relied on clarity and structure to see them through difficult times. While clarity is a requirement for success, it is not sufficient when there are many people who must be engaged in the solution or when an exceptional effort is needed to meet demanding requirements.

Managers can take a lesson from mathematics when it comes to seeing chaos as a management tool rather than a herald of catastrophe. Mathematicians play with chaos and have shown that although a process may be at times unpredictable the end-result need not be. In other words, although complex collaboration may engage people in unforeseen but relevant ways, you will still arrive safely at your destination.The complexity of stewardship, accountability and competing priorities must be understood when communicating with stakeholders. Structure is a necessary ingredient, but the experienced technology leader recognises that this structure and clarity often becomes evident only after intense collaborative efforts. The solution lies in between the integration of both structured planning and complex collaboration into the end-to-end flow of the change initiative to drive the required innovation and transformation.

Today’s leaders are learning that complexity science and collaborative transformation techniques for breakthrough innovation are proven bodies of knowledge and approaches that may serve them well when the challenge at hand is stretching their organisation’s traditional knowledge to its limits. Public and private sector organisations are using complexity methods to accelerate business results. Executives and managers seeking to enhance execution may find that a well-planned complexity-based approach requires less time, money and effort than trying to persevere through the challenges of more traditional methods. Looking into these new options for high performance is a worthwhile investment for those seeking tools to help meet the demands of today’s workplace.


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