How can you construct creative collaborative teams? In this third part of our five-part series on Morten Hansen’s book Collaboration, we look at three strategic levers: setting common goals, coaching T-shaped managers, and building nimble networks.

Book data
Title: Collaboration
Sub-title: How leaders avoid the traps, create unity and reap big results
Author: Morten T. Hansen
Publisher: Harvard Business Press
Price: $29.95

For professor Morten Hansen of UC Berkeley (and simultaneously professor at INSEAD; for bio click here), good collaboration requires three strategic levers. The first is to unify staff behind strong goals. The second is to identify and promote so-called T-shaped managers. The third is to build nimble networks within companies. Let us examine these three levers one-by-one.

Unifying goals
For a team to be unified, it must have a common goal, towards which it strives. Professor Hansen illustrates this with the space race that pitted Russia against the USA in the 1960s. President Kennedy was able to unify his administration – and ignite the passion of the American people – behind the simple goal of placing the first man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

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The man-in-the-moon endeavour had the four core requirements of a strong goal:

  • It created a common fate for all team members, from the materials scientists working on space suits able to withstand the drastic temperature variations on the moon, to the NASA administrators coordinating the massive budget;
  • It was simple and concrete (could fit in an elevator pitch or on the back of a napkin);
  • It stirred passion;
  • It clearly placed competition (the Russians) as outsiders.

Team efforts that have these four levers have the unifying force that helps ensure success.

T-shaped managers
Teamwork means different members, and cooperation among them. This means a good deal of egotism (i.e. self-promotion) needs to be checked at the cloakroom. Professor Hansen calls this T-shaped management, by which he means that good collaborators are active in two dimensions: their own performance in their designated function or area, and their contributions to other company activities.

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T-shaped managers are the sought-after stars, since they combine high individual performance and good sharing abilities with other units. Although the other typologies can be coached or trimmed, professor Hansen places particular emphasis on the ‘lone stars’, who are promising performers yet weak cross-company contributors.

To illustrate this point, professor Hansen gives the reader a voyeurish experience: a peek into how the head of British Petroleum’s Egypt operations handles his own responsibilities, as well as those linked to other BP areas. An analysis of his typical work week shows the schizophrenia of managing his patch and developing other company-wide (or industry-wide) activities.

Nimble networks
Networking for the sake of ‘chit-chat’ spells its demise. For networking to be productive, it must help to identify opportunities, and then help capture the value that can be brought to bear. To help make your networking most effective, professor Hansen proposes six rules, four of which help to identify opportunities, and two of which help to capture network value.

The first four rules (“build outward”, “build diversity”, “build weak ties” and “use bridges”) strengthen one’s abilities to build networks capable of identifying opportunities. In this first field of action, professor Hansen emphasizes the need to build broad and supple connections – the nimble network that can help provide answers to unexpected questions or creative flashes from serendipitous encounters. Hansen uses examples from professional and personal life to explain the uses. He also dispels some myths about networking and its usefulness, and warns against over-networking – again we skirt the realm of wasting time on meeting or maintaining links to people of no professional use.

The final two rules (“swarm the target” and “switch to strong ties”) are relevant in capturing network value. They provide practical advice on how to make one’s network effective in handling situations.

Common good over individual performance
In this section, Hansen has given us some easy tools to build solid collaborative work. His exposé is clear. First set the right goals. Second, make sure the people are ready to collaborate, and for that get T-shaped managers. Lastly, be sure that the company provides fertile collaborative ground: good nimble networks that enable staff to know each other and communicate easily so as to work productively to solve problems.

In the next issue of Casium we will examine how to effectively lead a collaborative effort.

Published March 2010.
Next issue: March 17, 2010


Collaboration in five short snippets
As mentioned in our last issues, we are now offering you deeper analysis of noteworthy management books, over the course of several issues. We inaugurate this approach with professor Morten Hansen’s book Collaboration.

In the first instalment (dated February 3), we examined what he means by collaboration, when to collaborate, and when not to.

In the second instalment (dated February 17), we identified the four important hurdles to collaboration.

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In this issue we focus on how to build a cohesive collaboration effort, either for a specific project, or as an overall corporate culture. Thereafter – on March 17 – we will examine how to become a collaborative leader. In the final – unpublished – chapter, we will look at online collaboration. For us, Morten Hansen will provide some insight into his as-yet unpublished research.

The editors
Michael and Chris Fodor
Comments are always welcome at or