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'As One': New book explores models for collaboration

Nancy Weil | Feb. 15, 2011
A couple of years ago, business consultant Mehrdad Baghai and James Quigley, the global CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, were chatting about Quigley's formidable challenge of getting all 170,000 of his company's employees "on the same page," working for the collective good of the organization.

They took that data and used a self-organizing map (SOM), a sophisticated forensic data analytic method to "identify distinct modes of As One behavior," as the book explains. The SOM helped them identify recognizable models of collaboration. For instance, some organizations operate akin to a "conductor and orchestra," with "highly scripted and clearly defined roles that focus on precision and efficiency in execution as defined by the conductor." The archetype "community organizer and volunteers" works from a bottom-up model, while "captain and sports team" has "minimal hierarchy" and is highly adaptable to a rapidly changing situation, as would be found on a playing field.

Each archetype is examined in-depth in individual chapters in the book, which reads like a combination of a management book, a textbook and a how-to primer. Each archetype is bolstered by explanatory case studies -- Apple's App Store, for instance, is highlighted as a case study for the "landlord and tenants" model of collaboration; Linux is a case study in the "community organizer and volunteers" approach (along with Gandhi); and Cirque du Soleil is a study for the "producer and creative team" method.

Part of the idea behind establishing such easily recognizable and understandable models of collaboration was to then provide "language around the archetypes." In other words, "how do you make a group conscious about what you need to do to succeed. If you give them language around the archetypes, they can focus on them." Baghai uses a recent real-life example from the sports world, recalling how the Miami Heat basketball team got off to a rough start this season, despite all of the hope -- and hype -- after LeBron James and Chris Bosh signed with the team. Their fellow superstar Dwyane Wade already played for Miami. But superstars do not necessarily a team make.

Asked if he'd seen the press conference where James said after the team started to gel that it just took him a while to figure out Wade's style of play, Baghai says he hadn't, but his eyes light with recognition -- that, too, feeds directly into the model of coaches and a team working together. "The key to being on a team is knowing what the other guys are going to do," he says, adding that it's also crucial to not go into games with a set playbook, but to be flexible depending on what the other team does as well. "You have to be reacting to the field of play -- one of the things they had to do was change their mode of play."


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