Building a culture of collaboration: Q&A with Evan Rosen

Evan Rosen’s The Bounty Effect: 7 Steps to the Culture of Collaboration® charts a clear course for businesses looking to truly commit to shaking up their organizational structure and shift away from outdated management philosophies.

“In The Bounty Effect, Evan Rosen shows how to replace your organization’s obsolete, command-and-control structure with an infinitely more valuable collaborative structure so that everybody can innovate,” says Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales calls The Bounty Effect a “must read.”

We caught up with Rosen to talk more about these key structural changes – as well as how to cut through the buzzword hype and spot true team players in job interviews, how to put the right people in charge, and how to foster a collaborative rather than competitive workplace.

Obviously there is some variation dependent on industry, but generally speaking, if a business leader reads The Bounty Effect and says “That’s it. We’re embracing a culture of collaboration and we’re starting today” – are they still ahead of the curve or already playing catch up? You write about most companies seeming to at the very least pay lip service to collaborative philosophies. How long until successful implementation becomes the norm?

Successful implementation of collaboration will become the norm once companies abandon Industrial Age command-and-control structures. There’s nothing ahead of the curve about a business leader saying his or her company is embracing collaboration. What’s ahead of the curve is actually changing the organizational structure for collaboration. My new book, The Bounty Effect: 7 Steps to The Culture of Collaboration®, is about how to change the structure from Industrial Age command-and-control to Information Age collaborative.

The structure of most organizations is much the same as it was during the Industrial Age. During the Industrial Age, command-and-control seemed to make more sense, because barriers of time and distance were significant. It was more efficient to send down orders from headquarters and pay a few people to think and pay everybody else to carry out orders. Now we’re in the Information Age, and technology has made time and distance barriers far less significant. We have the technological ability to engage one another spontaneously regardless of level, role, or region. We can create far greater value by coming together in concert than by sending work down the line or sending requests for decision up the line. Yet the structure of most organizations still reinforces command-and-control. People internally compete. They hoard ideas and information. The person with the biggest title runs meetings and makes decisions. So leaders forget to tap the expertise and insights of front-line people, because getting broad input into decisions and spontaneously engaging people regardless of level, role or region is not yet part of the organizational structure and culture.

Many companies pay lip service to embracing collaboration, because collaboration has become a buzzword. The reality is that companies have pockets of collaborative activity, but their overall structures and cultures remain command-and-control.

You touch on the importance of catering to the work styles and lifestyles of individual team members. There are probably exceptions to the new rule of breaking away from the traditional butts-at-desks 9-to-5. The problem, in my opinion, is that most companies think they’re an exception. Are there specific situations or industries that you think are NOT cut out for, say, the Ten Change Makers?

Every organization can benefit when team members work in concert towards common goals rather than working at cross purposes with hidden agendas. The Ten Change Makers are what organizations must address to create real collaborative change rather than just window dressing. I discuss the Ten Change Makers in The Bounty Effect. They include hierarchy and formality, for example. And even if we consider the most extreme example of an organization that would seem to require hierarchy and formality, a military organization, the Ten Change Makers play a role. Military organizations can accomplish far more when people are collaborating. And so can every other organization.

You talk about the importance of Collaboration Architects; you mention GlaxoSmithKline as an example.  I couldn’t agree more. We see frequently that failure in user adoption is linked back to a failure to have a committed champion or “architect” in place. But in those cases when an organization can’t (or won’t) set aside a role for a collaboration architect, what’s the best Plan B?

The most important qualifications for Collaboration Architects are that they have multiple skills in multiple disciplines and can handle many kinds of situations. The resume is less important than abilities. Being able to educate and motivate is essential, and so is the ability to lead and facilitate structural and cultural change. If an organization is unable to dedicate one or more team members as Collaboration Architects, the best Plan B is for one or more people to fulfill the role part-time.

We write a lot about breaking out of silos and collaborating across departments. Anyone who’s still on the fence about whether that’s a good idea should check out your book. In general, what would you say to those who worry that flattened org charts will lead to too many cooks in every kitchen?

Today’s traditional org chart is based on an org chart from the mid-19th century. The org chart stemmed from the growth of railroads. The problem with the traditional org chart is that it tells us not only who reports to whom, but also who can communicate with whom in many organizations.

The linear nature of the org chart creates silos. Looking at the org chart, we can even see the silos. And silos prevent collaboration and inhibit value creation.

The traditional org chart is a remnant of Industrial Age command-and-control and is obsolete in the Information Age. It’s time to replace the traditional org chart with a new kind of org chart. In The Bounty Effect, I include this new chart which emphasizes interrelationships and interdependency.

As for flattened organizational structures leading to too many cooks in every kitchen, we need lots of cooks in every kitchen. Today’s marketplace and economy are too complex to go it alone. Most businesses face all kinds of exigent circumstances including disruptive market forces, new competitors, regional slowdowns, terrorist attacks, natural disasters and boom-and-bust cycles. These exigent circumstances are an opportunity to replace obsolete organizational structures and cultures designed for the Industrial Age with infinitely more valuable Information Age organizational structures based on collaboration. Exigent circumstances in the form of a mutiny on the H.M.S. Bounty forced Captain William Bligh to change the structure and culture of his organization from command-and-control to collaborative. This Bounty Effect provides an opportunity for every organization.

You write that “there are no stars” in an evolving organization, but you also talk about collaboration as it relates to companies (and competitors) like Apple and Microsoft – companies that helped bring a star culture to the tech world that’s alive and very well. Isn’t it possible for stars to exist even within a collaborative, transparent culture in which goals are shared? Not all stars are poor teammates.

Collaborative organizations recognize and reward collaborative rather than internally-competitive or star-oriented behavior. The problem with star-oriented cultures is that they breed and reward internal competition and information hoarding which short circuit collaboration. Why would I share information and ideas with you if we’re competing to become stars? Also, so-called stars are often more focused on themselves rather than on creating value collaboratively. What’s more, by reinforcing star-oriented culture, the organization is sidelining everybody else. People the organization regards as “non stars” may have deep domain knowledge, information about customers and much to contribute—but they may feel minimized because of a stratified workforce. Therefore, they may be inhibited about sharing knowledge and insights and the organization loses.

We did a post recently on how to hire collaborators and not collabohaters. You talk about the importance of putting collaboration right into the job description. What are some things you’d look for in a candidate in a job interview? How can job applicants emphasize their collaborative natures without sounding cheesy or buzzwordy?

If you’re in a hiring role, beware of the Myth of the Single Cowboy. This is the notion that one self-sufficient, rugged individual can achieve smashing success without help from anybody. Along this same line, watch out for people presenting laundry lists of individual accomplishments without mention of others. Also, look beyond buzzwords. The least collaborative people have an uncanny ability to liberally sprinkle collaborative-sounding buzzwords in interviews and resumes. During interviews, probe candidates for how they work with others to solve problems and generate ideas. If they’re more comfortable sharing work and ideas in real time so that others can participate in the process, they will succeed in a collaborative structure and culture. If they prefer perfecting their work and ideas alone and they prefer being rewarded for individual rather than collaborative accomplishment, they will fit more with an internally-competitive, star-oriented culture.

If you’re collaborative and you’re applying for a job with a collaborative organization, emphasize how you worked with colleagues in multiple functions and business units to create value.

As all things collaboration – like open floor designs – become buzzy, they become a box to tick for some executives (and then become prone to backlash). What are some signs that a company’s embrace of collaboration actually hasn’t gone much beyond the surface?

The most obvious sign that a company is merely paying lip service to collaboration is unnecessary formality. If the company is still forcing people to attend traditional meetings, this is an indication that the organizational structure and culture remain command-and-control. Other signs include requiring that team members go through channels, send requests for decisions from one level to the next, and schedule interactions with colleagues. Another sign that a company remains command-and-control is Silo Syndrome in which each department or function interacts primarily within that department or function. Real collaboration means engaging people spontaneously regardless of level, role or region to make better, faster decisions and develop and improve processes, products and services.

And finally: what else would you recommend for reading lists out there?

Failure is Not an Option by Gene Kranz and Car Guys vs. Bean Counters by Bob Lutz both indirectly cover important aspects of collaboration. I would also suggest reading my other book entitled The Culture of Collaboration®: Maximizing Time, Talent and Tools to Create Value in the Global Economy. Both The Bounty Effect and The Culture of Collaboration® include selected bibliographies.


Evan Rosen is author of The Bounty Effect: 7 Steps to The Culture of Collaboration®. He also writes The Culture of Collaboration® blog.

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.