Creating Cultures of Collaboration

Pixar is arguable one of the most creative and innovative companies on the planet. Their blockbuster animation hits include Toy Story (1,2,3, and 4), Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. In his book on the history of Pixar, CEO ED Catmull writes about a routine called The Brain Trust.

This is a regular event that for creative writers, producers, and technicians to come together to collaborate work on a story. The essential elements of these events are “frank talk, spirited debate, laughter, and love.” These are so important to the culture that Steve Jobs, an early investor and larger than life personality did not attend because of his propensity to overshadow all others. Furthermore, even the placement of the chairs is arranged in such a way to encourage collaboration and candid perspectives. Pixar has built a culture and leadership system that respects and values candid communication and their workforce views.

In contrast, I recently came across an article published by FastCompany titled, 6 Ways To Communicate With More Authority, (1-11-16). The message was how to be heard within your company, and while somewhat predictable, the ideas were no less valid. The six methods are:

METHODSUPPORTING IDEA
Decide On Your Convictions. “You need to have a strong conviction in your ideas before asking others to consider them.”
Don’t Hedge.“Never lead with an apology.”
Stand Your Ground.“the ideas most worth sharing are likely to be at least a little controversial.”
Be Willing To Challenge Others. “…they (senior leaders) like it when people challenge each other and share contrary views”
Always Show Respect.“Ultimately, the best way to show respect for upper-level managers is by sharing your best ideas with them.”
Be Authentic.“There’s no need to resist corporate culture in your effort to become a more powerful communicator.”

While each of these methods is valid, there is another perspective. Why do individual contributors and emerging leaders need to be coached in these methods in the first place? The fact that writers need to write about having your voice heard is a statement that leadership is broken, disrespectful, and unwilling to listen to competing ideas.

For example, if someone lower in the organizational power rankings needs must stand their ground, it means that those in the higher power rankings don’t respect the perspective and voice of those with less power. In the same way, if one must work on being authentic, could it mean that the culture leadership does not value authenticity?

Collaboration, open communication, respect of the workforce, “our people are our most important asset” are all widely accepted values and principles of management. Yet Gallup still reports that nearly two-thirds of the workforce is either actively sabotaging the workplace or contribute little to innovation and value creation. Why is there such a disconnect between what we know will create thriving workplaces, yet there is so little implementation?

Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford University is a leading critic corporate leadership and programs that are designed to develop leaders. In his book, Leadership BS, he states, “When leaders’ own jobs and salaries depend on how well they look after others, they will do so. Until then, relying on leaders’ generosity of spirit or the exhortations of the leadership literature is an ineffective and risky way to ensure that leaders take care of anyone other than themselves.”

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