An Executive Guide to the Fall 2019 Issue

Collaborate Smarter, Not Harder(

Rob Cross, Thomas H. Davenport, and Peter Gray

No question, collaboration allows companies to serve exacting clients more seamlessly, respond more quickly to changing environments, and innovate more rapidly. But when an organization tries to boost collaboration by adopting a new formal structure, technology, or way of working, it often adds a steady stream of time- and energy-consuming interactions to an already relentless workload, diminishing instead of improving performance. Employees struggle with increases in email volume, the proliferation of new collaborative tools, and expectations of fast replies to messages — with deleterious effects on quality and efficiency.

Even though employees are acutely aware that they’re suffering, most organizations don’t recognize what’s happening in the aggregate. With increasing pressure on organizations to become more agile, there is also a tendency to swamp employees with collaboration demands in pursuit of a networked organization. People have, on average, at least nine different technologies to manage their interactions with work groups. The result can be overwhelmed and unproductive employees, sapped creativity, costly restructurings, and employee attrition.

Fortunately, through analytics, companies can improve their collaboration efforts in five key ways: scaling collaboration more effectively, improving collaborative design and execution, driving planned and emergent innovation through networks that cross capabilities and markets, streamlining collaborative work by diagnosing and reducing collaborative overload, and engaging talent by identifying social capital enablers of performance, engagement, and retention.

Improving the Rhythm of Your Collaboration(

Ethan Bernstein, Jesse Shore, and David Lazer

Leaders help establish the rhythm for their organizations’ and teams’ collaborative efforts. For at least a century, they have done this largely by planning working-group meetings, huddles, one-on-ones, milestone reports, steering committee readouts, end-of-shift handoffs, and so on.

But collaborative rhythms have become much more complex and less controlled in recent years, given all the digital tools at our disposal, along with email, texting, messaging, and the profusion of meetings that haven’t gone away. Collaboration has gone omnichannel — and orchestrating it has become a major challenge.

Given how hyperconnected most people are now at work, is more collaboration simply better, as we tend to assume, or should organizations have a rhythm that alternates on and off? The authors’ research suggests that alternation is essential for work that involves problem-solving. While always-on connectivity helps employees coordinate and gather information, people produce less innovative, less productive solutions without dedicated unplugged time. By achieving more and more connectivity, humans are becoming a bit like passive nodes in a machine network: They are getting better at processing information but worse at making decisions from it.

It takes strong leadership to create an effective rhythm that alternates between rich interaction and quiet focus. This article explores what that means in practice for managers and illustrates how they can avoid common problems.

It’s Time to Tackle Your Team’s Undiscussables(

Ginka Toegel and Jean-Louis Barsoux

In 2008, Theranos engineer Aaron Moore created a mock ad for a prototype of the company’s blood testing device. It was intended as a prank to amuse his colleagues. The ad described the device as “mostly functional” and ...