Book of the Day: Four Phases of Team Collaboration

“Edison’s great-grandniece details how the great inventor bonded with his team to breed innovation. It was a four-step process.”

* Book: Midnight Lunch: The 4 Phases of Team Collaboration Success from Thomas Edison’s Lab. Sarah Miller Caldicott. ISBN: 978-1-1184-0786-8. 284 pages. December 2012

The following is excerpted from a review by Jennifer Sertl:

“The three most frequent words in the macro today are digital, collaboration and innovation. This is an era where doing remote work with complex frameworks is the norm, not the exception. Sarah Miller Caldicott’s Midnight Lunch: the 4 phases of Team Collaboration Success from Thomas Edison’s Lab could not have come at a better time. With great stories and quotes from not only Thomas Edison but also contemporary voices such as Dr. C. K. Prahalad and Margaret Wheatley Caldicott weaves a thoughtful tapestry of past, present and future.

Never have there a been a more succinct distinction between teamwork and collaboration:

– “To illustrate some key differences between teamwork and true collaboration, consider the example of a pair of two-person teams: Team A and Team B. Imagine they each have one member that is 5 feet tall and another who is 6 feet tall. Team A and Team B have the task of traveling together from one end of a football field to the other in less that 10 minutes. Team A’s members respond by simply clasping hands and running side by side from one end zone to the other easily achieving their goal. Team B is given the same assignment. Team B elects to travel the length of the field side by side in a three-legged race. The left leg of one person is bound to the right leg of the other person. They must grasp each others shoulders to keep balance and determine the right place to bind their legs so they can run in unison.”

While Team A’s strategy is straight forward, Team B’s strategy built in deeper learning and required collaboration. Team B learned much more and is more able to manage higher layers of complexity. Moving forward in life and business is very much like running that three-legged race – where the discipline to connect and the placement of where to connect is vital.”

We can expect the macro to be increasingly more volatile and our ability to navigate and create value with others is going to rely on how we engage to accomplish our shared goals. As Caldicott states,“our core challenge is to acknowledge where and how to embrace collaboration as the centerpiece for this new ecosystem.” Collaboration is not a means to the goal; collaboration is the goal itself.

Here is a basic outline of the four phases of collaboration:

Phase 1, Capacity: Seeing a challenge though the eyes of another discipline; Creating collegiality

Phase 2, Context: Developing a new context for framing a problem; Being willing to question facts and test creative hypothesis

Phase 3, Coherence: Inspiring others to go beyond their perceived limitations; Navigating conflict positively

Phase 4. Complexity: Recognizing how complexity impacts team effectiveness; Capturing the collective intelligence of a team

“Within the four phases of capacity, context, coherence and complexity lies the glue that linked Edison’s true collaboration practices to the success of his innovative enterprise.” This glue is perhaps the mindset Edison had regarding the value of collective intelligence to solve a problem, the importance of diversity, and deep appreciation for collegiality.

There is an explicit design based on gathering facts and scenarios and there is a fundamental need for inspiration and aspiration. Throughout the book Caldicott shares very practical scenarios and case study examples illustrating the distinctions and tactics within each phase. Many of you have probably already read Daniel Pink’s Whole New Mind. I find it interesting that the model extracted from Edison has a wonderful blend of left brain, right brain.

An area that Caldicott touched on that I believe we need to amplify and pay much more attention to is the phase and concept regarding “coherence.” I don’t think people really understand the need for psychological safety when problem solving or creating innovation. There needs to be trust for risks to be taken, there needs to be safety for people to fail, there needs to be more ways for people to process conflict. People need to have stories and experiences outside of the work to express themselves and make deeper connections.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe ~ Abraham Lincoln

While this is a celebration of Thomas Edison’s contribution to our collaboration practice, I find this message from Abraham Lincoln to be vital. We often don’t take the time and effort One of the reasons why Thomas Edison was so successful in his innovation was the way he created conditions for robust collaboration to occur the deliberate manner and deep appreciate he had for how multiple perspectives add value to learning & creating. He put in four hours thinking about how to create a great experience for team members and designing ways to foster coherence. One is left thinking it is the chef more than the recipe that makes a great meal – so to in creating teams that foster innovative outcomes.

People continue to seek silver bullets to solve very complex problems. What Caldicott does is remind us that it takes the right mindset, a commitment to design, and continuous investment to create environments & relationships that result in good ideas. All who lead a team, participate on a team or have direct reports can gain valuable insight from this meld of history and case study.”

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