March 2, 2012 - FILED UNDER Collaboration
Top-Down or Bottom-Up: Management Styles that Foster Collaboration
It’s no secret that good collaboration is a powerful tool, but achieving it is difficult. The problem with creating good collaboration is getting team members to fully commit to the process. This begs the question, “what’s the best management style to help achieve good collaboration? Top-down or Bottom-up?
Earlier this week I read an interesting post from Fast Company talking about how collaboration can only be successful via a top-down initiative. In the post, the author argues that collaboration, while awesome, is not “a natural [human] state.” Arguing that “It [collaboration] is a highly evolved way of relating. Fear, frustration and even political mayhem are more likely to be what happens when people come together naturally.” So, basically we’re more likely to end up fighting than to collaborate, it’s that difficult to achieve. While it may be true that collaboration is a more complex human function, it’s nonetheless extremely important for the success of today’s business.
Top-down management is where the decision making occurs at the higher levels of an organization. The effects of the decisions are then hopefully implemented down the corporate ladder. The Fast Company article points out that “a sense of cooperation and collaboration must be driven and exemplified by the top management team and reinforced throughout the organization.” It’s a belief reiterated by many of history’s great leaders: Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Custer the list goes on – however, all either died in battle or ended up living in exile. But this isn’t battle and I would rather not end up living in exile, so maybe a top-down approach isn’t the ideal way to bring about change.
Jan Hart of the Workforce Collaboration blog, believes that if collaboration is going to happen it must come from the bottom up. She believes it’s really about “encouraging and supporting those individuals who want to connect with each other and collaborate to work and learn together.” Hart makes some good points. The majority of the time, people discover and start using collaboration tools to deal with common issues or problems. She highlights that the smart organizations are the ones who notice this and ask “how can we build on what is happening and support those who are already using social and collaborative approaches?” She believes it’s through education, not through executive decisions, that will ultimately drive adoption. The key to success is to educate employees about the advantages of collaboration and support those internal champions as best you can.
So which management style makes the most sense? To really achieve good, solid collaboration you need a bit of both. While an executive decision is good to light the fire, if left unsupported it will certainly fizzle out. It’s really through leading by example, supporting internal champions, and education that your collaboration initiatives will have lasting results.