The Power of Collaboration: Powerful Insights from Silicon Valley to Successfully Grow Groups, Strengthen Alliances, and Boost Team Potential

The Power of Collaboration: Powerful Insights from Silicon Valley to Successfully Grow Groups, Strengthen Alliances, and Boost Team Potential

by Thea Singer Spitzer
The Power of Collaboration: Powerful Insights from Silicon Valley to Successfully Grow Groups, Strengthen Alliances, and Boost Team Potential

The Power of Collaboration: Powerful Insights from Silicon Valley to Successfully Grow Groups, Strengthen Alliances, and Boost Team Potential

by Thea Singer Spitzer

Paperback(First Edition)

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To succeed these days your organization must create amazing results.

Your employees and teams may be quite capable of handling their specific areas of focus, but unless you get them to work together, your products, services, and profits will suffer. While progress has been made, maximizing collaboration is still a challenge for many companies. They need a new approach.

Over the last quarter century, California's Silicon Valley has become synonymous with building complex, successful businesses. Companies and leaders there have succeeded because they did more than apply existing business models—they created a new model for collaboration.

Dr. Thea Singer Spitzer has combined her longstanding expertise on this subject with innovative thinking, research, and focused interviews with Silicon Valley leaders to create a practical framework for the next epoch of collaboration. The Power of Collaboration shows how any company, anywhere, can adapt to achieve its goals. This cutting-edge title features:
  • Narratives about collaboration from top leaders in Silicon Valley.
  • A sensible, straightforward collaboration framework.
  • Positive, realistic hints for adapting that framework to your organization.

    With The Power of Collaboration as your guide, those amazing results will be surprisingly easy to achieve.

  • Product Details

    ISBN-13: 9781632651235
    Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
    Publication date: 12/27/2017
    Edition description: First Edition
    Pages: 224
    Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

    About the Author

    Thea Singer Spitzer, founder of Critical Change LLC, has been a consultant, strategic advisor, and coach to top executives and leaders for nearly 30 years, including 16 years at Microsoft. She has received accolades and awards for her work with a broad array of industries including software, telecommunications, financial services, manufacturing, health care, utilities, and retail. Singer Spitzer earned her PhD in organizational systems from Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center and her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan. She resides and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more about her, please visit

    Read an Excerpt



    Many of the amazing things that have defined us were created by people in collaboration with others. The United States Constitution was crafted by 39 men working together. Marie and Pierre Curie won a Nobel Prize for their discoveries regarding radiation. James Watson and Francis Crick worked with Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin to decode the secrets of DNA. On another note, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr came together and changed popular music forever.

    Collaboration in business is just as important. For instance, it made an enormous difference in the launching and running of LinkedIn. Reid Hoffman could have started the company on his own, but knew it would be more likely to be a game-changer if he teamed up with several colleagues. He did, and today, LinkedIn boasts more than 500 million members globally. Collaboration is still a defining feature of how their employees perform their work.

    Imagine our world without these and many other discoveries that came about because people were able to blend their individual expertise into collective intelligence to accomplish amazing things.

    It is in our nature as human beings to collaborate. Evidence from the earliest agricultural era, 10,000 years ago, confirms that people lived in communities and combined their efforts. Even back then, people were better off pooling their talent and resources with others, rather than going it alone.

    Although people have known about and used collaboration for a long time, our search for ways to make it more effective in work-places is fairly recent. Since the latter half of the 20th century, corporate leaders have been trying to bring employees together more effectively. This doesn't mean doing everything as a team or discussing things ad nauseam until complete consensus is reached. It simply means coming together when it adds value and produces better outcomes than we can achieve on our own.


    The question is not "Is your company doing well?" Rather, it is "Could you be doing even better?" There are very few companies that can honestly answer that question in the negative. However successful a company is, most could be even more successful.

    The demand for innovations that delight customers is constant. What does that have to do with collaboration? As marketing expert John Ward put it, "Innovation and collaboration go together like ... well, like Batman and Robin. Just like that dynamic duo ... innovation and collaboration are more powerful together."

    Imagine a group of renowned chefs coming together to create an extraordinary multi-course banquet for a special event. What if each of them is asked to prepare their signature recipe for the course assigned to them. The trouble is that there is no time for those chefs to talk with each other and design a menu in which all the dishes complement each other. When the appetizer, soup, salad, entrée, vegetable, and dessert are served, there is little chance that this meal is going to be a palate-pleasing experience.

    This example might seem too far-fetched to actually happen in a workplace. Yet it's all too accurate a description of things that have occurred over the decades, and still do happen. Picture how different that dinner could have been if those chefs had the chance to chat and decide on courses that not only tasted wonderful on their own, but also fit well together. As some of them realized that their recipe didn't fit the theme they would have prepared something else for the good of the dinner.

    Study after study reports that staff believe their company would benefit if employees worked together better. In a 2005 McKinsey Quarterly study, 80 percent of senior executives said they knew that successful collaboration across product, functional, and geographic lines was crucial. Yet, only 25 percent of them rated their own company effective in this regard.

    Much has been learned about fostering collaboration since that study. Yet we still have plenty of room for improvement. In a 2015 survey, senior leaders at a variety of companies still cited poor collaboration between employees as one of the biggest threats to their company's success.

    The good news is that most people now recognize the need for collaboration. Businesses see that the failure to collaborate hurts them, and they've acted on it. Most leaders are trying to bring employees together when it makes sense. They are doing much better at this than they did in the past. For instance, engineers, sales and marketing professionals, and finance and other experts increasingly come together to design, manufacture, and sell products that thrill customers.

    The challenge is that just bringing staff together doesn't guarantee that they will automatically be able to leverage their collective intelligence. There is opportunity to help those people be even more effective when they come together. When it works well, something astonishing happens. Individuals actually start to "interact as components of a larger mind ... you [create] a communal brain." That creation of communal brain is at the heart of truly effective collaboration.


    How do you define collaboration? Give some thought to this question before you read on.

    Now let's look at how some Silicon Valley leaders defined it when they spoke with me:

    [??] "It's how we work together when we're not directed to; when we are contributing as a group of people."

    [??] "Leaders and employees all engaged together, sharing information, ideas, goals, pretty much everything. ... Transparency is really important — allowing people to see the bigger picture and the details. When there's a problem or challenge, working together to solve it, instead of playing the blame game."

    [??] "Cooperating; not only within our functional group. Working up, down, within, and outside. ... Being holistic in our view and in how we communicate it. Figuring out how to knock down walls that are getting in the way. How to foster great ideas rather than kill them."

    [??] "Asking myself: 'How can I help you?' versus 'What am I going to get out of this for myself?'. ... 'How can I help build trust quicker?' "

    [??] "Sharing in a way that moves the team forward effectively, creatively, with better results."

    One secret of Silicon Valley's success starts with a nuanced understanding of what it means to work together. Employees across the organization see the value of collaborating and combining their knowledge.

    Accordingly, the definition for collaboration throughout this book is: "Being willing and able to blend our ideas and efforts into a 'communal brain' to create better results by working together than we could on our own."

    There are times when working with others will yield much better results. At other times working on our own is the better option. When working with others is optimal, we need to harness the strengths of everyone involved in ways that will help us achieve our shared goals.


    The purpose of this book is not just to communicate concepts but also to facilitate your use of them. To help you achieve that goal, at various points throughout the chapters, I will suggest activities to assist you in applying the concepts. When you see the word application in a shaded box, you will know that you're at one of those points. I encourage you to create a dedicated workbook or journal to record your responses.

    When you get to Chapter 14, I will help you translate your thoughts into a description of the current state of collaboration at your company. I will also share initial steps you can take to help "move the needle" and assist your firm in fostering even better collaboration. Constructive change is often initiated by employees who have a vision for how things could be better and a passion for helping to bring about that change. By observing and insightfully piecing together what might be, you can help your company leverage employee intelligence even more successfully.


    One of the business leaders I interviewed told me about a tough product development challenge at a company where he previously worked. This company had great success selling an educational electronic toy for children and was anxious to create their next flagship product.

    A cross-functional team was formed to design that next toy. After some research and experimentation, we came up with an idea we felt had a lot of potential. It was presented to the executives, who loved it. So everyone was surprised when the consumer feedback to the prototype was negative.

    Mothers felt the product was too expensive. They also felt the wand children used to interface with the toy looked too much like a gun. And they shared several other dissatisfactions. Despite this feedback, the executives felt the toy had much potential. We spent much time reconfiguring the wand. Disappointingly, the next round of consumer feedback remained negative.

    Serious conversations were held, but management was still convinced the concept could work. The team made more adjustments and even brought in a consultant. The negative feedback continued. Eventually, we realized there was a bigger problem: The executives had been so vested in making the toy work that they hadn't heard moms say the product was not worth the price. Tough conversations were held, the product was killed, and the company moved on. This process consumed two years.


    Great workplace collaborations sometimes result in that next amazing product. At other times, success is realizing that a certain direction isn't working and persuading the team to move in a new direction. The executives at this toy company conveyed that the team's only job was to make this toy successful. The leaders called the shots. The team felt it wasn't their place to convince the executives that the price for the toy couldn't work — until it became painfully obvious.

    Picture that design team reacting very differently to the first set of negative consumer feedback. What if they had been empowered and had grasped that the consumers' objection to the price was an insurmountable problem? A basic philosophy of this company had always been to pack as many learning features as possible into every toy. That viewpoint had worked well in the past and it guided this design process. But packing a large number of educational features into this particular toy had raised the price beyond what consumers were willing to pay.

    If the team had felt empowered to step back, they could have figured out which features would most appeal to parents. From that, they could have created a toy that was more likely to produce a reasonable profit for the company at a price that consumers were willing to pay. Then, they might have created the next blockbuster. Improving the effectiveness of collaboration at your company increases the chance that you may come up with better ideas and more sound solutions than they were able to at this toy company.

    Now, let's explore how companies in vastly different industries make use of collaboration.


    Many people believe that the industry your company is in determines whether collaboration is a useful tool for you. That actually is not the case. Regardless of your industry, there are areas where employee collaboration can help you achieve your goals even better. As you read about these three groupings of industries, locate your company in one of them.


    Some companies produce products and services that must meet strict safety standards. Most of those companies are in highly regulated industries. They need to do things in certain ways. There is oversight to ensure that things are done in those ways. Examples of such organizations include hospitals, nuclear power plants, and companies producing pharmaceuticals, airplanes, automobiles, and other products for which precision is critical.

    Some believe that with those mandates there is no room for employee collaboration. That isn't the case, however. It is beneficial to bring employees together even in organizations that need strong centralized control.

    For instance, in the pharmaceutical industry, drug manufacturing requires a high degree of control and standardization. Yet, there are still many areas in pharmaceutical firms in which collaboration greatly increases effectiveness. Think of a drug being tested for effectiveness with a certain group of patients. If a potentially dangerous side-effect is identified, wouldn't you rather have a whole team of scientists and doctors with relevant expertise working together to assess the situation and improve the drug? That's usually how it's done. It's a great example of the value of collaboration in highly regulated industries.


    The second group of industries are those that exert moderate control over how work is accomplished. In some of these firms, centralized processes are mandated to protect consumers just as they are in highly controlled industries. Examples of industries with a moderate degree of control include finance, utilities, telecommunications, and some retail firms in food and other areas.

    It is easy to understand the need for moderate levels of control in banks or utility companies. In other companies, however, that moderate control is not a result of mandates. Rather, executives have realized that their companies will be most effective with some standardization to help provide products at the quality their customers demand. An example is the Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain. It represents a growing category of businesses catering to higher-end customers that are successfully combining some standardized practices while still retaining some flexibility for employee collaboration and decision-making.

    As of a few years ago, that restaurant chain had 160 restaurants, with more than 300 dinner items on the menu (with food choices ranging from pizza to beet salad to miso salmon). Most locations are packed at meal times, evidence of the 80 million customers served annually. Much of the food is shipped from abroad in large quantity, but it doesn't taste like it is mass produced, because it isn't.

    The kitchens are the same and food is prepared the same way from location to location. Things are highly computerized, with touch screens for the cook to view the customer order, recipes related to that order, and a timer to let them know when the dish is ready. Despite that standardization, many details are left to the cook's judgment, and special requests are happily accommodated. There is plenty of room for collaboration in areas like the creation of new entrées or tweaking the recipes of existing dishes.

    The Cheesecake Factory is just one great example of a large company that has successfully combined standardization with customization, employee involvement, and collaboration. This benefits the customer with high-quality meals that meet their expectations. And it benefits the company with higher profits and satisfied employees. It is a model that more and more companies in this middle group are taking advantage of.


    There is a third group of industries whose products allow high levels of creativity in both idea creation and production. Strict levels of precision and consumer protection are not needed to guide employees at these companies. Such industries include clothing, furniture, household products, electronic products, and software manufacturers. Products in some of these industries appeal to customers for a short time, after which customers want something new. That translates into a continual quest for new ideas that can be turned into products. It is relatively easy to see how such companies can benefit from collaboration.

    Collaboration is a useful tool for companies in all of these three industry groups (high, moderate, and low control). Successful firms bring employees together when it adds value. They may have their employees collaborate in different degrees and manners, but they all do it.


    Hopefully, the previous section helped you think of new ways that collaboration can make your company more successful while still respecting the need for standardization and centralized decision-making. Now, let's look at the different ways that employees can work together.

    There are many different ways of collaborating. Essentially, all of those variations boil down to three major types of employees working together. Part of the variation between those three types is the amount of freedom employees have to decide when, how, and with whom they will collaborate, and for what length of time.

    1. Task-Specific Collaboration: In this type, work takes place among a few individuals, hand-selected for their expertise and their ability to contribute to that particular subject. They come together to work on a specific task. Once it is completed, they return to their primary work. This type of collaboration is the most controlled and narrow in scope. Employee freedom to determine when and for how long that joint work will occur is limited.


    Excerpted from "The Power of Collaboration"
    by .
    Copyright © 2018 Thea Singer Spitzer, PhD.
    Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
    All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

    Table of Contents

    Introduction: Harmonizing Employee Efforts 11

    Chapter 1 The Power of Collaboration 19

    Chapter 2 Characteristics of Silicon Valley Collaborators 33

    Chapter 3 Stories of Successful Collaborations 43

    Chapter 4 The Silicon Valley Approach to Collaboration 61

    Chapter 5 Individual Skills that Enhance Collaboration 79

    Chapter 6 The First Two Individual Skills: Being True to Yourself and True to Others 97

    Chapter 7 The Other Individual Skills: Being True to the Work and True to the Company 113

    Chapter 8 Agile Work Process: Anyplace, Anytime 133

    Chapter 9 Other Vital Team Tools that Boost Collaboration 149

    Chapter 10 Architecting Your Management Practices 167

    Chapter 11 Employee Incentives 181

    Chapter 12 Access Enables Collaboration 191

    Chapter 13 Collaborative Ethos: The Secret Sauce in the SVAC 207

    Chapter 14 The End Is the Beginning 219

    Final Words 233

    Notes 235

    Bibliography 239

    Index 245

    About the Author 253

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