SynNovation Works


Over the years we have wrestled with new ideas and insights, working to strengthen our understanding of collaboration fundamentals. Much of this work takes shape as a dialogue, amongst ourselves, with colleagues and clients. Here's a taste of some of our reflections and opinions, raw and uncensored, related to the topics that we've explored in recent months:

High Performance Systems

When you think about what sustains value and performance in partnerships, in enterprises or human organizations, you invariably confront a blend of ingredients...something to do with direction, behaviors and culture, planning, execution and probably the structure of the beast.

Recently, we conducted a workshop for a new business that was wrestling with how to extract value from partnerships and supply relationships. As we explored this terrain, it became clear that elements of strategy, structure, process and behavior all played a part in successful supplier management. To be effective here, an organization had to link supply plans with business priorities and strategic drivers. There needed to be a structure in place to administer sourcing activities: tools, decision-making protocols, clear roles and accountabilities. The business processes-- to find partners, to vet them, to manage their performance around plans and agreements-- all needed to be in place and rigorously practiced to deliver results. And finally, the behavioral side of relationships needed to be accounted for: the focus on alignment and communication, the commitment to building trust, the emphasis on mutuality and accountability.

If you consider the broader landscape of business management systems, you see a similar pattern at work. Successful enterprises are typically (I would argue, are always) grounded in a strategic framework. There's a compelling business purpose or mission guiding effort, informed by a business plan and possibly a vision of the future. There's always an organization structure within which the work gets done, defining the form (e.g., hierarchical, matrix-ed), decision governance and so forth. There are the management processes that guide day to day operations and strategic initiatives...the plan, do, check, act muscles. And then there's the foundation of culture, the values and leadership behaviors which shape internal and external relationships.

Taken individually, none of these ingredients (strategy, structure, process, behavior) can deliver sustained performance. The best strategy in the world, absent process execution or healthy behaviors or robust structure, only gets you out of the starting gate. Fortunately, you probably do not have to have all the bits lined up and functioning before you get going; sequencing the emphasis makes sense based on your circumstances.

BL - July, 2010

Listening, Learning & Leading

There is, in my opinion, a very crucial connection between listening, learning and leading. These three things form a reinforcing triad that allows one person to move a group forward whereas another person will fail to make progress or will do so with lots of collateral damage. Listening is all about making sure you understand with clarity what others are concerned about. A good test for that is when you can make the other person's case better than they can. This has little to do with agreement, just understanding.

Learning is all about discovering what connects, integrates or otherwise reconciles competing views in such a way that a previous roadblock can suddenly be turned into an opportunity or new possibility.
Leading follows as a practical application of what you have understood through listening and learned from exploring new possibilities. But leading absolutely requires action, which in turns requires courage. Action can take many forms - decisions, proposals, delegation, communication, etc.
When leadership is most effective, these actions leverage the collective goodwill and insight that comes from the listening and learning efforts. In my experience, effective leadership is not as much about charisma, oratory or great ideas - even though each is quite beneficial. It is about connection. Do people believe their leader is connected to them in a meaningful way? Do they trust the leader to make decisions that take into account the expressed concerns? This is much more likely when a leader listens first, learns next and leads last.

SS - May, 2009

Power of a Management System - A Retrospective View

Back in the mid-90s HP embarked on a very aggressive project to build capacity to meet the rapid growth in the market for ink-jet cartridges. The printing industry was undergoing a technological revolution and the HP ink-jet products were in the middle of near exponential growth (we called it hyper-growth). The European market was critical to this growth and we selected Ireland as a location that fit the many criteria for the addition of capacity.

The plans to meet this requirement involved customizing temporary facilities to handle the installation of equipment and quick ramping of manufacturing while permanent facilities were being designed and built at another site. The plans included a growth ramp from zero to greater than 2000 people and 1M square feet of space within about four years, while ramping production of a complex product to millions of cartridges per month. This project was clearly not the place for routine, seat-of-the-pants management. The starting point was recognition that leadership style, values and behaviors were a critical part of establishing a successful business. We were starting from zero with almost the entire staff being hired in-country (including most management). A crisp, clear Purpose for the enterprise and a Vision of what we wanted it to look like in the future became a basis for building the work-place culture. Hiring the very best people we could find for the initial leadership team and immersing the team in focused training planted the seed for growth of our enterprise culture. This culture embraced breakthrough performance in manufacturing excellence while building an environment of trust and respect for the people in the company and pride in what we were accomplishing as a team. There are many clichés for how this might be done but it was truly a 24/7 effort to walk-the-talk of excellence and recognize and appreciate it when you saw it.

A key element of the behaviors that we focused on was that of communications excellence. We had a large team of new-hires in the U.S. for training, a team of Manufacturing people in the temporary site, a team of people at the new site and the many partners within and outside HP globally with whom we needed close coordination and collaboration for our success. We called this our communication protocol and strived to become world-class at it. For many of us it was a breakthrough to come to grips with the fact that we all needed continual development in a skill that we had previously believed was pretty much available to us as experienced managers. We are not finished products when we reach senior levels as managers. We need to grow the new skills required of us in new situations. Hyper-growth in a startup business stresses everything we know as leaders.

The next vital part of building the successful enterprise was identifying core business needs, structuring to focus on those needs, establishing goals, measuring performance and building the discipline and routine to honestly evaluate progress and correct shortfalls. This was done for both Business Fundamentals which are critical to the daily and weekly delivery on our commitments as well as for Strategic elements which ensured that we could continue to deliver on those commitments into the future as we became a very large enterprise. This system was exercised from the top down on a strict routine to ensure we did not lose sight of the catch-and-correct requirement for execution of the plans.

The final critical element of the Management System was the periodic feedback to our stakeholders globally, regarding our plans and performance, as well as their continuously changing needs and expectations. Both those of us involved in the startup of this capacity as well as the HP management team worldwide recognized that the product we were building touched more customers than any other product the company had offered before or since. This ‘closing of the loop’ with critical sponsors ensured that we continued to be stewards of our financial responsibility and to participate in a valuable way to the worldwide company objectives.

Looking back on this adventure, it seems clear to me that our record of accomplishment in Ireland had everything to do with the careful design and implementation of a management system. Well within schedule and budget, our team installed nearly a million square feet of full-service capacity; we hired and trained some 2000 new employees, who month in and month out, beat aggressive cost, quality and availability goals. Walking the shop floor, you knew you were in a world class operation; there was a buzz in the place, a sharp sense of pride, purpose and accomplishment.

DY - January, 2009

Collaboration & Globalization

I believe we're standing on the edge of something significant with our focus on collaboration. I now see this work as a logical extension of a path that started with Ford's work back in Detroit.  He broke the assembly work into logical steps and used people to maximum efficiency to assemble a car.  Improvement of this methodology progressed over the years with management science improving the worker's productivity, process improvements to make the work simpler, the whole Deming movement of the 70's starting with statistical quality control and moving to statistical process control to the 3 sigma revolution, continuing improvement of organizational performance through teamwork and quality circles leading to today.....the frontier we're on is the next step in response to globalization of the supply chain to gain productivity of resources....that is organizations working together.  Compare it to Ford where the steps were separated so work began to make improvements on the boundaries between the people to gain productivity.  Now we broken the supply chain up, basically broken the enterprise up, and we need to learn to optimize the productivity of the whole.  The rest of the historical improvements no longer add much advantage to the enterprise because the market is efficient and they've become necessary to even play.  I think the globalized supply chain will win because the economists are right, production by the most efficient producer is best for everyone.  I think our work on the skills of organizations to work together and maximize innovation is the leading edge and I'd bet we'll look back in 20 years and see a bubble of improvements much like the Deming, or Quality Circle times.  This work is more difficult in some ways than other movements thus it's the work remaining to be done.  It deals with subjects like Trust between groups and we're in the thick of it.

DY - November, 2007

Building Trust Across Boundaries

As we talk about trust, we keep coming back to this notion that it is difficult to build, sustain and recover trust across boundaries.

What is this thing about boundaries? Why do they impede trust? Why do we default to the idea that boundaries are bad, or dangerous, fraught with risk?

Recall Steve's wise observation that everything interesting takes place at the boundary, at the the tidal zone, at the cell wall, in that fine line between couples, in that fragile atmosphere between heaven and earth...all our hopes and passion, all our ignorance, all our beliefs, all our fears...swirl and collide within these strange boundaries.

Most of us tend to think of boundaries as 'gaps', as dangerous voids where things are unsettled and uncertain. No wonder we shy away from them. No surprise we find it difficult to extend trust across them.

If you shift your perspective, however; if you think of boundaries as 'frontiers'; they take on a different tone. Suddenly, boundaries carry with them not only gaps, not only risk, uncertainty, or danger...they also 'ooze' with the prospect of possibility, of new horizons, of new adventures.

Run a bit with the 'frontier' metaphor: Think about what happens when states and nations relax their borders. Commerce, ideas and people move at an accelerated pace creating value and wealth (at least that's what an econ major will tell you). Think next about how nations and states relax these barriers. Consider the integration of the EU: a single passport is created, tariffs are harmonized, practices are standardized.

Now return to the notion of gaps. When it comes to trust, what are the gaps, the missings that we're talking about? I suggest they tend to be gaps in understanding, gaps in belief, gaps in capability, gaps in confidence, gaps in (perceived) fairness. If you think about 'antidotes' to these missings, we probably swing back to some familiar concepts: shared purpose, effective communication, the ingredients of trust (TREA) and relevant action. This suggests that building trust across boundaries relies on the practice of collaboration and the spirit of possibility, a shift in emphasis from 'gap' towards 'frontier'.

BL - October, 2007

Collaboration is like Cooking

Several months ago, my wife and I went on a cooking tour of Bali. One of our trip leaders was a chef from Santa Cruz, an unconventional guy, who shared quite a bit of wisdom about the science and the art of cooking: "cooking is about unpacking flavors and reassembling them into something new and wonderful". He also suggested that everything interesting in cooking takes places at the edges and in the changes, as your tongue tastes a new bitter ingredient, blended with something sweet and salty. This is much like collaboration...unusual possibilities become available as you bring curiousity to your listening, as you 'unpack' the contributions of others, and reassemble them into some new solution to a longstanding problem, as you fold the differences that are there into new possibilities at the interface, at the edge. This chef interestingly, never once referred to a recipe. He took the ingredients at a table, his understanding of those ingredients and his idea of the dish, and he went to work. He didn't quite know what he was going to create, but he had enough confidence and still to make it work.

One evening while on this tour, we watched a group of 10 women in a mountain village women present a tutorial on traditional Balinese sweets. The evening started out with what looked to be 'just another food demo', a presentation on ceremonial/temple cakes. It proved, instead, to be a revelation. A half dozen village mothers, gathered in the open kitchen, in 'formal-casual' dress, sarongs, sashes, kibayas...colorful silks, billowing, elegant in understatement. For the next hour, working around the wood stoves, woks, gas burner and countertops, these women created a tapestry of collaboration. Each took on a task, though I suspect that each knew 'em all, and with little wasted motion, and almost no conversation amongst themselves, they proceeded to build fires, mix batter, boil water and set the stage. My wife was the first to notice the cooperative flow of their muss, no fuss, no unlike what you might see in a western kitchen on or Emeril's food channel. It was both matter-of-fact, business-like, but also elegant in its economy. We gorged on their offerings, served with shredded coconut and syrup, chasing down the sweets with a glass of arak (a foul-tasting palm wine) laced with honey and lime juice...walking out along on a paddy dike overlooking the echo of the fruits of collaboration.

BL - September, 2007

Collaboration Talking Points

SS - July 2007

Trust and Betrayal

Individuals and organizations will make mistakes. The type of mistakes makes a very large difference in how quickly we can move on to the same or renewed trust that grants us access to possibilities. When failures of competence or intentional betrayal occur, healing must take place for renewed access to possibilities. When skillfully employed, expert collaborators will more quickly return to trusting and being trustworthy. It will happen, we must know how to respond and move forward, and otherwise we are likely to be confined to the domain of fear, filled with doubt and suspicion, or protecting ourselves at best.

It may well be that the relationship between two parties is truly compromised when trust is betrayed. We believe the key is key is to learn from that experience of betrayal of trust and make sure your behavior in your next relationship with another person or organization demonstrates that learning.

The caution here and the experience of so many is to not trust the next person you need to collaborate for success. If you begin your next relationship at the low end of trust, doubt & suspicion, then you are already far behind those skillful collaborators who begin a new work relationship appreciating others from the outset for the possibilities afforded by the contributions of others.

The timeframes for true innovation in the marketplace are so short today, that there is no time for being bogged down managing risks and obsessing over our fears that collaborating requires. Even if the we got burned the last time we trusted.

JM - September, 2006

Some Thoughts on Trust

What might 'banking' teach us about trust?  I got think on this after listening to a radio report on micro banking in the Philippines, where clients (women usually) with no stature, no collateral, no nothing, are granted credit to accelerate micro-economic growth.   This begs the question of whether banking is built on a foundation of trust vs. a foundation of risk management.   Note that much of banking's history is grounded in the performance of the 'trust' function (trustor, trustee, etc. or the early role of Flemish letters of credit)...yet think about how that trust always seems to get co-mingled quickly with devices to manage or mitigate risk...for example, collateral required by lenders, or co-signed guarantees or deposit guarantees required by savers.   In the world of finance, trust only goes so far. Or another way to think about this is to suggest that there is a wonderful reservoir of value to be tapped in lending and borrowing, but the exchange needs to be encouraged--trust needs to be 'lubricated', risk needs to be lessened.  If you think about how bankers go about this, they look at hard assets (collateral); they look at history; they look at references and reputation; they interview and form their own impression of worthiness. And at the end of the day, they make a determination whether to trust, whether to loan, much like a game theory exercise (the dictator game) where you give people a shot at $50, or a ride at their partner's side. 

At the end of the day, people AND bankers have to choose to trust. We can rely on affiliation, reputation, collateral, etc. to lessen our perception of risk--to ease the 'passage' towards trust--but in many cases, risk mitigation only takes us so far.  What carries us over the threshold seems to be a decidedly human collection of attributes. A poet would probably point to curiosity (inquiry) and hope (belief).  An economist would observe the presence of information imperfections, someone's unique insight into risk/return advantages. 

If we work with a risk/return model a bit, we can derive an interesting set of tenets describing the application and value of trust:

1) Trust is all about choice.
2) In partnerships, trust, like communication and shared purpose, can lower risk AND increase return.
3) The choice to trust is less risky than we presume (given our biologic predisposition). This reflects the power of 'objectifying risk'; it represents the return on awareness or agency.
4) The risks associated with trust can be mitigated through the careful observance (and practice) of predictability, context and transparency...this is the return on skillful practice.
5) The extension or offering of trust creates the pull for reciprocity.  In most situations the effect of this pull is not normally distributed (there is more upside possibility for increasing collaboration than downside risk of triggering destructive behavior)...this offers the return on reciprocity.
6) Trust gives you access to a more powerful set of resources spread across a broader set of opportunities...this offers the return on possibility.

BL - November, 2006

Trust & Fear

I've been having some background thoughts about trust and it's almost like a "lightbulb" went on (so this is scary), but I think trust is an inverse of fear. 

Fear is an emotion that I've been reading a lot about (disgust, fear, anger and parental love are considered the primary emotions).  The amygdala handles threats (fear) in a very rapid and general way, leaving the evaluations for the cortex somewhat later.  The amygdala is loaded with all the fears of our cumulative experiences both physical and social, and thus provides the rapid loss of trust in a threatening situation.  It also turns out that the fears logged in the amygdala are very hard to erase.....a valuable survival tool.  Therefore if we've been subjected to threatening social fears over the years, the amygdala will signal "non trust" very quickly and without our thoughtful control if anything looks like a previous threat might have looked.  This includes the non verbals that are also not totally under the control of people we're interacting with and possibly being incorrectly evaluated by us. 
It's only after some period of time for evaluation, confirmation and resolution of the disparities that we will actually consider removing the fear (non trust) if ever and even then it's an interaction between the cortex and the amygdala.  This interaction might leave us with "thoughtful" trust but gut distrust just waiting for a chance to be right. 
This may be the factor that gives that almost instant ability to trust some people.....they aren't a threat according to our amygdala based upon previous experiences with other people who looked/acted like them.  Similarly, if we take the time to validate our non verbal inputs, verify the lack of threat, etc. then over a period we can override the amygdala with thoughtful non fear based evaluations and begin to trust.
This also provides some possible explanation of why it takes a long time to build trust and just one screw-up removes it so strongly.  Once the amygdala is involved by the trust-breaking event, it takes a lot of work to reverse that memory. 
There's a lot of neurological research being done on this stuff and we could continue to build our presentation keeping it in our sights.  The exciting thing is that there is a lot of work being done in the area of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome on how to over-ride the amygdala and remove some of the fear.  The current strategy is to build association between the fear and something positive.  For instance if our fear is that a particular team is a threat to us commercially then if we can build an association between that team and something positive like a pleasant social event and then keep reinforcing that association, we can actually begin to over-ride the previous fearful memory.  Is that why all the team building stuff spends so much time in social "fun"?   

DY - May, 2006


"Authentic conversations have a distinct character. They value inclusion over exclusion, curiosity over prejudice, commonality over difference, and inquiry over domination. Authenticity is not compromise. It is expanding your field of vision to include a larger system of relationships, so you can see how your purposes fit in that system."

Micky Connolly & Richard Rianoshek in Communication Catalyst p 89

I've been thinking about how I've always been drawn to the idea of 'authenticity' AND how little I know about this terrain.  I'm also struck by how we assert that there is some extraordinary power/value in collaboration; yet we're hard pressed to talk clearly about how it actually takes shape, what the 'mechanics' of that 'creation' are.  It's almost as if we get to the brink, and then suggest a miracle will happen, or that's there some secret sauce at work.  If one could describe what authenticity actually is, how it is created (predictably, reliably), and how we recognize it in ourselves, then we'd be making some real progress in the 'praxis' of collaboration. 

For me, authenticity connects back to the problem with truth in conversation and collaboration.  In partnership, truth is often an elusive critter which requires some shared recognition to become practical and actionable.  Much of the time, truth is divisive, rather than integrative.  It's interesting to me, that in the 'collaboration field' folks don't talk much (in my recollection) about truth; it's more about an emphasis on facts vs. interpretations.  It's also interesting that truth is defined as 'factual' or 'real', and that authentic is defined as 'being true'.  So here's a twist to consider:  it might be constructive to talk about authenticity being somehow different from, larger than truth...because, between people, it tends to reflect a fusion, a joining of truths...that don't conflict, but co-create. 

Here, I'm still left with this sinking feeling that I'm not sure what authenticity looks like; how you create it, accelerate it; AND whether it really yields something which is measurably superior in a commercial world?  Authenticity, in my experience, is a potent attribute. For me, it tends to invite reciprocity and trust. These, in turn, are powerful accelerants to collaboration. When I'm in the presence of an authentic leader or an authentic conversation, I'm pulled towards a higher 'state' of contribution; I tend to offer a more authentic side of myself; I tend to 'lean into' conversations and relationships with more vigor and intent.

How about you?  What do you mean when you think about authenticity?  When have you experienced it in action?  What were the results?  Is it a key ingredient to collaboration? Or is there something else that is a more useful differentiator? 

BL - April, 2006

"The Three Conversations"

In an interaction between two teams or organizations there are generally three (and frequently many more) conversations that are going on which need to be recognized and managed. These are the conversations going on internally within each team and the conversation(s) going on at the boundary. Think of the 'alignment model' in which each team is made up of several individuals who have a wide variability of alignment (the vector direction) with the overall team direction. At the boundary of these two teams, where the formal interaction is taking place, the role of the people involved in the interaction is to maximize the value of the interaction for their team. This boundary conversation is strongly influenced by the conversation taking place within the teams that they represent. However, a more difficult task for the people responsible for the formal interaction at the boundary is to understand, acknowledge and influence the conversation within the other team. Although their role is to maximize value for their team, a potential almost always exists for the interaction to be collaborative in that the outcome increases the total value of the two teams involved. The individuals managing the conversation at the boundary are accountable for the distinction between outcomes that are collaborative and those that create value for their team without consideration of the other team.
A typical situation to illustrate this is the buy/sell negotiation interaction. In this case there is a buying organization that appoints a person or group to negotiate the terms of the purchase on behalf of their organization. They have varying expectations of this "buyer" regarding the impact of not only price but terms such as delivery time, intellectual property protection, warranty etc. The need for rationalization of these expectations in an internal conversation seems at first obvious but is rarely carried out in an authentic way to guide the buyer through the negotiation. Similarly the selling organization has a person or group to represent their organization in the negotiation that must ensure a rationalization of the varying expectations within the selling side. In order to maximize the potential for collaborative value in this situation, it is necessary for the designated buyer and seller to be aware of the nature of the conversation within the other side such that each of the team members feels influential in the interaction. In this way the buyer and seller are able to search the entire spectrum of available outcomes to service the needs of the two organizations, including those that "grow the pie" for the combined team represented by both organizations.

DY - March, 2006

Partnership & Purpose

The most effective partnerships are built to last, demonstrating staying power and delivering real value to the company. Strong relationships will almost certainly need to endure times of severe testing and strain, as well as the desired state of positive interactions and the celebration of shared success.

The existence of deep commitment to shared purpose across teams and individuals provide an inherently natural balm that salves the wounds and injuries incurred during the normal commerce of shared work, ideas, and agreements requisite for successful collaboration. This commitment to a shared purpose is most often thought of as a "long view" of any situation. Actions and conversations are often more effective when "the here and now" is held up to account for the impact to "the next time". Moving forward is more important to team success than looking backward. Punitive measures are part of any economy and afford financial remedy and deterrents to behaviors inconsistent with social and commercial contracts. Punitive measures seldom heal or strengthen strained relationships. It is far more likely that they will only compound them.

It may seem intuitive that successful partners will often sacrifice in the short term for the long-term gain, but does not come without heavy costs. Team successes are shared, as are their failures and shortcomings. Relationships can endure even the most severe strain as long as mutual trust exists and shared purpose is widely held and nurtured. Collaboration is enabled by the making the conscious choices to have relationships endure longer and return those investments of time, talent, and sacrifice that are not quickly made.

Senior leadership is very accountable for how their teams work through a tough situation based upon how they are expected to behave. Senior leadership must clearly identify which relationships must endure and what costs and sacrifices are acceptable to afford the benefits derived.

As you begin any relationship with key partners in a transaction (contractual) or alliance (joint development) the considerations given to how you may need to exit are very worthy of careful consideration.

The purpose of this next activity is to work with another team to better understand how strong relationships that do endure eventually deliver the desired benefits from the investments of time, talent, and sacrifice. You are going to be required to make choices with your partner about how to move your team forward under severe strain.

JM - February, 2006

High Performance Collaboration

Each of us has carries memories of those peak collaboration experiences. Mine is commercial fishing. It's much like what I imagine the intense experience of serving in a combat unit might produce, or what it might be like to be part of a championship sports team. These are life's intense experiences, often associated with sweet success or bitter disappointment or both. What's intriguing to me is how our framework of collaboration attributes (shared purpose, communication, trust and action) correlates to my memories of such experience.

In this case, working on a 58' salmon 'purse seiner' in Alaska, the clear sense of purpose was reinforced with a profit sharing scheme. Trust was essential given we were subjected to short seasons, specialized roles and physical danger. Communication was efficient, even spare, defined by our shared mission. And everywhere in the foreground and background there was effort and action shaped by the race to win, along with moments of physical exhaustion.

I can remember (as I'm sure all of you can) what it felt like to succeed in this setting. One morning, we're sitting on the rails of the deck, exhausted from hitting the mother lode. The deck is loaded knee- deep with pink and sockeye salmon and I remember looking over at another crewman, catching his eye, and recognizing that glint of wonder, elation and victory. The experience was visceral, more than just emotion and intellect; there was something 'chemical' at work.

So, what does this suggest? Purpose, trust, communication and action do make sense to me as ingredients to successful collaboration...the creation/realization of value. And the absence of any one (or combination) of these attributes can cripple/stifle the performance of a team. But fishing for salmon, or surviving combat or winning a league championship are not the commonplace circumstances we find ourselves in; these extraordinary moments tend to 'pull for' or even demand the forging of purpose, the accuracy of communication, the fulfillment of trust.

But even when we do find ourselves in more familiar situations, it seems to me that the same dynamics are in play: time is still pressing, competition is fierce, uncertainty is everywhere and the gods are typically making a snarl of things.

Moreover, I believe these are the conditions when the attention to efficient, rigorous collaboration (the 'scientific' practice of collaboration) becomes most valuable. I believe that you can innovate more reliably and systematically create new value by focusing on shared cares and concerns...working with facts...building intersections... forging purpose at an accountable level...emphasizing accuracy in conversation...and investing in trust by creating 'accessibility', even 'smart vulnerability.'

BL - Jan, 2006