Coordination: Unifying action by leveraging strengths and integrating conflict

Coordination is our fourth Leadership Competency.

Coordination includes the practices, structures, processes and systems that enable us to work together.  Henry Ford coordinated action through an assembly line.  Our traditional way of coordinating people and technology  is top down.  Such “power over” approaches include rigid rules and procedures and holding people accountable for outcomes.

For Cooperative Advantage’ coordination is accomplished through “power with” to fully empower those closest to the work.  Expertise is tailored to fit the situation and those responsible must gain the alignment agreement of everyone involved with and affected by the work. Strengths are leveraged throughout the variety perspectives and conflicts are integrated into unified understanding and action.  This is not easy, it requires clearly understanding our personal perspective, putting ourselves in the shoes of others, and also including the whole system.  From this place new insights can arise.

For example in the late 70s Smith the CEO of GM would tell you have a choice either a high-quality car or a low-cost car you cannot get both. However Toyota discovered there was a way to integrate cost and quality by giving the people doing the work the information, skills, and authority to jointly make informed decisions together. This helped them build quality in and reduce rework

For Cooperative Advantage we must take the same principles and also apply them in situations that are less systematic and more emergent. This requires that employees embrace principles of self and group leadership and also care for the whole. This requires the competence to turn conflict or opposing views into a creative an integrated whole.

Why is it important?

Coordination engages and leverages the collective creativity and energy of everyone in the system when it leverages strengths and integrates differences.  This allows us to sense potential problems and build prevention into our decisions.  It also allow us to experiment and learn and truly unlock the full potential and power of everyone in the system.

What happens when “power with” coordination is missing?

Our traditional ways of coordinating action are directed by those who are not closest to the action. This both overlooks the intelligence on the ground and undermines the creativity and motivation of those responsible for doing the work. Importantly this also overlooks important information that would enable us to prevent mistakes.  Hence we find ourselves picking up the pieces when we firefight to fix mistakes.  This is extremely wasteful and demotivating.

Elevating coordination through practice

For Coordination with  Cooperative Advantage we must take the “power with” principles to both leverage strengths and integrate conflict and difference and apply these to all parts of the leadership process including innovation and operations.

To get started first commit to treating all differences of perspective and conflict as an opportunity for creative integration.

  1. Engage the right people, those who are responsible for the work and all those affected.
  2. Apply self leadership to deeply understand your interests and perspective including internal conflicts related to the situation.
  3. Apply group leadership to put yourself in the shoes of each person involved to fully understand their interests and perspectives.
  4. Now take the view of the whole.  Fully understand the context and situation.
    • What are the full range of strengths available and of interests that must be accounted for?
    • How, creatively might we achieve multiple objectives even those that may at first appear to conflict?
    • Might there actually be a way, as Toyota found, to achieve more?

Posted by David Sherman

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