Too often organizational culture and processes recognize and reward internally competitive—rather than collaborative—behavior. This creates a significant barrier to creating value through collaboration. Companies may say they embrace collaboration, but the culture and processes often say something different. A key process is the recognition and reward system. Organizations committed to collaboration must reevaluate these systems to make sure they reinforce rather than undermine priorities including collaboration.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States Intelligence Community has been making wholesale changes in how it operates. Among the many recommendations of the 9/11 Commission was that the sixteen federal agencies that comprise the intelligence community share information. The challenge was to create ways to share and collaborate across agencies in a culture that embraces secrecy. The impetus for cultural change is the desire to prevent future attacks.
On the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence invited me to speak to the intelligence community. Some senior intelligence officials had read The Culture of Collaboration book and asked me to talk about its key themes plus other collaboration ideas relevant to intelligence.
In the speech, I provided a series of steps the intelligence community could take to institutionalize collaboration. One step is realigning the recognition and reward system around collaboration. I noted that in both corporations and government agencies there is a tendency to hoard—rather than share—information, because people view information as power. If they give up the goods, they feel they become weaker. Information hoarders embrace their role as the “go-to” people on a given subject. This is exactly the issue that the intelligence community and many private sector companies must address.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is making progress in multiple ways on the collaboration front. Regarding incentives, ODNI has publicized a new policy for fiscal year 2009 that makes information sharing a factor in performance reviews. The policy applies to agencies that handle terrorism-related information. The policy requires agency executives to hold managers and team members accountable for sharing what they know. As part of the directive, information technology departments at these agencies must build or modify systems to enhance information sharing and collaboration across agencies.
The key for the intelligence community—and any organization—is that information sharing becomes proactive rather than just reactive. It’s one thing to share information when it’s requested. It’s another thing entirely to take the initiative to share. In a collaborative organization, people reach across departments, functions, business units and regions to proactively share information so that the organization can pounce on opportunities. For the intelligence community, the opportunity may be thwarting an attack. For a company, the opportunity may be making a process improvement, creating a new market opportunity, making a sale or retaining a customer.
Organizations must ensure that collaboration is more than a buzz word, more than a check mark or mention in a performance evaluation, and is instead part-and-parcel of how people work.