When I’m on the road, I keep my eyes open for collaboration insights.
This week I was in Memphis and made a detour to Little Rock. In Memphis, I stayed at the Peabody Hotel, the grand old hotel of the south famous for the daily parade of ducks from the hotel roof to the fountain. The site of several ducks marching in formation through the hotel lobby certainly requires coordination and arguably collaboration.
Here in Little Rock…I’m staying at the Capital Hotel, which has an elevator big enough to supposedly have accommodated Ulysses Grant and his horse. Also, the Capital serves one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve ever eaten. Everything is made from scratch! All of this in a gorgeous, old-world dining room.
Back to collaboration. Regardless of politics and how you may feel about Bill Clinton, any leader would do well to take note of Little Rock’s favorite son and his thoughts about hiring, culture, and decision-making:
“I don’t care how smart you are…” Bill Clinton’s voice boomed into my audio tour headset at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. “Success and failure depends on how well the staff and cabinet debate honestly and openly and then unite once you’ve made a decision. “
I was standing in the replica of the White House cabinet room, and President Clinton was setting the scene for the debates that occurred in that room on his watch as the 42nd President of the United States. “You never can tell when somebody who’s in an unrelated agency will have a really keen insight…thinking people, caring people who came from all different backgrounds from all over America.” Amen! Cross-functional collaboration!
President Clinton was essentially talking about constructive confrontation, one of the Ten Cultural Elements of Collaboration that I identify in my book, The Culture of Collaboration. To effectively collaborate, the culture of any organization—whether it’s the federal government, a large enterprise, a non-profit, or a small business—must encourage debate and constructive confrontation regardless of level, role or region.
Constructive means that the confrontation is about making a better decision rather than personality conflicts or posturing. At some point, debate ends and an organization coalesces behind a united position. Smart organizations encourage debate as President Clinton did among his staff and cabinet rather than blind agreement with the boss.
The Clinton Library and Museum includes a replica of the Oval Office as it was when President Clinton occupied it. According to the staff, the former President often moves objects around or borrows them during his monthly or bi-monthly visits to the Library (he has an apartment upstairs with room for his secret service agents).
The docents tell me that President Clinton knows them all by name and is closely involved in almost everything that happens at the Library. I spoke at length with one docent, Jane Cazort, whose father-in-law was lieutenant governor of Arkansas and whose granddaughter went to school with Chelsea Clinton.
Coincidentally, next week I’ll be attending the Fortune Brainstorm: Green 2009 conference in Laguna Niguel, California at which President Clinton is speaking. More on that later.