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Stuck in the Middle: The Collaborator

The Collaborator sorta sounds like a super hero – not so much, but I can see the spandex garb in my head, so I’ll run with it.

The collaborator is an interesting [tag]leadership[/tag] persona – on the surface it is a label, mode of operation and general concept which is good – right up until something requires accountability. So let me state – a product, deliverable or just plain anything is just plain better with help. In fact a group can always produce a better product, but there always lingers the [tag]group think[/tag] risk, which ignored, not understood or believed to be a myth by the collaborator. Think Abilene paradox! – agreement is a bear.

Usually the better product is produced through iterations and review, rather than sharing the creative process, model development or production activity. Everyone has a role and value they bring to the table, but the leadership super hero – The Collaborator – believes ALL phases of delivery are best done with 12 people (4 on a dial in number, 6 people in the room and 2 following up after the fact via email). While with a geologist, I just put together some diagnosis concepts, the collaborator requires a little more work to flesh out and help folks understand how to thrive in a collaboration lifestyle – err “workstyle”.

So in a collaborative reality the delivery time lines are COMPLETELY manageable and by manageable – I mean lot’s of headroom, but due to the number of meetings – the whole thing is a little over complicated from a production process perspective. The meetings become a great opportunity to get input – in fact this leader prefers volume of input to validity of input. So in the model – the more commentary the better, I find myself becoming a play-by-play analyst of my daily work life (update emails, update meetings, update blog posts..) and acknowledging each item of input through a series of “let me know sure I fully understand – you believe <insert random input provided by a direct report of the collaborator>” or rapid response email requesting more quality insights which can help delay the next rev of uninspiring delivery.

This is the best leadership model to survive/hide in, all you need is input and participation in the process, since the team will develop all parts of the deliverable. In fact, it is almost preferred to start with a framework, rather than a draft of something – since no single person is accountable in this model. The model by design makes EVERY work product a success and while I never participated/witnessed, I suspect there are [tag]group hugs[/tag] if I was able to attend all of the typical 3 hour review meeting.

Facts, stats and logic are your magic bullet under this leader persona – in fact if you can present the facts in the way that the leader believes it was a product of the team, you WIN and get to participate in future love fests which produce watered down messaging, minimalist risk taking and in general a place to call your own on the Phrog farm.

Jerry Harvey on Phrogs:

  • All organizations have two essential purposes. One is to produce widgets, glops, and fillips. The other is to turn people into phrogs. In many organizations, the latter purpose takes precedence over the former. For example, in many organizations, it is more important to follow the chain of command than to behave sensibly.
  • Phrog is spelled with a ph because phrogs don’t like to be known as frogs, and they try to hide their phroginess from themselves and others by transparent means… For one who has been a person, it’s a great come down to be a phrog.
  • Stuck in the Middle: The Geologist

    As part of the stuck in the middle series, I will develop multiple personae for examination – the first one is “The Geologist”. The Geologist can be a leader or an individual contributor whose actions of each are on opposite poles of detail – too much or too little.

    The Geologist as a leader, says “Bring me a rock” – most often in business this cliche has many use cases, but in my view its the project sponsor, manager or executive who only knows they need something which has a hardness on Moh scale than talc, but clearly we don’t have time for diamonds or a meaningful/supportable/executable explanation of what is required.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like bullet points like the next person – but not in the project definition phase – conclusions, lessons learns and general presentations – bullet=rock, but not in the “project contract” for lack of a better word.

    Typically this [tag]leader[/tag] will not fully understand what they want – “I want a new “X””. The geologist doesn’t know what it is, but they clearly know what it is NOT. So contributors will go labor, come back and get told “not exactly”, go labor – come back, “nope”, so the loop continues…

    There is a point in time typically when the geologist realizes 2 or 3 of the loop iterations ACTUALLY were close, they synthesize and go home. This can add as much as N-times of effort, had the leader defined his or her wants the first time or understood their wants.

    Now the [tag]individual contributor[/tag] which is a geologist type, endlessly “tumbles” their rock until it is shiny and cool. It’s not at all the right rock, but they have spent so much time that they are convinced it is valuable – kinda of a fools gold deliverable if you will.

    When you get a geologist leader AND executor, you are sure to have over efforted products, content and requirements which will total miss the spirit of the project, but not the letter. After all, the Bullet=Rock, so everyone is fairly happy right until the market launch. Speaking of market launches, this can at times be a great persona for embracing the perfection trap.

    At some point you have to stop the tumbler, make an assessment and deliver goods – even if it is a ROCK.