Lynda Gratton: Competition or Collaboration?

I was up late a few nights ago because (I don’t know if you know this) my pregnant girlfriend has a bladder the size of a pea. I guess carrying around little Bostelle 2.0 tends to squish up all the other organs. Any way, she needs to get up every hour or so, and since I’m kind of a light sleeper, I get up when she gets up.

Occasionally, this means I can’t get back to sleep. Such was the case the other night. I don’t even remember which night this was because they are all sort of blending together in one long blur of sleeplessness. Usually when I get up early like this, I work on research and listen to the BBC world service via KUOW (94.9 in Tacoma). Well, the other night I was sort of drifting in and out of consciousness and there was a fascinating interview on the Beeb with a woman named Linda Gratin. She was talking about the importance of collaboration as the new model for businesses and made some key comparisons between this new model of cooperation versus the old model of competition. Going so far as to suggest that competitive people should be fired if they can’t learn to cooperate!

So, I googled her… nothing. I tried looking her up on the BBC web site… nothing. Linda Gratin where are you???

Turns out her name is Lynda Gratton and she’s quite well known in the business world, if only you know how to spell her name. Ah the joy of analog technology: too bad the FM signal can’t beam an RSS feed to my news aggregator. Anyway, after looking her up in Proquest and checking out some of her articles, I’m really intrigued by what she has to say.

The article I’m currently reading is called “Building bridges for success” (UW Restricted Link) and was originally published in the Financial Times. London (UK): Jun 29, 2007. In that article she outlines some of her basic ideas about the importance of collaboration on innovation, leadership’s role in creating a collaborative environment, formal and informal collaboration, and the importance of stamping out competition.

What’s shocking about this article is its relevance to strategic planning here on campus and in the library. One of the things that I think most people identified as a problem on campus was the idea of “siloing:” where units were working in competition for resources. According to Lynda Gratton, this environment stifles innovation and fosters mistrust.  Well, of course it does… especially in academia.

I’ve seen this in action in myriad ways but I’ll give you a sports analogy if you’ll indulge me: football (soccer to some of you). On a football team, the most important aspect of the game is cooperation. To the layman, it looks like attacking players only attack and defending players only defend. In the past this was more or less true, but there was a revolution in football in the 70’s when the Dutch national team, led by their charismatic and one of the most talented individual players ever (Johan Cruyff), popularized something called “total football.” In some ways, Total Football was a response to Cruyff’s insistence on being all places at all times, it was heavily reliant on one, very competitive man and his desire to do all things on the pitch. But what grew out of that was something collaborative, beautiful, and one in which all the parts worked seamlessly together to form a whole. Defenders were no longer relegated to defense; if the attack required a player to come down the wing, anyone could do it.

Today, my favorite team (Arsenal) plays a faster paced more expansive version of the same concept and they do it without the benefit of a real superstar (their best player is a 20 year old). Their movement and reliance on each other to pick up when someone else has moved into a different position is universally recognized as some of the most beautiful football ever played. And no I’m not just saying that because I’m a fan. Arsenal, in many ways, epitomizes the importance of teamwork and collaboration.  They make hundreds of passes in a game where even a great team makes dozens, everyone is constantly in motion, supporting the attack, defending from the front, covering, and always looking for their teammate.

No, it’s not perfect (Arsenal are currently in third place and have no real hope for a trophy) but the team they have built, the innovation that they are laying down for future footballers, and the trust that they all have for each other is truly special to watch.  And yes, I am saying THAT as a fan, but I’d bet most football fans would agree.

Now, I’m by no means suggesting that that environment of “siloing” and internal competition still exists here at UWT or in the library. Rather, let me suggest something different, a more positive approach if you will; that those of us interested in innovation make sure that we are reaching out to others across campus, building diverse teams for our projects, and creating collaborative efforts. I think that if we (continue to) do that then we could turn UWT into what Lynda Gratton calls a “Hot Spot” for innovation.

And that would be real cool if you ask me!

Until tomorrow, Cheers.



Filed under Building planning, Strategic Planning, Technology Pulse

3 responses to “Lynda Gratton: Competition or Collaboration?

  1. Suzanne

    I think , however, that it is relatively easier for a football team to have a common goal (pun intended) and work collaboratively towards that end than it is for an organization such as a university. It is fairly easy to share the same goals at the macro level, but frequently, I fear, we individually have different priorities, care about different aspects of our organization, approach issues and situations with different philosophies, ethics, and experience, and or disagree on the best ways to reach those goals.

  2. Too true Suzanne! But a football team has many, many goals, both macro and micro. So too does a University, from a strategic planning standpoint and I think the two things can compare quite well.

    Arsenal goals: win trophies, win games, win this game, score goals, defend your goal, make pass.

    University goals: innovation, foster an environment of collaboration, reward teamwork, hire collaborative staff, etc.

    The point is that I think there are small things that we can start doing here that will lead to the achievement of larger goals. We just need to be mindful of those larger goals.

    Also, disagreement is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing! But disagreement needs to be framed in the context of collegiality.

  3. You have selected an excellent analogy to discuss the idea of innovation. Arsenal, along with Barcelona and Brazil, are the exemplars of the best football being played in the world. Every team deep down truly wants to play like these teams. They are the ideal. Not everyone achieves their quality, their beauty and it is true that they don’t always win the ultimate reward. But there are all sorts of rewards besides and sometimes they do win the ultimate prize. I think that the pursuit of beauty alone is one way to get at innovation…

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