Business Success: Collaborating for the Future

Cisco, the world’s largest provider of Internet networking and communication equipment, is powered by collaboration. With 22 current worldwide initiatives, chief executive John Chambers claims that it would be impossible to manage his company using his old style of command and control. Collaboration enables Cisco to foresee changing trends and act quickly.

Management of changeAccording to Chambers, one of Cisco’s strengths is its ability to foresee impending market transitions. “Cisco is able to predict trends six to eight years ahead even in the highly volatile technology market by recognizing early-warning signals its customers unwittingly put off. To capitalize on these ‘market shifts,’ Chambers gave up his command-and-control style and made decision making highly collaborative.”
Cisco organizes for collaboration in several ways.

No Hierarchy
Chambers claims that he found it difficult to let go of his usual command-and-control style, but he disciplined himself to change his behavior. Specifically, in meetings, he gave his team time to think. He began to see that his team often made decisions that were just as good, if not better, than his. And because they were involved in the process, the members of the team were much more invested in the execution. However, not all managers were able to make the adjustment. When this collaborative leadership style was implemented throughout Cisco, 20 percent of the top management team went elsewhere.

State-of-the-Art Technologies
Among Cisco’s offerings are several technologies that enable collaboration. PC software for online meetings is powerful and efficient. But the real collaborative power comes from the company’s next-generation videoconferencing that connects customers and team members world wide.

Collaborative Teams
Cisco has a highly matrixed structure of cross-functional teams called councils and boards that collaborate on projects. Because of the highly sophisticated conferencing software, Cisco employees collaborate in real time much like social networking groups. “The power of collaboration is not in adding more people to the process but in getting immediate input from smart people and thinking through the problem as a group.” This is critical to the success of the company. Individuals and teams from anywhere in the world can gather quickly for an intimate virtual meeting using their state-of-the-art videoconferencing technology.

Verbal and Financial Motivation
To begin a project, Cisco puts people together who speak a common language and engages them in reaching their goal. The leader then drives the team through execution. People are motivated to engage with strong leadership and compensation tied to team performance.

Clear and Consistent Communication
Chambers states: “Clear and consistent communication was and is very, very important to making this whole thing work.” Top management has developed a clear and consistent vocabulary to ensure that information is dispersed and shared consistently worldwide.

Quick Alignment of Resources
When resources are low, flat management and collaboration may save the day. Team members are encouraged to help each other and reallocate resources. Risk taking is also necessary to make a quick change of direction. Team members must be tolerant of failure.
Chambers claims that the new challenges keep him motivated and competitive. His passion for collaboration and willingness to share decision making infuses the whole system with new energy to fuel the vision and stimulate innovation.

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