Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

Collective or collaborative? What’s the best approach?

 The issues raised in a number of my recent blogs have led me to ask the question, is it better to use the power of the collective or the engagement of the collaborative in complex transformation.

The nature of global corporates these days has changed with the increasing visibility, transparency and vigilance generated by regulators around the world. Each of these regulators bring different perspectives and pet requirements…but there are probably one or two key themes, which relate quite closely to the concept of policy, process and practice which I’ve explored before.

The first key theme is uniformity, in terms of consistency around policy and process, ideally in every jurisdiction. Beyond accounting standards, there is an expectation that the implementation of consistent policies, in obvious areas such as FCPA / Anti Bribery is no longer a nice to have but an expectation. In industries such as financial services, the policy and process expectation is considerably greater, extending to who one does business with (Know Your Customer), Risk and Capital Management and a range of other activities.

The second key theme appears to be ‘measureability’ and reporting. Not only are corporates expected to make these policy changes across their span of control, they are also expected to show the effectiveness of their implementation. 

With this in mind, let’s analyse the two approaches that  I’ve seen used.  First, the Collective. For many of you of my age or those who are ‘trekkies’, the concept of the Borg Collective is familiar. Here’s Patrick Stewart as perhaps the most famous assimilation target.


Their message is clear and unadulterated as pronounced in their famous conquest phrase:

“We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.”

Now, as an implementation philosophy, I can understand the value of this kind of conformity…it speaks to the control freak in me. The ultimate risk management challenge of ‘reputational risk’ which is the big stick as far as any listed corporate entity goes is answered through a strict adherence to policy and process. This is the collective form of implementation and in an increasingly complex, global and transparent world, probably has no equal.

Secondly, the collaborative form of implementation. First, a definition from the Oxford English Dictionary: “the action of working with someone to produce something”. Note, there is no physical change required…no mind meld or assimilation which leads to this result. Note also that the definition of what is produced is vague, ie it is the act of collaboration that produces the result. This, then, is not a permanent state, but a voluntary process (my interpretation, not that of the OED). To draw upon a slightly tenuous analogy, this quote from the Prophet has always struck me as being as relevant to the work place as to marriage, which is what it is normally reserved for:

“Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”

So which one is better? I’m going to give the consultants answer, which is that it depends! If you have a project which is all about enforcement and 100% conformity, driving a process which will be ruthlessly enforced, by all means use the collective process. But importantly, do not expect innovation or an engagement with the spirit of the change but purely the letter. If on the other hand, you’re looking for an innovative solution which requires an engagement with the principle / concept, then collaboration is the way to go. Beware however, the result may not be what you’re expecting, nor is potentially the way it’s achieved. With collaboration comes a degree of autonomy and the subsequent sense of ownership, which is wonderful if you’re happy with the solution, but more difficult if you’re not.

Once again, the challenge is not just the result but the method of getting there….as written many times before on these pages, implementation is a skill set all of its own. 


Categories: Behavioural Economics, Change management, Complex transformation, Consulting, Disruptive Innovation, Human Capital, Implementation, Project Management, Transactional Analysis, Transformation

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s