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Learning Journal Executive Summary

Marco Cassone MSOD 620 Dr Chris Worley

For the 15 students on the Blue Team, our shared goal (output: writing a collective paper) and
our shared dependence on the environment (input: information necessary to do so) gave us
the loose experience of a network collaborating to achieve something otherwise impossible to
achieve individually. The task would have been simpler to divide and conquer, and simpler still
for one person to conceive and create with 14 pairs-of-hands to assist. Interdependence is
tricky, especially with too much talent and too many cooks in the kitchen.
I noticed a push-pull in the role structure played in our collaboration. In T-group settings,
structure can help decrease uncertainty in group dynamics. For collaboration, however,
structure should "ow" from and support purpose, goals, and objectives. Our Blue Team,
however, experienced structure for structure's sake, which limited our collective sense making
and threatened the autonomy of individuals with diverse ideas of how to contribute.
This gave me insight into how network structure affects behavior. Our initial hierarchy gave us
the experience of a centralized network conguration, where too much control stunted the
natural ow of knowledge and information and the potential for informal learning. We felt
coordinated, yet segregated; we lacked vision and higher principles for how to work together.
In this state, our subgroups could not access the talent and information available to the Blue
Team as a whole. Related to our reading, I see how the sharing of information in a network
offers multiple perspectives of the changing environment, which helps individual organizations
absorb and/or decrease VUCA turbulence they might otherwise experience on their own.
My personal experience of collaboration is that it can and should be messy, but it should also
be juicy. Messiness here refers to the allowance of self-organization; juiciness is following
the juice of inspirationthat is, great collaboration self-organizes effortlessly around inspired
work that is both appreciated and recognized to move the collective goal forward.
For our Blue Team, too much order too early met with pushback until the group structure
collapsed briey. In our tense, full-team calls during breakdown, I observed what might
correlate (again loosely) to concepts of exploration and exploitation. A few classmates took the
risk of offering solutions for moving forward (exploration). Most waited to take advantage of the
success or failure of earlier ideas (exploitation). Too little exploration keeps a system from
innovating; too little exploitation loses the cohesion possible from building on what works. This
is another push-pull in how network and individual behavior effect each other.
This lead me to the following: The concept of Guanxi gives me the perception that Chinese
culture is favorable to copying success and averse to making mistakes. One of the presenting
problems in our client system is that members of CANGO agree on important issues, but few
take initiative to do something about them. This could be explained by lack of leadership, lack
of strategic planning, or lack of a common goal. Conversely, however, it could also be
explained by a culture that a) doesnt value trial-and-error (exploration), b) fosters norms,
structures, and leadership that are pro-exploitation, and c) seeks to control and suppress the
self-organizing messiness that is a part of collaboration. Our assumption is that leadership
development and capacity building will help CANGO leaders shift their paradigm, but this may
be signicantly off. Asking Chinese leaders to be less uncomfortable taking risks, making
mistakes publicly, and learning from each other might be like asking them to be less Chinese.
In the brief period when our Blue Team structure disintegrated, our dysfunction resembled a
distributed network; there was an inux of diverse perspectives and input that had not been
available to our silos. This extreme lack of structure played an important function for us: it
quickly made us aware that lack of coordination in the choices and actions of individuals
created more work for everyone. We were more interdependent than wed realized, and our
biggest, unanticipated source of frustration was the complexity of our interactions themselves.
This window in our formation was thankfully temporary;it begat a more collaborative,
decentralized network structure somewhere between the two extremes. We signicantly
increased our communication and implemented work principles that allowed individuals to
attend, move between, and contribute to different work streams, each of which was supported,
rather than controlled, by a steward appointed to guide the communication around and
progress of that work stream. This new conguration seemed to capture a magic balance of
messiness and juiciness; everyone started paying attention to following the juice of an inspired
idea when we heard it, and the project progressed and transformed at amazing speeds.
This transformation did not occur without headaches, however. An unintended byproduct of
the roles and responsibilities set up in our early structure was ownership/attachment to
individual contribution: when the collective group revamped our intervention design to
incorporate contributions from across the team, members of the original intervention-design
subgroup experienced diminished respect for the work theyd previously invested.
A learning reection from this upset was that to collaborate in a complex and changing
environment, our Blue Team needs to be agile enough to re-congure ourselves on the y to
best serve emerging client needs. Thinking about how myth-making can help TS organizations
see shared problems in novel ways, I wondered if metaphors could offer us different ways of
approaching collaboration. I posted on Yammer that since different contexts or units of work
require different kinds of collaboration, perhaps metaphors could help us know:
- when to be alert, ready to pass and run with the ball like a basket ball team;
- when to fall in line like an army troop or to mirror each other with ballet precision;
- when to listen intently to improvise off each other like a tight jazz trio; etc.
All in all, Im very proud of the product our Blue Team has created for CANGO. Im happy with
my level of participation and contribution. My suspicion, however, is that we may be dumbing
down our diagnosis and intervention since were unsure about our audience and given the
language barrier. Our inquiry and focus may default to the organizational level (which is more
comfortable, familiar, and easier to talk about for everyone) instead of aspiring to a transorg
perspective, but Im sure well learn a lot from our experience with CANGO either way.