• Lars Christensen

Beyond collaboration overload by Rob Cross


I finished this book in July 2022. I recommend this book 8/10.

This is a great book, reminding you that you need to own your time and control your calendar so that you can add value to your organization. Disruptions, interruptions, and task switches are killing our capabilities to do so.

Get your copy here.

My notes and thoughts:

  • "No prudent man" would ever put more cattle into his own private enclosure than his meadow could feed; the calculation changes if he uses a shared gracing area, such as a public common. The farmer might be tempted to put more animals on the common than he should, because he knows they wouldn't go hungry—they'd simply eat up more of the shared meadow. This happens to many when it comes to the work environment. You can become an overtaxed resource, where people aren't "consuming" you well, where your life is dictated by others' needs.

  • Anja was already fully engaged in her own work. But she did not operate the way Scott did—she did not strive to become the indispensable helpmate for every colleague or team she worked with, and she did not seek to become the pivot point for every decision. As a consequence, she was not overloaded with collaboration, and she was able to take the time to persuade her network—as one among equals—to think in fresh ways about the knowledge-capture problem.

  • How successful people cultivate essential collaboration:

  • Challenge belief about yourself and your role.

  • Impose a structure that helps shield you from unnecessary collaborative demands.

  • Alter behaviors to streamline collaboration practices.

  • Mobilizing a broad network of connections for innovation and the ability to scale your work.

  • Creating energy engagement in your networks so that opportunities and talent flow to you.

  • Finding renewal through personal connections increase your physical and mental well-being.

  • "I constantly have to remind myself to stop solving every easy little problem that comes to me," one CFO said. "Dealing with those things feels good to me and lets me avoid the big hairy challenges I should be addressing." To combat this trigger, this leader constantly questions whether he is the only one uniquely qualified to solve each problem.

  • Pulling the whole picture together, Scott created what he called a "strategic calendaring" regimen. He looked ahead at each coming week, as well as at the coming four weeks, and tried to make sure all his activities were aligned with his goals. He scouted to see where nonessential collaborations were sneaking onto his schedule. He made a plan to connect the people around him and develop capabilities in his team. And he set aside time for reflection.

  • Strategic Calendaring—page 77.

  • One leader's steadfast rule is I never do anything alone. This stands in contrast to less-effective people who think they should hold on to an idea until it has developed and then have to invest time and effort to get others up to speed and connected to the right people in the network.

  • Foreseeing extensive churn in the form of design efforts and management structures, the manager asked the CEO how much would really be gained—would it be worth the effort? He was annoyed at first, but he assigned someone to quantify the potential advantage of localized but unfamiliar brands over foreign but familiar brands. The estimate showed there would be little advantage, so the initiative was scrapped. "Probing in this way for a minute or two sometimes might catch the leader off guard or be a little frustrating at first," the manager said. "But over the years, I have probably saved ten person-years of unnecessary work by reframing what my teams deliver, and in what time frame, through a couple of probing questions. But you have to catch this in that small window when they are asking."

  • I proactively initiate network connections important to my professional and personal success:

  • Rather than play defense by being proactive in network development, focusing on spheres you should invest in for depth or complementary expertise. Start with people you know for introductions or reach out to those you don't know with a request to explore overlaps and complementarities. Then follow up on those leads. End meetings asking: Who else should I be speaking with, and can you connect me?

  • All too often, in pursuit of a neat, elegant solution for the whole problem, people give up trying to make things marginally better. They won't take steps to streamline 60 emails with direct reports because that solution wouldn’t work for the other 120 emails coming from bosses, clients, and stakeholders. But usually, there is no elegant solution to the whole problem. Playing offense against overload is more like a brawl than a ballet. The winners are the ones who relentlessly claw time back through many small actions.

  • Efficient meetings—page 98.

  • That's not real-time, you might say. But isn't it? The loss of all these hours is exactly why we are exhausted at the end of the day. It's why we are doing email when we should be thinking strategically or spending time with family or friends. We all need to appreciate how truly damaging our constant disruptions, interruptions, and task switches can be over the long term so that we can begin to organize our behaviors in new ways.

  • Efficient email—page 106.

  • Deliberately engaging influencers is an often overlooked but critical driver of success. Per one financial-service leader: "Probably 75 percent of the final product features emerge through all the adjustments in implementation. You have to build time into your calendar and forums to message benefits and rationale for your program to work, obtain feedback in pilots, and communicate actions you have taken on that feedback."

  • The lesson from this time horizon is to pause for just a moment and make sure you are not ignoring micro-moments that could define you. Success doesn't come from simply building a structurally diverse network where you are always interacting with people who are in other pockets of the organization. Rather, in the micro-moment, it comes in responses to a request or idea and reaching out across network dividers to people with unique expertise or perspectives who can help frame a better solution.

  • Let's break this down to see the actual time commitments. A typical high performer we studied characterized the time investment like this. Obviously, these numbers vary in role, level, and, to some degree, personality. But let's say for a typical person, and average is somewhere between sixteen to twenty-four hours a month in these activities. This is not a ridiculous amount in the context of the enormous payoff.

  • Short-horizon micro-moments. Two to four hours a month. Most ideas don't go anywhere, but a few matters substantially. (Even the ideas that don't go anywhere end up seeding relationships.)

  • Medium-horizon network investments around execution. Eight to twelve hours a month across all categories, depending on the point in the project life cycle.

  • Long-horizon exploration investments. Six to eight hours a month.

  • Six Energy-building behaviors—page 166.

  • Ten trust-building behaviors—page 177.

  • Our quantitative network models showed that:

  • Negative self-perception increased as people became less healthy; this led to

  • a greater propensity toward isolation (for introverts) or negative health ties, which in turn led to

  • a tendency toward activities that hurt physical health through decreased exercise or poorer eating (in particular, fast food), which led to

  • Increased BMI, which, you guessed it, was statistically associated with the factor that started this cycle, increased self-perception.

  • In today's workplace, the bulk of work is done through teams, and performance hinges on effective collaboration inside the team and beyond. As a result, we all experience a lot more misalignment than we realize. A functional counterpart of yours announces that her group is starting a task, but your group already working on that, so you have to schedule a meeting to clarify who is doing what. Or tension rises as team members emphasize their functional contributions over the team's mission or align with incentives from their home units, setting up competing priorities.

  • Sense of purpose has been related to a reduction in cardiovascular disease. In one study, a one-point increase on a six-point scale measuring purpose in life corresponded to a 27 percent decreased risk of having a heart attack among people with heart disease. For older adults, a one-point difference in purpose can translate to a 22 percent decreased risk of stroke. A sense of purpose can work to reduce stress. A study of 6,840 teachers found that individuals with a great sense of purpose in life were better at managing stress and had better self-rated health status. Having a sense of purpose in life tends to engage in healthier behaviors such as exercising more and availing themselves of preventive health services, leading to better overall health.

  • I also have to check myself: How do I give the most value, not necessarily give the most time?" She meets with her assistant every Friday for a calendar review, looking two to three weeks out. "We move things around, say no or delegate things that other people can do, and make sure I have built-in blocks of time for longer-term goals. Those things can fall off easily if I'm not proactive."

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