Release year: 2009

Author: Harvard Business Review

Link to my handwritten notes

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This book is a collection of articles written between 2000 and 2005 for the Harvard School of Business, before the term “DevOps” was invented (~2007). I chose to read this book because breaking silos is one of the core missions of the DevOps movement. I was curious to learn what the scholars of Harvard had to teach on the matter.

Contrary to what modern DevOps practicioners are used to, in this book there is no mention of technological tools that help break silos. Instead, it’s about findings ways to make people want to work together. While some may say this content is overly theoritical and not practical, I think this makes it timeless. And, would you know it, some of the most discussed topics of DevOpsDays 2024 in Montreal revolved around communication, empathy, and emotional intelligence. It seems to me that our industry is rediscovering that behind every technology, there is a human operating it, a human driven by emotions. Thus, no significant transformation be successful without a firm grasp on how emotions work and how to handle conflict constructively.

I enjoyed the framework of the four cooperation tools (see image below). As written in the book, “One of the rarest managerial skills is the ability to understand which tools will work in a given situation and which will misfire.” This framework is useful to make the right call as to which tool to use in which situation.

The Four Cooperation Tools, and in what context to use them in the organization.

I enjoyed the concept of the “human portal.” I feel there is tremendous hidden value in having a clear map of the human network inside an organization. I’ll test the waters at the organization where I currently work and see if this concept sticks.

I found it interesting that the book discussed the technique of the Five Whys, which I strongly associate with the notion of Blameless Postmortems central to the DevOps philosophy.

Finally, I was amused when one of the articles in the book started quoting Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman , which is a book I just finished reading. A fun coincidence!

To conclude, this was a light read that reinforced some ideas I previously held. Breaking silos is not about constructing single panes of glass. It’s first and foremost about leveraging our humanity and finding ways to make everyone’s perspective heard. We don’t need to be aligned on everything. What we need are common tools for dealing with conflict before the conflict happens.

Félix rating:

⭐ Star quotes

  1. (p. 4) Team members collaborate more easily and naturally if they perceive themselves as being alike.
  2. (p. 5) The greater the proportion of experts a team has, the more likely it is to disintegrate into non-productive conflict or stalemate.
  3. (p. 6) A team’s success or failure at collaborating reflects the philosophy of top executives in the organization.
  4. (p. 8) The perceived behavior of senior executives plays a significant role in determining how cooperative teams are prepared to be.
  5. (p. 10) ⭐ Having first-name acquaintance with people across the company brings a sense of dynamism to interactions.
  6. (p. 11) Two HR programs that improve team performance:
    • Training in skills relative to collaborative behavior
    • Support for informal community building
  7. (p. 17) To transfer skills across business functions or units, move entire small teams intact instead of reshuffling individuals into new positions. The group formed would be composed of small pods of colleagues from each area. This ensures that key heritage relationships continue to strengthen over time.
  8. (p. 17) Heritage relationships in a team initially increase the chance of success, but there is a caveat. When a significant number of people within the team know one another, they tend to form strong subgroups, which increases the probability of conflict among fault lines.
  9. (p. 18) Collaboration improves when the roles of individual team members are clearly defined and well understood. Individuals feel that they can do a significant portion of their work independently.
  10. (p. 23) The higher the proportion of people who don’t know anyone else on the team and the greater the diversity, the less likely the team members are to share knowledge.
  11. (p. 36) ⭐ “Ask why five times”: Saying B causes A is simplistic. The chain of thought required to discover that C –> B and D –> C quickly takes you into a new domain, probably someone else’s. Rather than concoct complex solutions within their own domains, engineers must seed simple ones beyond them.
  12. (p. 36) ⭐ Doing the 5 whys is not about depth at all – it’s about breadth.
  13. (p. 41) Monetary carrots and accountability sticks motivate people to perform narrow, specified tasks but generally discourage people from going beyond them. Admiration and applause are far more effective stimulants of above-and-beyond behavior.
  14. (p. 43) Factors that drive up trust:
    • With their reputations at stake, people are less likely to act opportunistically
    • With the same information available to everyone, there is less chance that one party will exploit another’s ignorance.
    • With a common vocabulary and way of working, fewer misunderstandings occur.
  15. (p. 43) Where trust is the currency, reputation is the source of power.
  16. (p. 43) ⭐ There is more power in being an information source than an information sink.
  17. (p. 44)
    • The classical sources of transaction costs:
      • mutual vulnerability in the face of uncertainty
      • conflicting interests
      • unequal access to information
    • –> Low transaction costs buy more innovation than do high monetary incentives.
  18. (p. 46) Organizations that are able to substitute trust for contracts gain more from the collaboration than they lose in bargaining power.
  19. (p. 47) ⭐ Let everybody see everybody’s real work. Let people learn to filter and sort for themselves. Don’t abstract, summarize or channel. Fodder is good.
  20. (p. 49) ⭐ The network is the innovator. Take averagely talented people and make them work as spectacular teams.
  21. (p. 53) ⭐ You can’t improve collaboration until you’ve addressed the issue of conflict.
  22. (p. 55) Conflict management works best when the parties involved in a disagreement are equipped to manage it themselves.
  23. (p. 65) To prevent conflict deadlock, don’t simply kick the issue up to your manager. Present the disagreement jointly to the boss(es). This will guarantee that the ultimate decision maker has access to a wide array of perspectives on the conflict, its causes, and the various ways it might be resolved.
  24. (p. 67) ⭐ In a complex organization where many issues have significant implications for numerous parts of the business, unilateral responses to unilateral escalations are a recipe for inefficiency, bad decisions, and ill feelings.
  25. (p. 69) Clear communication about the resolution of the conflict can increase people’s willingness and ability to implement decisions. Failing to take the time to explain how a decision was reached and the factors that went into it squanders a major opportunity.
  26. (p. 74) People who need to collaborate more effectively usually don’t need to align around and work toward a common goal. They need to quickly and creatively solve problems by managing the inevitable conflict so that it works in their favor.
  27. (p. 75) ⭐ Even the most carefully constructed incentives won’t eliminate tensions between people with competing business objectives. Ironically, focusing on incentives as a means to encourage collaboration can end up undermining it.
  28. (p. 108) ⭐ A history of independence often leads to protectionist behavior.
  29. (p. 111) Treat your workers the way you want them to treat your customers.
  30. (p. 112) The softer cooperation-promoting measures can’t take hold if the harder ones (power structures, metrics, incentives) don’t reinforce them.
  31. (p. 117) Companies must develop attractive career paths that give emerging generalist stars a sense of identity and a clear route for advancement.
  32. (p. 133) Try to eliminate the peer group meetings that are held just for the purpose of saying “We had a peer group meeting.”
  33. (p. 143) Knowledge-sharing activities should focus on business results rather than social events.
  34. (p. 143) Achieving results together creates a track record showing that people are really helping one another.
  35. (p. 143) ⭐ Trust is a byproduct of effective collaboration.
  36. (p. 144) ⭐ Human portals are people who can use their extensive knowledge about who knows what and their understanding of what actually is needed to creatively make connections between information seekers and information holders. They can save senior executives the struggle of maintaining relationships created from overnetworking.
  37. (p. 149) Meetings are a problem when we use them to agree to disagree and schedule another meeting.
  38. (p. 153) One of the rarest managerial skills is the ability to understand which tools will work in a given situation and which will misfire.
  39. (p. 154) The primary task of management is to get people to work together in a systematic way.
  40. (p. 158) Elements of the four types of cooperation tools :
    • Power
    • Management
    • Leadership
    • Culture
  41. (p. 161) ⭐ A wise manager in a low-consensus environment would not agree to lead a change program without the authority to wield the right power tools
  42. (p. 164) ⭐ Culture is a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.
  43. (p. 164) Companies with strong cultures in many ways can be self-managing. This very strength can make such organizations highly resistant to change.
  44. (p. 165) As the company succeeds, employees who fit with the ways of working, and who want what senior management wants, tend to be promoted.
  45. (p. 165) Success is the mechanism that builds consensus around what people want and how they can get it.
  46. (p. 177) ⭐ Creating a virtuous spiral of trust, group identity, and group efficacy requires a team atmosphere in which the norms build the ability to respond constructively in emotionally uncomfortable situations and influence emotions in constructive ways.
  47. (p. 177) Personal competence comes from being aware of and regulating one’s own emotions.
  48. (p. 177) Social competence is awareness and regulation of others' emotions.
  49. (p. 179) ⭐ Picking up on defensiveness is necessary if the team wants to make understand its desire to amplify good work, not negate it.
  50. (p. 179) ⭐ A more emotionally intelligent group would pause first to hear out an objection instead of moving to a majority vote in the interest of expedience. Or, it would ask, “Are there any perspectives we haven’t heard yet or thought through completely?” even if there appeared to be consensus.
  51. (p. 181) Inevitably, a team member will indulge in behavior that crosses the line, and the team must feel comfortable calling the foul.
  52. (p. 181) Done right, confrontation can be seen in a positive light; it’s a way for the group to say, “We want you in – we need your contribution.” Without confrontation, disruptive behavior can fester and erode a sense of trust in a team.
  53. (p. 182) When an individual is upset, it make make all the difference to have the group members acknowledge that person’s feelings.
    • For example, in a meeting, a team member arrived angry because the time and place were inconvenient. Another member announced the sacrifice the man had made to be there and thanked him. The man’s attitude turned around 180 degrees.
  54. (p. 183) Some teams suffer because they aren’t aware of emotions at the group level.
  55. (p. 185) Consciously resist the temptation to join the complaining and blaming and instead try to reverse the cycle with a positive, constructive note.
  56. (p. 186) A team in control of its own emotions refuses to feel powerless and is eager to take charge.
  57. (p. 190) Great design is best accomplished through the creative function of diverse teams and not the solitary pursuit of brilliant individuals.
  58. (p. 193) Novelty ideas to create interpersonal understanding:
    • having a meeting without a table
    • conducting an inventory of team members' various learning styles
  59. (p. 196)
    • Group emotional intelligence leads to:
      • Trust, identity, efficacy, which leads to:
        • Participation, cooperation, collaboration, which leads to:
          • Better decisions, more creative solutions, and higher productivity.
  60. (p. 196) Group emotional intelligence is not about a team member working all night to meet a deadline; it is about saying thank you for doing so. It is not about in-depth discussion of ideas; it is about asking a quiet member for their thoughts.
  61. (p. 197) ⭐ Assume that undesirable behavior takes place for a reason. Find out what the reason is. Ask questions and listen. Avoid negative attributions.
  62. (p. 199) ⭐ ⭐ When harmony is false, tension is unexpressed and builds up.