Customer Reviews: Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Build Common Ground, and Reap Big Results
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on May 24, 2009
Increasing collaboration sits at or near the top of most executives' to-do list, and much has been wrttten about it. A search of amazon's business and investing books for the keyword "collaboration" turns up nearly 37,000 books. Why, you might ask, do we need another one? Hansen has not written "a" book about collaboration, he has written "the" book on the topic. Hansen's "Collaboration" makes a bold promise--to provide the definitive treatment of the topic. It delivers on that promise.

Hansen starts with fundamentals. Firms exist to create economic value (as well as to capture and sustain value into the future). In most business books, collaboration is unmoored from any consideration of economic value creation and treated as an inherent good. Hansen, in contrast, anchors his analysis in a hard-nosed economic analysis of when collaboration creates value, that includes not only a project's benefits, but also the costs of collaboration and the opportunity cost of foregoing alternatives. The author's analysis leads to counter-intuitive findings--not all collaboration is good and more is not better. His analysis slices through the fluff of so many books on collaboration and brings readers to the hard edges of value creation.

The book follows a clear structure. After framing collaboration in terms of its benefits, Hansen provides a systematic list of obstacles that inhibit cooperation in many firms. His list is the closest to a mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive taxonomy of barriers that I have seen. Hansen also includes a diagnostic to help managers assess the specific barriers to cooperation that they face. The book then provides extremely practical steps to enhance coordination within a firm. It closes with reflections on the leadership traits required to foster collaboration. The writing is clear, and the examples--a mix of familiar and novel--illustrate Hansen's points to a tee.

Many business books fall short in the solutionons they offer, veering at one extreme into a long laundry list of superficial or obvious actions or at the other into a "one size fits all" solution ill-suited to the complexity of real world organizations. Hansen strikes just the right balance. He introduces three actions, that are non-obvious and eminently practical. Among his many useful suggestions, I found T-shaped management and the simple rules for nimble networks to be particularly powerful. Hansen clearly spends a great deal of time with managers in the trenches, and his deep knowledge of the real world shines through in the recommendations.

This book is "academic" in the best sense of the word. Hansen does not conjure up his conclusions based on superficial observation or war stories. Rather, he draws on a rich body of scholarly research on collaboration that stretches back over decades. This firm grounding in research gives the book a solidity and credibility that many business books lack. Although the author is too humble to trumpet his own achievements, much of the best research is his own. The book achieves both academic rigor and practical relevance.
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VINE VOICEon September 21, 2009
Every company wants collaboration, but few know how to go about it.

Collaboration by Morten Hansen is highly recommended reading for those who want to create collaboration rather than just read about it. Collaboration is often held up as a universal virtue - something we all should do to be good citizens. This makes books on collaboration preachy, reading more like a sermon than a serious analysis. This book is serious analysis presented in a clear, logical and actionable way.

Hansen covers this complex issue in 169 pages of tightly focused, well researched and action oriented approach. This makes the book, highly recommended for executives and managers looking to figure out how to create the right kind of collaboration in their companies.

However, the book has some serious limitations and hence the 4 star review. First it does not address technology at all. This is a major weakness given the flowering of collaboration technologies and systems. A book in 2009 without a discussion of this is somewhat incomplete. The second major weakness is that Hansen talks almost exclusively about executive/corporate collaboration - head office type of work rather than the operational, sales, service problem solving collaboration that drives and sustains performance. Both of these gaps seem to be due to his limited research base (large companies and product development)- perhaps areas for a second book, which would be welcome.

Hansen provides a realistic and practical view of collaboration. He points out that the need for collaboration is a balance and that there are four traps for collaboration:

* Collaborating in hostile territory
* Over collaborating
* Overshooting the potential value
* Underestimating the cost
* Misdiagnosing the problem
* Implementing the wrong solution

These traps cause collaboration that is characterized by high friction and a poor focus on results (p.14) Hansen then goes on to provide insight into how to address these traps through overcoming four barriers and their root causes. The list is provided here so you can see the depth contained in this book.

The not-invented-hear barrier
Insular employees
Status gap between employees
Self-reliance as a virtue in the management culture
Fear that keeps people from sharing and working together

The hoarding barrier
Competition keeps people from sharing
Narrow incentives
Too busy to help others
Fear in the loss of power from sharing

The search barrier
Company size
Physical distance
Information overload
Poverty of networks

The transfer barrier
Tacit knowledge
No common frame
Weak ties

These barriers and how you overcome them are the focus of the book. They create a clear set of actions and tools that make this recommended reading.


Well reasoned and structured: Hansen uses his extensive research to create a logically structured argument that he lays out clearly rather than embarking on a preachy discourse of the merits and virtues of collaboration. This is what really sets the book a part.

Tools and tables: the book has multiple assessment tools, tables and graphics that support both Hansen's argument and your application of the ideas in the book. Tools on how to assess the business opportunities for collaboration (p. 37), creating unifying goals (p. 78) and assessing your personal barriers to your collaborative leadership (p. 161) are particularly helpful.

Comprehensive: the book looks at social, technical and managerial issues related to collaboration proving that this is a complex challenge without a single simple solution. This book goes beyond collaboration in the small to challenge larger management issues of leadership, measurement, organizations structure and mission/vision.

Failure mode/barrier construct: the book is practical and focuses on what does not work and how to fix it. This gives the reader a clear and concise discussion of the issues and focused actions rather than a virtuous lecture.


The book is based largely on research conducted in the 1990's so it has little to say about technology in general or new collaboration technologies. This is a gap and one that could have been plugged, but it is dismissed in the final chapter as the author resets his goals on formulating the underlying management architecture for collaboration. This is unfortunate particularly for a book published in 2009.

The issues of collaboration are mainly discussed for corporate/ executive/higher management tasks such as decision-making, product development and the like. It does not address lower level collaboration required for customer service, sales, operations, etc. This is a big gap in the book and part of its 4 star rating.

The use of "T" skills in the book is more aligned with how you spend your time than the knowledge you have--this may be confusing to people using the "T" skill term in other ways.

Overall a good book, recommended but the challenges are pretty big given the importance of this issue, the use of technology available, and the need to focus on lower level collaboration.
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on January 30, 2010
Recently I read a few books on the general topic of collaboration. My favorite was Morten Hansen's "Collaboration." Published by Harvard Business Press and written by an INSEAD/Berkeley professor, it is naturally very business focused. It emphasizes the importance of cultural issues, it suggests several best practices, and it provides many case studies.

Hansen begins by enumerating several collaboration "traps":
-collaborating in hostile territory
-overcollaborating (it is refreshing for an author to suggest that his thesis and the title to his book isn't universally applicable)
-overshooting the potential value
-underestimating costs
-misdiagnosing the problem
-implementing the wrong solution

He suggests that the solution to these traps is "disciplined collaboration ... the leadership practice of properly assessing when to collaborate (and when not to) and instilling in people both the willingness and ability to collaborate when required"

The three steps in disciplined collaboration are to:
-evaluate opportunities for collaboration
-spot barriers to collaborate
-tailor collaboration solutions

In general, his case for collaboration is that it provides better innovation, better sales, and better operations - all of which can lead to sales growth, cost savings, and asset efficiency.

The four barriers to successful collaboration are:
-not invented here syndrome
-search problems
-transfer issues

The three levers to tear down these barriers are:
-unify people, reduce motivational barriers and get buy-in toward a common goal
-encourage T-shaped management that rewards both independent results and cross-unit contributions.
-create nimble, not bloated networks across organizations that deliver results

Finally the author discusses how you grow to be a collaborative leader.
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on May 22, 2009
This is a clear and concise description of business collaboration and the associated advantages and pitfalls. In addition it provides a very clear set of principals to effectively manage this complex topic.

I think the issue has far greater importance than many people realize. Even as a student of business this book gave me a very important awareness of collaboration and strengthened my skill set.

I now realize there is far more to the dynamics of workplace collaboration and understand its enourmous impact on shareholder value.
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"What is the difference between good and bad collaboration?" The question might surprise some people, because it challenges the widely held premise that all collaboration is good, particularly in a business setting. But management professor Morten T. Hansen's extensive research in the field proves that some collaborative practices actually waste time, energy and resources. Instead, leaders need to promote, in Hansen's words, "disciplined collaboration." He puts forth a useful model that includes assessing opportunities, identifying common obstacles and offering tailored solutions. Throughout, he highlights case studies that demonstrate how organizations succeed - and fail - due to collaboration. getAbstract recommends this distinctive book to executives and leaders who wish to unite people, in a smart way, to achieve a common goal.
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on February 15, 2010
Simplifying somewhat, management books fall into two categories: to the left are the academic ones, perhaps a tad heavy on the research and surely too heavy on the footnotes; to the right are the fluffier ones, where qualitative theories often rest on questionable facts.

Once in a while along comes a book that manages the fine balancing act. Collaboration is such an equilibrist. Why? Because author Morten Hansen contributes the proper ingredients for a thorough management book:
* 15 years of research on the topic in top companies,
* a strong analytical approach such as one would expect from a Boston Consulting Group alumnus,
* the academic touch in teaching readers and transferring knowledge,
* a dose of spiciness, with anecdotes and examples taken from private and public sectors.

What does the book cover? The focus is on how (large) companies can productively use collaboration among their `silos' in order to become more productive. After identifying the possible obstacles to collaboration, the book proposes a framework to develop a disciplined collaborative approach. The author is quick to point out that collaboration is no panacea. In fact in certain cases, it can prove counterproductive. For a synopsis of some of the relevant lessons, you can go to (...) and read five instalments on the book.
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on September 15, 2013
This work is quite the all-inclusive book when it comes to collaboration. The author, Morten T. Hansen, has plenty of credibility in the subject - it was the thesis of his PhD program at Stanford University during which he studied HP [Hewlett-Packard] across 140 projects and 40 business units, he worked for a few years with the Boston Consulting Group studying multinational corporations and the senior executives in charge of those corporations, and has continued to compile research in this area. All of this to say that if anyone knows a thing or two about collaboration, Hansen is that guy, and he touches, very methodically, all the areas contained in such a topic.

In terms of main points, he communicates succinctly, and then continues on to prove his theories with real-life stories ranging from the governments involvement in determining and tracking down the groups behind the 9/11 attacks, President Kennedy's plan to land a man on the moon, and the launch of the iPod to smash Sony's counter item. His main points go on to include the following: knowing when to collaborate is just as important as good collaboration, bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration, there are four main boundaries to collaboration, and there are three ways in which managers can circumvent these boundaries in order to improve results.

The four main barriers to collaboration were as follows: the `not-invented-here' barrier, the hoarding barrier, the search barrier, and the transfer barrier. It would be wise to briefly describe these. The `not-invented-here' barrier refers to the tendency of some people to not seek help/input from those outside of their department (or, in other words, pride). The hoarding barrier is just the opposite - people are sometimes unwilling to supply information to others when asked. Sometimes this is due to the feeling that with information comes power, and they feel that if they shared that information, they might become dispensable to the corporation (when just the opposite should be true). When one person in an organization simply cannot determine/find who they need to contact for certain information, they run up against what Hansen calls the search barrier. The finally, when information is so complex it becomes difficult to communicate, people hit the transfer barrier. The first two of these are motivational problems - people are unwilling to collaborate. The last two are inability problems - people simply cannot communicate to collaborate.

In an attempt to solve the first two problems, the motivational problems, Hansen proposes that managers unify people through common vision, common enemies, and common goals to foster an environment of trust and job security. At the same time, people who are unwilling to collaborate are faced with potential job loss, and promotions are given to those who not only `play well with others' but also get their individual work done [no "chatty-Kathy's" allowed]. In light of the last two problems, the author suggests that networking be improved - sometimes simply upgrades in software systems can help. Other times, people need to be appointed to positions where their job becomes `networker' or `connector.' These types of people often have an unspoken talent to know where and how to get information, and how to transfer and convey that to others, without allowing people to slip through the cracks. These people should be promoted in terms of pay, but not position - they will do well in this position, but not necessarily in manager positions.

With all this in mind, Hansen presents a relatively simply case for collaboration, presenting its successes, its pitfalls, and its methodology. Audiences interested in learning about better teamwork, and ultimately, better results in an organization would learn from this book. However, for those with little time in their schedules for reading 200+ page books, this review would suffice, along with some question and answer time with someone who adequately understood the book. At times it felt slightly repetitive (probably due to the fact that he used the word `collaboration' about 500 times, avoiding all synonyms or other ways of expressing the idea), but all in all, it seemed to mostly present new information with each section, causing the reader to feel their time was well spent. It's a good read if you've got the time, but contains a great conceptual synopsis if you can find someone who's already read it and can communicate well (or if this review was enough to get the main ideas).
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As I began to read this book, I was reminded of several core concepts that Henry Chesbrough introduces in two of his books, first in Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology (2003) and then in Open Business Models: How to Thrive in the New Innovation Landscape (2006). As Chesbrough explains, "A business model performs two important functions: it creates value and it captures a portion of that value. It creates value by defining a series of activities from raw materials through to the final consumer that will yield a new product or service with value being added throughout the various activities. The business model captures value by establishing a unique resource, asset, or position within that series of activities, where the firm enjoys a competitive advantage."

Having thus established a frame-of-reference, Chesbrough continues: "An open business model uses this new division of innovation labor - both in the creation of value and in the capture of a portion of that value. Open models create value by leveraging many more ideas, due to their inclusion of a variety of external concepts. Open models can also enable greater value capture, by using a key asset, resource, or position not only in the company's own business model but also in other companies businesses." These comments are directly relevant to the material that Morten Hansen provides when explaining how "disciplined collaboration" can help to enable leaders to avoid or free themselves from various traps, create unity of commitment and effort, and "reap big results."

He asserts, "bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration." Why? Here are two of several reasons. First, bad collaboration never achieves the aforementioned "big results"; worse yet, bad collaboration makes good collaboration even more difficult to plan and then achieve. With regard to the "traps," Hansen identifies six in the first chapter and then suggests that there are three steps to disciplined collaboration. That is, the "the leadership practice of properly assessing when to collaborate (and when not to) and instilling in people both the willingness and the ability to collaborate when required." These are the three steps: (1) evaluate opportunities, and when making a decision, asking "Will we gain a great upside by collaborating?"; (2) identify barriers to collaboration, next asking "What are the barriers blocking people from collaborating well?"; and (3) tailor solutions to tear down the barriers, keeping in mind that different barriers require different solutions.

Throughout the book's first six chapters, Hansen explains how to formulate the underlying "management architecture" of collaboration, of disciplined collaboration, and then shifts his attention in the final chapter to explaining how his reader can "grow to be a collaborative leader" and to help others to do so also. As Chesbrough correctly suggests, it is imperative to have an "open" mindset, to make decisions that are guided and information by what Roger Martin characterizes (in The Opposable Mind) as "integrative" thinking. Those leaders who pursue disciplined collaboration "take their organizations to higher levels of performance...know where the opportunities for collaboration exist and when to say no to lesser projects...avoid the trap of overestimating benefits and overcollaborating...tear down the barriers that separate their employees...set powerful and unifying goals and forge a value of teamwork...cultivate T-shaped employees build nimble, not bloated, networks...look within themselves and work to change their own leadership styles...And in cultivating collaboration in the right way, they set their people free to achieve great things not possible when they are divided."

Those who aspire to become such a leader are strongly encouraged to read this book so that Morten Hansen can collaborate with them on achieving that objective.
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on July 8, 2009
Success in the 21st century will depend on collaboration to a much higher level than ever before.

This book is an excellent read on this much needed topic. Great narrative introduction, nicely done typology (a four quadrants framework) and practical tips. I especially enjoyed the strategems, like "Molotove cocktail = weak ties and complex knowledge." How true. Highly recommend. Everyone will learn something new - and useful.
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on May 23, 2014
The author presents practical and systematic approach to the issue of collaboration in organization. It starts with identifying opportunities of collaboration (improve innovation, sales increase, operation efficiency), spotting barriers (not invented here, monopoly, search, transfer) comes next, and finding solution (unify people, cultivate t-shaped management, build nimble networks) will be the final step. He also discusses personal challenges for leaders (redefine goal, involve people, be responsible). I find the book to be very helpful in understanding and dealing with issues of collaboration. Many real world examples discussed are appropriate.
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