Rerouting Collaboration with Cisco

I’ve read about John Chambers’ “management experiment” in many sources during the last few months. From The New York Times, to the McKinsey Quarterly, to various blog sites, the CEO and Chairman of Cisco Systems, has explained his change from a command-and-control master to a promoter of teamwork and collaboration. The twist? Unlike the many other stories I’ve read over the years on the same topic, Mr. Chambers left his comfort zone as a command-and-control manager to actually restructure the entire company into councils, boards and working groups that truly work in a collaborative, team-based fashion.

Why did Cisco pursue this approach? Simple – to stay ahead of the curve. Chambers and his team saw the writing on the wall. In Chambers words, they moved the company from doing internet “plumbing” to true intelligence providers as trusted business advisors to top companies and even governments.

How did they do this? Chambers is clear that “you couldn’t do that without different organization structures.” His answer: “collaboration and teamwork, with a structured process behind it.” That process is the 12 councils, 47 boards and numerous working groups. Chambers says of the structure:
“This is an organization structure that I think is built for the future and is much more built upon, ‘How do you gain the power of the human network to really move on decisions and directions?’”

Making a team structure truly productive and effective requires team members to develop deep trust and appreciation for their colleagues. I would ask Mr. Chambers how his overall company culture is changing due to this new management style and his new Web 2.0 communication approach. Is he creating opportunities for people in these teams to notice and appreciate – meaningfully and personally – the efforts of their colleagues that make this new way a success? How is this a reality across these globally distributed teams?

What do you think of Cisco’s approach? How would such a management style play out in your organization?

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