Tag Archives: collaboration

Working across silos – leadership in the matrix and in multi-functional projects

By Elisabeth Goodman, 14th May 2019

7 Seismic Shifts for Leadership. Based on Michael D Watkins. Material used in RiverRhee and PERLA’s course “Transition to Leadership”, delivered to members of One Nucleus working in the Life Sciences.

Working across silos – an enabler for developing leadership skills

I recently delivered one of RiverRhee‘s and PERLA‘s Transition to Leadership courses where we share, amongst other information, Michael D Watkins’ “7 seismic shifts” for new leaders.

An essential skill, when moving into a leadership role, is the ability to become familiar with the vocabulary, systems, structures and cultures that are unique to each area of the organisation.  Those working in specific technical fields – such as biology, chemistry, clinical, IT – will have their own ways of communicating and understanding each other, of working and of making decisions, which will be quite distinct from those working in HR or finance for example.

To be effective, a leader must be able to engage with people right across the organisation, and so shift from being a specialist in their field, to becoming a generalist across all areas.

Delegates at RIverRhee's Transition to Leadership course

Delegates discussing the “7 seismic shifts” at RiverRhee and PERLA’s recent Transition to Leadership  course.

Working across silos, in an organisation that may already have a matrix structure – where people are assigned to functional departments, but also work on multi-functional projects – is a great way to develop this broader awareness and understanding.

There are valuable tips on this whole topic in: “Cross-silo leadership.  How to create more value by connecting experts from inside and outside the organization”, by Tiziana Casciaro, Amy C. Edmondson and Sujin Jang, Harvard Business Review, May-June 2019, pp. 130-139.

Shifting the emphasis from vertical to horizontal collaboration

The authors of the HBR article share their findings from conversations with individuals in companies around the world.  They found that whilst people prioritise the vertical relationships (i.e. those that they report to, and who report to them) in their day-to-day work, it is the horizontal relationships, across functional groups in the organisation that will bring the greatest value to customers.

Horizontal relationships, across functions, is where there is the greatest scope for innovation and for the larger scale projects that will support integrated research, development and customer service.

As the authors say, these kinds of horizontal relationship can be the most challenging for people, as they need to learn about and relate to people who may have very different ways of thinking and learning.

As with all the best HBR articles, the author have some tips for helping leaders and those who work with them to operate horizontally, across the silos in an organisation.

Developing and making use of “cultural brokers”.

Some people are well-placed to bridge the gap between different parts of the organisation.  Examples of these, in the organisations that RiverRhee works with, are project managers and leaders on cross-functional projects.

The authors of the HBR article suggest that there are two types of “cultural brokers”: those who act as go-betweens, translating the language of the two domains in more one-off , or time-restricted collaborations; and those who take the time to facilitate collaborations in a way that will be longer-lasting and able to function without the “broker”.

Either type of “cultural broker” will need to develop the multi-functional and/or multi-cultural skills, enhanced with strong interpersonal skills, to enable them to facilitate this kind of rapport and collaboration between others.

Encouraging and developing skills in asking good questions

We all know that asking questions is a powerful adjunct to learning – it’s a technique that we teach in RiverRhee’s courses.

Instilling a climate of curiosity is a great way to foster collaboration and hence activities such as innovation and continuous improvement – as described in a previous blog (Curiosity, Continuous Improvement and Innovation).

The authors suggest that the best practices for asking good questions include:

  • Asking open questions – rather than those that just require ‘yes’ ‘no’ answers.  And what’s more, questions that contain as little of the questioner’s preconceptions as possible such as: “How are things going for you?” [This is also referred to as “clean” language.]
  • Transitioning to more specific questions as the collaboration develops – ones that will reveal and so allow sharing of greater depths of knowledge such as: “What can you tell me about x?”
  • Checking your understanding by playing back what you’ve heard and understood – saying something like: “Can you help me check that I have this right?  What have I missed?”
  • Checking in with the other contributor(s) on their perspective of how the collaboration is going – asking something like: “What can we do to work together more effectively?”

Getting people to see things from others’ perspectives

The HBR article gives some very interesting examples of organisations that have taken novel approaches to this.  The main thing is to recognise that most people that we interact with have different perspectives to our own, and this may be even more so if they are working in different parts of a company.

Apparently whilst most people have the skills to understand other people’s perspectives, they are not necessarily motivated to do so.  It is therefore a leadership responsibility to role-model and to encourage this form of behaviour to support a more collaborate approach across an organisation.

Building internal and external networks

This is another way that leaders can role-model and encourage others to develop skills and habits for working beyond their more immediate (vertical) work group:

  • Create cross-functional projects, meetings and agendas that encourage horizontal networks, conversations and collaborations
  • Encourage employees (give them the time and resources) to explore networks that go outside their areas of expertise.  The authors advocate crossing domains between art, science, technology, business etc. – as the basis for true innovation.


Working across silos will help leaders to develop essential skills which will enable them to be more effective.  This way of working already exists, at least in part, for those operating in a matrix organisation and/or working on large cross-functional projects.

It’s a way of working that offers greater potential for innovation, solving complex problems and meeting customer needs.

It requires encouragement, role modelling by leaders, training and support to enhance the take-up of this form of horizontal collaboration across all parts of an organisation.


Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Finding that ‘sweet spot’ for collaboration

By Elisabeth Goodman, 3rd April 2019

The five positions of conflict

Illustration from RiverRhee’s training on Assertiveness and on Dealing with Difficult Situations

Exploring ways to find the “sweet spot” in collaborating with others is a particularly salient topic in the current political climate.  Thomas Kilmann’s model is an excellent guide on how to do this, which we illustrate in RiverRhee’s training on Assertiveness, and in our management training on Dealing with Difficult Situations, with a story about two sisters sharing their last orange.

Thomas Kilmann’s model teaches us about the importance of having open conversations, and of deploying our best listening skills to understand what is most important to the other person.  The idea is to find some common ground which may lead to a solution (the “sweet spot”) that might be even better than mere compromise. In the case of the sisters, they discover that they want the orange for different purposes, and so are able to share it in a way that meets both their needs – the zest for one, the juice for the other.

The story about the orange is of course extremely simple compared to some of the issues facing us today, and especially where there are more than two people involved!  However, the principles may still be relevant.

So it was with great interest that I read Lisa B. Kwan’s article in the March-April 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review on “The Collaboration Blind Spot”, pp.67-73.  The author explores what can happen in cross-group initiatives, and how to address the defensive behaviours that might arise.

(By the way, you might recognise, as I did, that both the behaviours and the ways to address them can apply to individuals involved in one-to-one collaborations with each other.)

Defensive behaviours demonstrated in cross-group collaboration initiatives

Lisa Kwan reminds us that if we are seeing or experiencing defensive behaviour between groups, the chances are that they are feeling threatened in some way.

She lists the kinds of behaviour typically demonstrated as:

  • Overt territorial assertions: “we’re in charge here”, “their opinion does not matter”
  • Overt attacks on others: public criticism of the other group
  • Power plays: calling high-profile meetings and excluding the other group from them
  • Covert blocking behaviours: making the other group’s work so difficult that they can’t play their part in the collaboration
  • Covert manipulation of boundaries: framing the other group’s expertise in such a way as to over-emphasise one’s own group’s strengths, or the other group’s so-called weaknesses

Threats to identity – purpose, roles and responsibilities

Lisa Kwan categorises the threats that lead to this defensive behaviour under three fairly closely related headings, the first of which is identity.

A group may feel that there is a threat to their on-going ‘reason for being’ as a result of the collaboration.  Will their role disappear?

A leader can address this by being very (even publicly) clear about:

  • the purpose of the collaboration
  • the reason why he or she has asked these particular groups to collaborate
  • the very clear differences in the roles that they can each bring to bear to the discussion
  • his or her expectations of what is in or out of scope in terms of the nature of the discussion and the outcome

If appropriate, the leader could also grant the individual groups greater ownership of roles not associated with the collaboration in question.

Threats to legitimacy – value and reputation

This threat is to do with the groups’ and the parent organisation’s perception of the value that they bring.

Lisa Kwan suggests that the answer here lies in publicly re-asserting:

  • why each group was created in the first place
  • the value that they have brought in the past – to the organisation as a whole
  • the value that is anticipated they will bring to the collaboration
  • the critical role that they play or will play

Threats to control – decision-making and autonomy

A collaborative initiative may threaten a group’s sense of control, decision-making or autonomy.

A potential solution involves:

  1. Identifying the broad topics, processes, products, services, equipment etc. and general decisions involved.
  2. Defining which of these each group is responsible for: their “landmark” categories
  3. Defining which of these require shared, uncertain or ambiguous control
  4. Identifying where there might be an overlap between the “landmark” categories, and the shared ones – this is where they might be a “control threat”
  5. Exploring ways to reduce this threat – or acknowledging it and perhaps finding ways to offset it by giving the relevant group greater control over some new area

Conclusion – reminders for leaders and those involved in potential conflict situations

Lisa Kwan’s article represents the results of eight years of research, including six years of doctoral research.  She has observed cross-group collaboration in global companies, and conducted extensive interviews.  Her conclusions certainly resonate with what I have more informally observed and I think provide invaluable insight for leaders, as well as for individuals involved in conflict situations.

Lisa Kwan suggests that leaders should “check for their blind spots” when asking groups to collaborate to pick up and act upon the potential behavioural risks involved.

I believe that her advice could help both leaders and individuals find the “sweet spot” for collaboration!

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.



The five principles of “error proof” collaboration with people outside your own organisation

By Luis Fernandez, with an introduction by Elisabeth Goodman 21st November, 2014

Mistakes are proof that you are trying


I asked Luis to write this blog as he has a very people centric approach to project management, and I thought he might have a valuable perspective on how to bring that to bear when collaborating with people outside the project team. He has brought an additionally unique perspective to the blog by relating it to his experience with Lean and Six Sigma, and PMP and associated concepts of ‘error proofing’.

The five principles that Luis shares certainly strike a chord with me, and I especially liked that he included one around Knowledge Management in the form of reflecting on lessons learned. I might have changed the order of Luis’s principles and put ensuring common understanding of expectations first.

But read the blog and see what you think.

Do you agree with Luis’s five principles?

Would you cite them in a different order?

What do we mean by error proofing – why is it important for collaboration outside of your organisation?

I frequently remember something that caught my attention during the Lean and Six Sigma green belt training course: The intention of this methodology (amongst other things) is to create “error proof” processes.

However, during the preparation course to obtain my PMP certification, a different concept caught my attention: Following the PMP methodology does not guarantee “successful” projects, it just “increases the probability” of making them successful.

In my opinion, the explanation of PMP is more humble and realistic. Nothing is “error proof” and what we do is to try to “increase the probability” of success in all the things we do in our day-to-day life. This is why I wrote “error proof” in quotes as the subject of my post.

Taking this into account, I can’t promise you that the five principles below will make you an “error proof” professional when collaborating with people outside your organization, but based on my experience, I promise you that if you remember the steps and start to apply them:

  • You will avoid most of the relevant errors in your professional life (and in your personal life) and as a consequence you will save the time necessary to correct them
  • The people you work with will notice it and remember you later for your professionalism. Most project managers need years to learn this.
  • The people you work with will remember you later for your kindness. Project Management sounds very technical but it is mainly a matter of human relations

The five principles for effective collaboration

The five principles are:

  • Avoid micromanagement (almost at any cost!)
  • Ensure a detailed review of the budget and contract
  • Clarify the expectations that have not been expressed in writing
  • Ensure the lessons learned are compiled and shared
  • Treat people as people, not as resources

Take note:

In my PMP certification training programs I always say that from my personal point of view the three most important matters that a project manager should never forget in their day-to-day work are: Communication, Team and Risks. You will see that the five principles are strongly related to these three areas.

Moreover, they are inter-related. If you miss one of them out, this will have an impact on the other two.

They are applicable to both these situations: when you are subcontracted as a project manager or when you are subcontracting team members, because they are just the two sides of a coin.

Let’s start!


I have a friend in charge of a Project Management department at Hewlett Packard that once told me something that I will never forget: You only need one (subjective) metric to know if a project is profitable or not. This metric is the “level of satisfaction of the client” about the project.

When I asked why? I found the explanation very smart. If the level of satisfaction is high, the client is probably relying on you and as a consequence, they are not bombarding you with continuous requests, giving you the freedom to manage your project in the most appropriate way, and saving thousands of hours of unnecessary tasks.

What can we learn from this?

  • If you are subcontracted, be proactive and ensure your contractors receive more than they expected to keep them happy as quickly as possible, and to make them appreciate that you are really taking care of their project.
  • If you are contracting, test the team member working for you, until you are happy with their commitment and they understand what you expect from them. Then let them work by themselves, clarifying what and when you want to be informed about the project progress (see principle # 3)


The budget is usually extensively reviewed by Project Managers, but unfortunately this doesn’t happen equally for the contract, as in many cases it is reviewed by a legal department.

What should we do?

a) Regarding the budget:

  • Never forget to clarify specifically what is included inside items with names that carry the word “management” as they could include a spectrum of tasks, maybe duplicated or unexpected
  • Negotiate from the very beginning (when your procedures allow it) the possibility of implementing new tasks without signing a new budget (to avoid time consuming agreements of change orders) by using the items in the budget that will never be implemented, or the items of the budget not burned yet.

b) Regarding the contract, never forget to check the clauses:

  • Which have an impact on the invoicing approval for the most important (related to cost) items.
  • That list what work is included and more importantly “what is NOT included”. If you forget the second one, it is very probable that the client will finally expect the unexpected.
  • Inform your client as soon as possible about the probable or relevant risks that you detect. It is possible that by changing a single word, you could save hundred of thousands of pounds


The budget and contract will probably not include all the future project issues.

So, it is a clear example of expertise to start the project by:

  • Asking your client (and your team members): What do you expect from me to help you feel as comfortable as possible during the project? Then take into account their responses and implement them or explain why they can’t be done. This will make people rely on you and make future communications more fluent.
  • Clarifying the expectations especially for the content of Status Reports, Main Deliverables and Approach to Meetings.


Everybody speaks about this but it is underperformed in most projects.

If you want to be remembered for your proactivity and ability to learn, just do the following:

Keep updated (and share proactively) an easy to review list with the:

  1. a) Mistakes: Tasks badly executed, and what should have been done instead
  2. b) Matters to improve: Tasks that could have been performed better avoiding unnecessary difficulties (and how to do them)
  3. c) Successful results: Things done well and how to extend them to other areas


Your client and your team are people, not roles or resources.

In every single interaction you make (calls, meetings, e-mails, face-to-face…) remember these three pieces of advice:

  • Always use the magical words: Please, thanks, sorry…
  • Avoid instructions. Try to increase awareness by asking questions (this is one of the principles of Coaching)
  • Be aware of the tone of your voice and your written communication. Avoid expressing frustration. You can express your frustration or disappointment in a neutral way.

It took me many years to learn all of these principles and the best advice I think I could give to a Manager is to “develop your assertiveness”, and a good way to do this is by remembering this quote:

People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel”   Carl W. Buehner

If you have read until here, I’m sure you will apply some of these principles in your next projects.

Now, I have a more challenging question for you:



About the author and editor

Luis Fernandez obtained a degree in Pharmacy and Chemistry (he liked biochemistry so much that he has delivered health sciences training courses since 1989) and has worked in clinical research since 1996, managing global projects for Pharma since 2005. Luis realised that he needed to improve his technical project management knowledge so he obtained the PMP certification and started to run PMP-certification training courses from 2012. He honestly found the technical part easy, but the soft skills were more difficult, so he decided to study Coaching and NLP with the godfathers and their disciples. Luis is now sharing what he learned about the three disciplines (Coaching, NLP and Project Management) in his blog (http://coachingforprojectmanagers.com/blog/) where he provides practical tips that optimise their synergies.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We using coaching, training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she now leads the Capabilities & Methods pillar for the Enabling Change SIG.