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'Tipping Sacred Cows' Reveals Dangerous Work Behaviors

Jake Breeden, Author of, "Tipping Sacred Cows"
Friday, 22 Mar 2013 | 2:35 PM ET
Source: Amazon.com

Guest Author Blog by Jake Breeden author of, "Tipping Sacred Cows: Kick the Bad Work Habits that Masquerade as Virtues."

Sometimes collaboration hides a lack of accountability and balance masks an unwillingness to make a decision. Collaboration and balance are two virtues that can combine to cover up some nasty virtues. Leaders must take a hard look at the virtues they are proud of to make sure no vice lurks within.

Today, Blackberry's market share is less than 5 percent of global smartphones. That's a stunningly rapid decline for a company that Fortune once described as the "fastest growing company in the world."

Two men shared the CEO spot during RIM's dramatic tumble from greatness: Mike Lazardis and Jim Balsillie. "This co-CEO structure is almost a guaranteed model for failure," Dartmouth Business School Professor Sydney Finklestein told NPR's Morning Edition. "It hardly ever works. It makes it difficult to know who is in charge and I think that slowed down their ability to adapt to competitors."

(Read More: Making a Mistake Does Not Mean Your Career Is Over)

Fish school together in a "bait ball" to avoid a predator because lonely fish are easier for sharks to snag. In the same way, workers cluster around an idea to avoid the risk of standing out. Task forces without a clear focus, teams without a clear mission, and meetings designed to ensure everyone feels included are much more common than the co-CEO structure at RIM. But they are each symptoms of the same disease: Collaboratis.

There may be safety in numbers, but too often there's a sickness as well.

Rote check-ins to make sure your team is on the same page sap energy and spread malaise. Too often these check-in meetings run the risk of slowing momentum. In the same way that a doctor's office provides germs that can get you sick, a check-in with the team is the most likely place for the team to become infected with indecision and confusion.

Being on the same page is overrated: to innovate and compete successfully, different people must make progress on different pages. As the rate of change goes up, the cost of making a mistake goes down. Make more mistakes quicker, and don't let the torpor of workplace meetings slow you down.

Make your collaboration healthier by making it more accountable and more selective. If you're a part of a team with a clear mission, you meet only to co-create (not to check in or checkup), and you embrace a plan to disband when the mission is achieved, then enjoy the productivity that comes with accountable collaboration

(Read More: Career Advice: How Focused Are You?)

In addition to unaccountability cloaked by collaboration, RIM provides a second example of vice hiding inside virtue. The BlackBerry PlayBook was launched in 2010 with much fanfare from RIM but little interest from the market. While competing with the iPad would have been tough for anyone, Lazardis and Balsillie didn't make it easier for themselves.

(Read More: Wanna Break That Glass Ceiling? Get Rid of That Chip)

Former employees of RIM say that Lazaridis ordered that the PlayBook be built for consumers. But Balsillie believed it should be sold to big businesses. "The marketing campaign positioned the tablet as 'professional grade,'" wrote Joe Castaldo in Canadian Business, "and yet the very name of the product suggests it's all about fun. It ultimately hit the market without meeting the needs of either consumers or business users." The PlayBook shows how an attempt to strike a balance between two goals is often just an excuse to avoid making a decision. Either decision would have been better than neither decision.

If you strive for balance at work, you may fall into the trap of blandness and mediocrity, working to find compromises that please everyone. As a result, others at work won't view you as a strong leader who stands with courage and speaks with candor. Instead, eliminate needless compromises. Have the courage to take a stand for something, and have the candor to quickly admit when it turns out you took a stand for the wrong thing.

The dark side of collaboration is a lack of accountability, and the dark side of balance is a lack of decisiveness. Look behind the curtain of collaboration and balance, and try to identify – and eliminate – the vices hiding in the darkness.

(Read More: Risky Business: How to Manage Up.)

Jake Breeden is the author of, "Tipping Sacred Cows: Kick the Bad Work Habits that Masquerade as Virtues." . He is founder of BreedenIdeas (www.breedenideas.com), and a global faculty member of Duke Corporate Education, where he has worked with leaders at Microsoft, Cisco, Google, IBM, OppenheimerFunds and Bloomberg.

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