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March 2014


Collaboration that Works: A Ruthlessly Practical Handbook for a Generative World


by Cecile M. Green (, 2013)


What are the big take-aways?


My friend Cecile Green’s book is dedicated to the proposition that healthier use of power can unleash greater capacity in humans and organizations.  The origin of Cecile’s passion for these ideas lies in her frustration with what she views as the dire state of global economic, environmental and other conditions of our time (page 6):


My hypothesis, based on years of study, research, and practice, is that the common theme underlying all this dysfunction and toxicity is power: how we use it and how we distribute it.  This hypothesis sparked the creation of the body of work you hold in your hands with the intention of supporting humanity in learning and continuously practicing a generative relationship with power, thus releasing our collective genius from its imprisonment in the bowels of an ancient relationship with power, so that we can resolve the challenges of our age before they kill us.


Collaboration that Works is a handbook for how to approach these issues of power through communication, by using an implementation process that she has developed and tested in real organizations.


Why do I like it?


As a leadership specialist who appreciates integral theory (defined by Wikipedia as “a philosophy posited by Ken Wilber that seeks a synthesis of the best of pre-modern, modern, and postmodern reality”), I admire Cecile’s impulse to create a unifying conceptual understanding of power’s paradoxical nature in organizations.  Even more, I respect her hard to work to design a system for working with power in positive, liberating ways.


Two academic articles of Cecile’s, originally published in the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, form the core of the book; they are entitled “The Organizational Power Matrix: Toward a Metapraxis of Power,” and “Generative Power in Organizations: Understanding Power in Communication.”  Together, they outline her theory that organizations are places where power is “enacted” largely through communication, and that well-structured patterns of communication can create what she dubs “generative power.”  Following the articles, she offers processes for unleashing generative power by using prescribed conversational practices to guide effective meeting  facilitation and flow, and to address tensions (page 40).  The practices are committed to four decks of cards that support the processes; all four decks are reproduced in the handbook.


In what situations would this be useful?


This process is highly structured and directive, and would therefore – in my view – demand at least one strong, deliberate and consistent leader to champion it in order for the process to work.  It would be useful to organizations that are in a position to commit the time and resources required to learn and implement it.  That said, Cecile persuasively argues the return on investment has been worthwhile in the organizations where it has already been utilized.


My assessment is this process would be most useful where there are acknowledged imbalances of power that are impairing a team’s or an organization’s productivity.  The power imbalances could be of any kind, i.e., rooted in seniority, hierarchical status, race, class or gender, etc., and could be either very obvious or quite subtle.  Also, in high-conflict situations this process could be effectively paired with other interventions such as mediation and individual or team coaching.  I can imagine this process might be less useful with groups that are already high-functioning and/or whose existing processes are necessarily loose because the nature of the work itself is inherently emergent.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


For another perspective on the circumstances in which humanity now finds itself and what an individual person can do about it, you might check out the book I reviewed last month, Margaret Wheatley’s sweeping So Far From Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World (Berrett-Koehler, 2012).  For additional guides to processes that address power in organizations, you might consider Ronald Heifetz et al.’s The Practice of Adaptive Leadership (Harvard Business Press, 2009) or Kegan and Lahey’s Immunity to Change (Harvard Business Press, 2009).  For complementary tactical advice about dealing with interpersonal conflict in the workplace, I’d suggest taking a look at Reina and Reina’s Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace: Seven Steps to Renew Confidence, Commitment and Energy (Berrett-Koehler, 2010).


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