Small Wars Journal

Integration to Increase the Likelihood of Collaboration

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 12:36am

Integration to Increase the Likelihood of Collaboration

Richard O. Day


This article asserts that if organizational leaders focus on human-to-human interface points (e.g. skills needed to be more effective members of work groups, operations planning team, or integrated product/process teams) for easier integration,[i] it will lay the foundational logic needed to allow for collaboration to occur. Explored within are habits emulated by highly collaborative organizations, how leadership can get the most bang for their buck when working to increase collaboration in an organization, and some training areas for where to begin.


It is said that the future of high performing companies will be borne of good employee collaboration [1]. But what is collaboration, how does an organization like United States STRATCOM (USSTRATCOM) obtain it, and do we care? Collaboration is defined as ‘doing more together (with people) than any of us can do as individuals[ii]. By extension, if a team is not greater than the sum of its members, might we not have collaboration occurring? Furthermore, if we have no collaboration, can we force it to happen? This begs the question, “how can we, as leaders, get collaboration to occur within our organization if there is none and how can we improve upon the collaboration that exists?” These are of top concern at USSTRATCOM and other headquarters as the Department of Defense faces a budget reduction of $1 trillion over the next decade. This decrease in turn projects the reduction of military and civilian forces at 4-star commands by a fifth [7, 8]. Squeezing as much out of collaboration during these times of reduced forces, without any foreseen reduction in mission, is paramount.

Organizational Collaboration Habits

While hunting for common habits by looking through hundreds of companies where leaders seek to build organizational collaboration one collaborator, Jacob Morgan, identified 12 principles [2] in common. Figure 1 illustrates these principles in bubbles around a center focal point. Over half of these principles involve leadership’s participation in institutionalizing these habits within an organization. Furthermore, Morgan calls out that leadership must lead by example and set up the logic for collaboration to grow.

Figure 1: 12 Principles of Collaboration as identified by Jacob Morgan on Forbes Leadership and author of “The Collaborative Organization: A Strategic Guide to Solving Your Internal Business Challenges Using Social and Collaborative Tools.” [2, 3]

Designing the Logic for Integration

As leaders, we can set up an environment or logic to increase the likelihood (or probability) of collaboration to occur. The environment or logic can mean anything from the design of collaboration rooms (physical environment), fostering certain skillsets (training and education can help us to solve the problem right), and setup of a system architecture (system logic can help us to solve the right problem). However, which of these areas might render the largest return on investment? The following argument identifies the integration points within the system as the opportune space.

If we consider the Lego system as having similarities to our own organizational system, we can use this analogy to help identify the space which might have the largest impact. The Lego system has building blocks, each with an understood (or common) interface. The common interface provides a means for Lego blocks to fit together to allow the master architect to build something unique and different anytime he/she likes. The common interface is key to the Lego[iii] system. If we draw the analogy that an organization like USSTRATCOM is a system made of people, it can be said the system’s fundamental units or building blocks are the people and USSTRATCOM has more than 2,500 of these blocks or people. If we imagine that each person in a USSTRATCOM like network has one-to-many (human-to-human) interfaces, the total number of interface points can be calculated to be greater than 3 million. This is undeniably a sizable target of opportunity to impact the system. Additionally, when considering Eastern logic to this subject, it is found in alignment because they attach much importance on connecting these spaces as well [[iv]]. Furthermore, according to Dr. Williams [5], by focusing on these integration spaces to make them better or stronger, collaboration will become considerably easier.

What of the interfaces in an organization like USSTRATCOM? Yes, we all speak English, but our backgrounds differ widely. It raises the question, “how can we make our interfaces more common?” The answer might be in education and training about a meaningful context. The good news is that the meaningful context is provided. Our everyday and crisis action situations form around operational process teams (OPT), integrated product teams (IPT), and working groups (WG) which define the meaningful context we seek. It is suggested that if we build shared understanding within this context the interfaces will undoubtedly become more common and collaboration be more probable.

MITRE’s Integrated Project Team (IPT) Guide is one place to read about these IPT skills [6]. Accordingly, IPT training is called out as a critical factor of IPT success. The following is an extract from page 15 of this Guide: “This (training) is often the most neglected or under-funded aspect of setting up an IPT despite numerous studies citing its importance. IPTs often fail because the leader and members do not understand the unique purpose of an IPT and how it is supposed to function."

Ask yourself, “How many IPT training sessions have you attended”, “have your team members attended”, and “has your boss attended?”

It is suggested that a shared understanding of all the roles and functions of each and every IPT member is vital to an IPT’s success. Training in this area can help set up a foundational logic for collaboration by creating common interfaces between each person. Some available Defense Acquisition University (DAU) and USSTRATCOM/J76 courses on IPTs are the following:

DAU: CLM014 IPT Management and Leadership

DAU: ACQ101 Fundamentals of System Acquisition Management - Lesson 5 - Team Building

DAU: CLE017 Technical Planning–Resourcing & Staffing Against the Technical Planning–IPT Organization & Structure

USSTRATCOM/J76: ID4172 Cross-Functional Collaboration Course

While having a common IPT understanding among all members of the IPT or WG may not be a sure-fire way to get collaboration to occur, it may put in place the right skills or interfaces needed to increase the likelihood of collaboration via integration. Each block in the system becomes an integral part of the overall system working together; therefore, each and every block needs understanding to hold the entire system together.


Outlined in literature are four understood group models in collaboration: Chance, Acuity, Interest and Leader; but there is no general theory of collaboration. Dillenbourg et al identifies that there are levels of collaboration (networking, coordination, cooperation, collaboration) and asserts that collaboration needs to 'transcend' organizational boundaries thereby expanding a so-called closed system. This identifies the differences in Eastern and Western logic about how an organization should be designed. Western logic focuses on separating to discern (break down to solve), and Eastern thought focuses on the importance of connecting the interface spaces (bring the organization together) [4]. It is suggested that the tighter integration exists between people, the easier the organization will be able to move up the levels of collaboration by transcending the organizational boundaries. Furthermore, polishing each person’s interface with IPT education and training for the purposes of having tighter integration will raise the level of collaboration at an organization like USSTRATCOM and ready us for the expected force reductions over the next decade.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of U.S. Strategic Command, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.


[1] The Future of Work: the Art of Collaborative Leadership, Monique Svazlian, CPCC, Huff Post Business, May 11, 2013

[2] The 12 Habits of Highly Collaborative Organizations, Jacob Morgan, Forbes Leadership, July 30, 2013

[3] The Collaborative Organization: A Strategic Guide to Solving Your Internal Business Challenges Using Social and Collaborative Tools, Jacob Morgan, McGraw Hill, June 5 2013

[4] Collaboration in Organisations: Theories, Tools, Principles, and Practices, Paola Di Maio, 26 February 2008,

[5] Working in Collaboration: Learning from Theory and Practice, Dr. Paul Williams, Professor Helen Sullivan, October 2007, Literature Review for the National Leadership and Innovation Agency for Healthcare

[6] Integrated Project Team Start-up Guide, MITRE, October 2008, - IPT Startup Guide - Final v1.pdf

[7] Pentagon Review Reveals Best, Worst Case, Hagel Says, Karen Parrish, American Forces Press Service July 31, 2013

[8] StratCom chief warns of damage from budget cuts, Steve Liewer, April 3 2014, Omaha World-Herald

End Notes

[i] Integration in this article is defined as the process of bringing together the component subsystems into one system and that the subsystems function as a whole are more effective than the sum of its parts.

[ii] Gestalt theory, belief that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts led to the discovery of several different phenomena that occur during perception (e.g. the human mind auto-fills in blind spots).

[iii] Lego comes from the Danish phrase “leg godt’ and means “play well.”  In Latin, Lego means “I assemble,”

[iv] Eastern thought (extract from Chart 12 in Di Maio’s presentation [4]): “a lot of importance is attached to the connecting space between entities that is considered essential for closed systems to expand”


About the Author(s)

Lieutenant Colonel Richard O. Day is currently a Program Analysis working at the Program Management Office within United States Strategic Command, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. He was commissioned through Officer's Training School in 1997 and completed a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. Prior to his current assignment, Lt Col Day served as Chief, Integration Division in the Rapid Capabilities Operations, Mission Support Directorate, National Reconnaissance Office, Chantilly VA.