Collaborate, Not Coerce admin January 27, 2020

Collaborate, Not Coerce

The fundamental organizational design principle from the Industrial Age was to separate the deciders from the doers.

Each group was given a label: white collar – blue collar, salary people – hourly people, bosses – workers, leaders – followers, blueworker – redworker.

The main idea was one group (white collar, salary,bosses) decided what the other group (blue collar, hourly, workers) needed to do. Communication flowed one way–down. The deciders didn’t ask the doers “What do you think?” or “What’s your perspective on this?” Instead, they gave them instructions.

“Stand here. Do this. Put that there. Turn it, push until closed, and repeat. Do this until I tell you to stop. I’ll let you know when it’s quitting time.” The instructions were so precise, they didn’t require the workers to think and they certainly didn’t give them a choice about HOW to do their job.

The deciders used the Industrial Age play of coerce. Coercion is how you get someone else to do something YOU want them to do. Today we don’t use the word coerce, instead we say “we motivate” or “we inspire,” but fundamentally it’s about getting someone else to do something. It sounds like “Your work is easy, it’s not so bad,” or “I thought you were tough enough to handle this,” and even “C’mon, I know you could do more, I believe in you.”

A harder to recognize coercive phrase is “Hey, I think we are good to go here. What do you guys think?” Coercion. Why? Because when the leader gives their thoughts first, it makes it a bit harder for someone to say “No, I don’t think we are good to go,” and therefore coerces someone to do a job with out making any, not even small, decisions about the job. No collaboration.


The play we want now is Collaborate. For collaboration to happen we need to let the doers ALSO be the deciders. Where before we had blueworkers and redworkers, now we have people doing bluework and redwork. Collaboration requires us to share ideas, be vulnerable, and respect the ideas of others. Collaboration happens through the questions we ask and starting them with “what” and “how.” We invite dissent. We practice being curious before being compelling.

True collaboration sounds like, “Hey, what does everyone think? Write it down on a card before I contaminate you with what I think, or even a group conversation.” This technique of “Vote First Then Discuss” captures the ideas of others before anyone can push them in one direction or another. This is the only way to ensure that the thoughts of others remain untarnished or swayed by leaders. The key phrase to use is “Let The Doers Be The Deciders.”

Coercion results in compliance. Collaboration, results in commitment because the team is making the decision.

Old Play: Coerce — New Play: Collaborate


From our Further Reading list in our new book Leadership Is Language, we invite you to check out The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki 

Learn more by watching this –  Leadership Nudge® 293 – Let’s Collaborate