Collaboration And Leadership At Cisco Systems

COLLABORATION AND LEADERSHIP AT CISCO SYSTEMS

“I believe that only those companies that build collaboration into their DNA by tapping into the collective expertise of their employees—instead of just a few select leaders at the top—will succeed … This sounds easy, but it is incredibly complex.” That is what John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, told an interviewer in 2008. A year later, he was even more adamant that collaboration, teamwork, and a supportive technology would be the hallmarks of the company’s future. “If they’re not collaborative,” he said, speaking of potential future employees, “if they aren’t naturally inclined toward collaboration and teamwork, if they are uncomfortable with using technology to make that happen both within Cisco and in their own life, they’re probably not going to fit in here.” And yet, as Chambers was the first to admit, he was not always so comfortable with teamwork and collaboration himself.

Cisco, widely recognized as “the Internet behemoth,” designs, manufactures, and sells Internet‐protocol networking and other byproducts related to the communications and IT industry, and provides services associated with those products and their use. Founded in 1984 by a Stanford‐based husband‐and‐wife team (seeking a way to connect the computer systems in their two departments), Cisco grew so rapidly that, at the height of the Internet bubble (2000), its market value made it the third most valuable company in the world (behind Microsoft and GE). Chambers became CEO in 1995 and helped drive that growth. When the bubble burst in 2001, Cisco experienced what Chambers called “a near death experience.” Layoffs and cutbacks helped Cisco survive, but Chambers was determined to do more: Cisco would thrive by understanding market trends and responding earlier than its competitors, or even its customers.

Chambers came to believe that the only way to stay ahead of the markets was by “tapping into the collective expertise of all our employees.” That meant building cross‐functional collaboration and teamwork throughout the entire organization. An elaborate network of councils and boards brought together “groups of people with relevant expertise” who could “work together to make and execute key decisions supported by networked Web 2.0 technologies.” All well and good, but Chambers also realized that neither he nor his top executives were quite prepared to make the transition themselves. “I’m a command‐and‐ control person,” Chambers admitted. “I like to be able to say turn right, and we truly have 67,000 people turn right.” His top executives were the same.

At first, Chambers found that his top executives did not much like the process of collaboration and would have “opted out” if allowed. “But I didn’t give them a choice in the matter,” he noted, “I forced people to work with others they didn’t get along with.” He also tied executive bonuses to collaborative efforts and let about 20% of his management team go. “It’s not that they weren’t successful working on their own or that they weren’t good people,” he explained. “They just couldn’t collaborate effectively.” Cisco CEO, John Chambers was committed to building collaboration as a way of keeping his company agile and responsive to a rapidly shifting competitive and technological environment.

COLLABORATION AND LEADERSHIP AT CISCO SYSTEMS

“I believe that only those companies that build collaboration into their DNA by tapping

into

the

collective

expertise

of

their

employees

instead

of

just

a

few

select

leaders

at

the

top

will

succeed … This sound

s

easy,

but it is incredibly

complex.”

That

is

what

John

Chambers,

CEO

of

Cisco

Systems,

told

an

interviewer

in 2008.

A

year

later,

he was

even

more

adamant that

collaboration, teamwork,

and

a

supportive technology would

be the

hallmarks

of the

company’s

future.

If

they’re

not

collaborative,”

he

said,

speaking

of

potential

future

employees,

“if

they

aren’t

naturally inclined

toward

collaboration

and

teamwork,

if

they

are

uncomfortable with

using

technology

to

make

that

happen

both

within

Cisco

and

in

their

own

life, they’re

probably

not

going

to

fit

in

here.”

And

yet,

as

Chambers

was

the

first

to

admit,

he

was

not

always

so

comfortable

with

teamwork

and

collaboration

himself.

Cisco,

widely

recognized

as

the

Internet

behemoth,”

designs,

manufac

tures,

and

sells

Internet

protocol

networking

and

other

byproducts

related

to

the

communications

and

IT

industry,

and

provides

services

associated

with

those

products and their use. Founded in 1984

by a

Stanford

based

husband

and

wife t

eam

(seeking

a

way

to

connect

the

computer

systems

in

their

two

departments), Cisco grew so rapidly that, at the height of the Internet bubble (2000),

its market value

made

it

the

third

most

valuable

company

in

the

world

(behind

Microsoft

and

GE).

Chambers

became

CEO

in

1995

and

helped

drive

that

growth.

When

the bubble burst in

2001, Cisco experienced what Chambers called “a

near

death

experience.”

Layoffs

and

cutbacks

helped

Cisco

survive,

but

Chambers

was

determined

to

do

more:

Cisco

would

thrive

by

understanding

market

trends

and

responding earlier than its competitors, or even its

customers.

Chambers came to believe that the only way to stay ahead of the markets was by “tapping into

the collective expertise of all our employees.” That meant building cross

functional

collaboration and teamwork throughout the entire organization. An elaborate ne

twork of

councils and boards brought together “groups of people with relevant expertise” who could

“work together to

make

and execute key decisions supported by networked

Web

2.0

technologies.” All well and good, but Chambers also realized that neither he

nor his top

executives were quite prepared to make the transition themselves. “I’m a command

and

control person,” Chambers admitted. “I like to be able to say turn right, and

we

truly have

67,000 people turn right.” His top executives were the

same.

At fi

rst, Chambers found that his top executives did not much like the

pro

cess of collaboration

and would have “opted out” if allowed. “But I didn’t give them

a

choice

in

the

matter,”

he

noted,

“I

forced

people

to

work

with

others

they didn’t get along with.”

He also tied executive

COLLABORATION AND LEADERSHIP AT CISCO SYSTEMS

“I believe that only those companies that build collaboration into their DNA by tapping into the

collective expertise of their employees—instead of just a few select leaders at the top—will

succeed … This sounds easy, but it is incredibly complex.” That is what John Chambers, CEO of

Cisco Systems, told an interviewer in 2008. A year later, he was even more adamant that

collaboration, teamwork, and a supportive technology would be the hallmarks of the company’s

future. “If they’re not collaborative,” he said, speaking of potential future employees, “if they

aren’t naturally inclined toward collaboration and teamwork, if they are uncomfortable with using

technology to make that happen both within Cisco and in their own life, they’re probably not going

to fit in here.” And yet, as Chambers was the first to admit, he was not always so comfortable

with teamwork and collaboration himself.

Cisco, widely recognized as “the Internet behemoth,” designs, manufactures, and sells

Internet-protocol networking and other byproducts related to the communications and IT

industry, and provides services associated with those products and their use. Founded in 1984

by a Stanford-based husband-and-wife team (seeking a way to connect the computer systems in

their two departments), Cisco grew so rapidly that, at the height of the Internet bubble (2000),

its market value made it the third most valuable company in the world (behind Microsoft and

GE). Chambers became CEO in 1995 and helped drive that growth. When the bubble burst in

2001, Cisco experienced what Chambers called “a near death experience.” Layoffs and

cutbacks helped Cisco survive, but Chambers was determined to do more: Cisco would thrive

by understanding market trends and responding earlier than its competitors, or even its

customers.

Chambers came to believe that the only way to stay ahead of the markets was by “tapping into

the collective expertise of all our employees.” That meant building cross-functional

collaboration and teamwork throughout the entire organization. An elaborate network of

councils and boards brought together “groups of people with relevant expertise” who could

“work together to make and execute key decisions supported by networked Web 2.0

technologies.” All well and good, but Chambers also realized that neither he nor his top

executives were quite prepared to make the transition themselves. “I’m a command-and-

control person,” Chambers admitted. “I like to be able to say turn right, and we truly have

67,000 people turn right.” His top executives were the same.

At first, Chambers found that his top executives did not much like the process of collaboration

and would have “opted out” if allowed. “But I didn’t give them a choice in the matter,” he

noted, “I forced people to work with others they didn’t get along with.” He also tied executive