Smart Collaboration on Facebook Live, Friday Jan 13, 10am EST

Join me for a LIVE session on Facebook to talk about Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos.  I’ll present highlights from the book in an interactive whiteboard session, as well as some more recent findings that didn’t make it into the this first edition.

You’ll have the chance to ask questions and get a response from me during the session.  The broadcast starts at 10am EST on Friday Jan 13th  A recording will be available immediately afterward.

Looking forward to hearing your smart questions about smart collaboration!

Smart Collaboration – Officially Released Worldwide

At long last, Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos was officially released worldwide by Harvard Business Press on January 3rd.  By offering your own insights, anecdotes and critiques, many of you on this Board of Contributors played a special role in the book’s development.  I appreciate your efforts, as I write in the book’s Preface:

“Writing a book about collaboration was, as it turned out, a collaborative endeavor.  As I discussed and tested my ideas over the years, I was astonished by the groundswell of interest those ideas prompted, and by the number of people who asked, “How can I help you?”   Several months into writing the manuscript, I hit on a new idea to tap into this enthusiasm. I created what I called a Board of Contributors, and invited those people who had expressed a passion for the subject of collaboration to periodically review early-stage ideas for this book. I posted rough drafts a few paragraphs at a time, and board members posted their critiques, challenged my ideas (and sometimes each other’s), and provided nitty-gritty examples from their own experiences.  Although I didn’t plan it that way, this book has turned out to be a testament to the power of surfacing and integrating the work of specialized experts.  Their voices show up throughout the book, and I’m grateful for them”

The response so far has been extremely positive, so our collective hard work is making its intended impact.  You’ll see that many top leaders and industry thinkers have endorsed the book, including comments such as these:

  • “Gardner presents a powerful empirical case for smart collaboration in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world. This book is a must read for law firm leaders and partners committed to improving client relationships globally.” Wim Dejonghe, Senior Partner, Allen & Overy
  • “Drawing on deep analysis and case studies across organizations, Gardner has turned a tricky topic – how and why to collaborate – into a set of clear prescriptions.” Scott McDonald, President & CEO, Oliver Wyman Group
  • “A remarkable blend of theory and practice, Gardner’s work on collaboration is at once rigorous and actionable. Backed by extensive empirical research, her book offers crucial guidance for professionals who want to deepen their relationships with clients, improve the service they provide, and increase their profitability – and that should be all professionals.” Professor Richard Susskind, co-author, The Future of Professions

Let me reiterate what I wrote as I concluded the Preface, “The search continues for even more powerful ways to collaborate on tough problems in knowledge-based firms. I invite you to read my current thoughts on the subject, and contribute to the next generation of those ideas.”   Please do stay involved!

Collaboration as “Revenge”

This week I hoped to see messages of bridge-building trump those of divisiveness.  Fearing otherwise, I had threatened to pack my bags if the election fell the other way.

But one of my mentors always told me that “success is the best revenge.”  So rather than run away, I woke up today more motivated than ever to promote collaboration and all the positive benefits associated with a strategy of inclusion.

Helping to make thousands of people more successful by working across traditional dividing lines is my personal way of repudiating the idea that walls are a good solution for overcoming differences.  My research proves the opposite:  people are indeed stronger, more successful, and more resilient when they collaborate. For some of the evidence, see prior posts, this article, or this webinar.  I encourage you to reach out today to strengthen a connection or start to build a team to collectively tackle a tough issue.

Collaboration – in a positive spirit, let’s move forward together.

Gender, Origination & the Pay Gap

Recent reports of the persistent pay gap between men and women law firm partners have prompted debates about the role of origination credits in that inequity.  Thoughtful scholars, law firm leaders and partners, and consultants to the industry are typically careful not to point fingers or suggest that the bias is intentional.  But the statistics can’t help but make a number of people uncomfortable or defensive.  Until now, we have relied mostly on interviews, self-reported surveys, and anecdotal evidence about the root causes of the inequitable distribution of origination credits in so many firms.  Those who are invested in the status quo point to the potential subjectivity in such data sources as a way to discredit the findings.  Even those who are keen to change the system are often at a loss about how to affect change.

My empirical research gives some new insights into the foundation of this problem and some possible ways forward.  I have collected extensive data —timesheets, billing records, origination files, personnel records –across multiple law firms (domestic and global), for timespans ranging up to a decade per firm.  This archival data has the benefit of being objective, in the sense that lawyers recorded it for business purposes rather than as an exercise to understand gender outcomes.  But the investigation about partner-level collaboration consistently highlighted issues related to gender, too.  In my analyses across the disparate law firms, several similar findings have emerged that point to some more general patterns across the sector.

First, and perhaps most surprising, is the way that the origination gap emerges between male versus female partners.  Most people – initially, including me – assumed that both men and women start their partner years with an equally small book of business, but that a discrepancy grows incrementally, over time.   The reality, at least in four different law firms looks quite different:  while it’s true that partners of both genders begin with negligible origination credits, by the end of the third or fourth post-election year a sizable difference has opened up.  The figure below illustrates this pattern.  (Note that the figures look very promising for highly experienced women but we need to interpret the data with caution: there are so few long-tenured women partners that the survivors really skew the average.)

[click this link to see the figure:  gardner_gender-origination_bol_2016-11-02  ]

What accounts for this rapid divergence between men and women’s book of business?  Our statistical analyses show that women tend to grow their book incrementally and often through the (obviously harder) process of developing clients who are brand new to the firm, whereas men tend to “inherit” institutional clients –either as the sole or co-lead partner on major accounts.  The speed of that process suggests that its roots lie in a biased origination system beginning in their associate years.

One of the benefits of statistical analysis is that we can rule out, or control for, many factors that would otherwise explain the disparity.  For example, one lawyer quoted in an online article suggested that women may accumulate fewer origination credits because of their desire to “get home” and work fewer hours.  But our findings show that gender itself is a strong predictor of the origination credit gap, even when controlling for hours worked, the partner’s hourly rate, the average billing rate of her/his team, and the number of clients where each is the lead partner.

[this post is an abridged version of one that appeared yesterday on Bloomberg’s Big Law Business; for the full text, please click here:]

Many of you have asked over the last year or so about the relationship between collaboration and gender.  My first priority in studying collaboration was to establish the “business case” for it, and to build a strong empirical basis for claiming that smart collaboration is an imperative for professional service firms (and knowledge-based organizations more broadly).  I think we are well on our way toward meeting that goal, so now I’m beginning to tackle the gender-related aspects.

I hope you’ll join the dialogue and contribute toward this initiative.  If your firm has data that you think sheds light on the topic, let me know.  Have you piloted different initiatives related to origination credits or other aspects of client service that affect professionals’ ability / willingness to engage in collaborative behaviors, or affect their outcomes when they do?  If you don’t have the data, do you have an opinion?  Share it, please.  Tackling this topic requires the inputs of many different experts, each with their own perspectives and experience.  In short, we need smart collaboration.

Link to “Smart Collaboration” webinar

A couple weeks ago I hosted a live webinar with Harvard Business Review, previewing findings from my forthcoming book.  I was gratified and humbled that more than 2200 people signed up –according to HBR, that’s a near-record for one of their webinars.  We had some great questions, too, and I’m going to address them in some future posts.

In case you missed it, here’s a link to the webinar recording on

Please feel free to share that link on whatever social media you use.  Together, we’re making real progress in our efforts to foster smart collaboration.

And here’s a flier for “Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos,” which is now available for pre-order on Amazon.  gardner_smart-collaboration_flier  Again, I appreciate your efforts in helping to spread the word.  Pretty soon I’ll start posting updates on my plans for book launch events in various US and international cities. I hope you’ll join me at one of them.  In the meantime, if you have links to any journalists who might be interested in an interview or book review, please put me in touch with them, ok?


“Smart Collaboration” Webinar

On Wednesday, October 19 (noon US Eastern) I will present a webinar called Smart Collaboration: Breaking Down Silos.  Here’s the blurb for it:

On October 19, in a live, interactive Harvard Business Review webinar, Gardner will share findings from her research, discuss the obstacles that make collaboration so difficult, and provide insights into the benefits of collaboration. She will also offer powerful prescriptions for how leaders can foster collaboration, leverage technology, move to higher-end and higher-margin work, increase client satisfaction, and attract and retain top-caliber talent.

To discover why and how to truly improve collaboration in your organization—and reap the rewards—join Heidi Gardner and HBR on October 19.

Here is the link to register: Registration is free, and you do not need to be a current HBR subscriber.  Please feel free to share this information with your colleagues who are interested in fostering collaboration in their organizations.  With just over two weeks to go, we have nearly 1000 people signed up already!


Gratis copy of “Smart Collaboration” book

Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos will officially launch on January 3rd, 2017.  I am deeply grateful to all of you who contributed your thoughts, examples, and insights through this forum.

Here’s the blurb from the book jacket:

Professional service firms face a serious challenge. Their clients increasingly need them to solve complex problems—everything from regulatory compliance to cybersecurity, the kinds of problems that only teams of multidisciplinary experts can tackle.

Yet most firms have carved up their highly specialized, professional experts into narrowly defined practice areas, and collaborating across these silos is often messy, risky, and expensive. Unless you know why you’re collaborating and how to do it effectively, it may not be smart at all. That’s especially true for partners who have built their reputations and client rosters independently, not by working with peers.

In Smart Collaboration, Heidi Gardner shows that firms earn higher margins, inspire greater client loyalty, attract and retain the best talent, and gain a competitive edge when specialists collaborate across functional boundaries. Gardner, a former McKinsey consultant and Harvard Business School professor now lecturing at Harvard Law School,  has spent over a decade conducting in-depth studies of numerous global professional service firms. Her research with clients and the empirical results of her studies demonstrate clearly and convincingly that collaboration pays, for both professionals and their firms.

But Gardner also offers powerful prescriptions for how leaders can foster collaboration, move to higher-margin work, increase client satisfaction, improve lateral hiring, decrease enterprise risk, engage workers to contribute their utmost, break down silos, and boost their bottom line.

With case studies and real-world insights, Smart Collaboration delivers an authoritative case for the value of collaboration to today’s professionals, their firms, and their clients and shows you exactly how to achieve it.

The book is already available for pre-order from Amazon ( .  I attach a flier here [gardner_smart-collaboration_flier], and would deeply appreciate if you can start spreading the word.  If anyone is interested in ordering multiple copies, my publisher offers steep discounts for bulk orders (over 10 copies, contact details on flier).

Finally, as promised at the launch of this Idea Space, I’ll be happy to send a gratis copy of the book to anyone who’s contributed to this blog.  If you’re in that category, please email me and my Assistant, Jane Reader (, with your postal address.

Thank you again for your continued support –as I write in opener of Smart Collaboration, “I hope that this book serves as a testament to the power of uncovering and integrating the knowledge of specialized experts,” and you have been a powerful part of that community.  I also acknowledge that much knowledge about collaboration remains to be discovered, and I look forward to our ongoing interactions so that we can learn together.

Can you risk not collaborating?

Half a billion (yes, that’s a “b”) users had their Yahoo accounts hacked in one of history’s biggest ever cyber-attacks, according to news reports last week.  Security experts write that the threat landscape has grown increasingly complex, with attackers weaving together all sorts of malicious tools and gaining access through every imaginable entry point in a company.  No company can ward off these threats unless they have a comprehensive, cross-organizational initiative that brings together multiple kinds of experts including not only the IT and security functions but also HR, manufacturing and logistics, public relations, legal, customer service, and others.  It’s not surprise, therefore, that clients are asking (or perhaps more accurately: demanding) that their highly specialized professional advisers work across all sorts of boundaries in order to deliver an integrated approach to managing risks –not just cybersecurity, but numerous others like it that are not only increasingly complex and multidisciplinary, but also increasingly keeping executives awake at night.

Getting specialist experts to team up and integrate their knowledge to solve complex, sophisticated problems that none could tackle alone: that’s the definition of collaboration.  And smart leaders are increasingly waking up to the fact that collaboration is not just a “nice to have,” but rather a business imperative for increasing profits, gaining competitive advantage, attracting the hottest talent… and now, as a way to prevent and manage enterprise risk. This post talks about two kinds of risk that are serious issues for today’s professional service firms: malpractice and financial implosion.  First, collaboration gives firms greater oversight of their partners’ work, thereby reducing the potential for the kinds of misbehavior that some professional firms’ insurers put into the colorful categories of “dabblers,” “body snatchers,” and “lone wolves.”  Second, collaboration across functions, hierarchies, and geographies is necessary to handle existential risks such financial demise.

A dabbler is someone who has a clearly defined area of expertise, but who, when a client brings up a problem outside that area, declines to search out a colleague with the relevant expertise, and instead says, “I think I could stretch just far enough to tackle that problem –by myself.”  Think it doesn’t happen that often?  Wrong! In the PSF arena, malpractice claims have skyrocketed in recent years.  Why?  As market pressures increase, some professionals start gaming the system.  In an effort to maintain their personal edge and expand their marketability, they begin to promise solutions they can’t deliver.  One study by the American Bar Association, for example, found that nearly half the malpractice claims were the result of substantive errors by the lawyers involved, rather than failed processes within the firm. The lawyers didn’t know the relevant law well enough, didn’t apply it well enough, failed to anticipate the implications of their advice, and so on.  The kinds of mistakes are likely to be caught when the right expert is brought into the mix.  “Mistakes have supplanted client misconduct and conflicts,” a contact at a professional firm’s insurer told me recently, “and the failure to collaborate is a key part of those claims.” Unfortunately, it’s not just the individual who’s on the hook, in such cases; it’s also the firm that is at risk.

The lone wolf is someone who keeps a client account exclusively under his own control, which is another kind of risky behavior.  When no peers are allowed access to the account records or personnel, the risk of unauthorized activities increases dramatically. That’s the reason, for example, that both Europe’s banking authorities and the US Securities and Exchange Commission have recommended that banks require their traders to take two-week holidays, during which their colleagues would take over their books and ensure that all activity was above board.  Ongoing collaboration, spread over time and across multiple team members, would enhance transparency even more.

Finally, body snatchers are people who try to supervise extensive amounts of work conducted by juniors in another department, rather than involve any of those subordinates’ own supervisors. Body snatchers are typically motivated by financial metrics that allow them to use lower-cost resources outside their own unit. Or perhaps their own resources are constrained. Or perhaps they know they can get away with abusive behavior (demanding extraordinary hours, say, or yelling, or failing to give credit) when the junior resides elsewhere.   The risk, though, is that body snatchers have neither the expertise to conduct appropriate quality control nor the authority over the junior staff to handle issues through formal processes, such as performance reviews. By encouraging teams of partner-level peers to collaborate, firms can help to prevent the sorts of errors and abuse caused by body snatchers.

Deliberate malpractice in professional service firms is admittedly rare, but when it happens, it can be fatal.   What can you do to protect yourself and your firm?  Nothing can entirely eliminate these risks, of course. But having more informed eyes on the account—one natural by-product of collaboration—can certainly mitigate risks.  A beneficial corollary of collaboration is, of course, the likelihood that your firm is better placed to help clients to handle their own complex risks and opportunities.

The second kind of risk that collaboration can help to prevent is financial melt-down.  In his award-winning book Enterprise Risk Management: From Incentives to Controls, risk expert James Lam writes that the first principle of risk management is “Know Your Business.”  Everyone, he argues, from the Board of Directors through to front-line employees should understand operational processes, key revenue and cost drivers, and exposure points.  He cites convincing —and scary—cases of major organizations that have imploded when managers didn’t understand the nitty-gritty of their business well enough.

Can you honestly say that your partners clearly understand the link between, say, their write-off decisions, accounts receivables, associate utilization, and the practice group profitability?  I doubt it, and here’s why: Most –yes, truly, most –of the senior leaders who come to executive education programs at Harvard confess that they didn’t truly understand some of the nuances that could ultimately put their financials at risk.  So it’s not a large leap of imagination to realize that a large swath of your partnership is also making uninformed daily decisions that could ultimately lead to a cascade of profit-draining troubles.

Yet in most professional firms, the lines of defense against such financial disaster—people, tools, training—remain siloed in individual departments, offices, or practice groups.  The group head is rarely chosen for his or her financial acumen; some (many?) seek a leadership role for the associated status, with little interest in learning core management processes like budgeting and forecasting.  Also, many group leaders are unwilling to take time away from client opportunities in order to dig into individual partner’s accounts, so they don’t have a clear handle on risks being incurred.  Furthermore, because their reputation is often linked to the unit’s growth, rather than profitability, they pay scant attention to the true bottom line and are dis-incentivized to widely report any problems they do notice or even ask for help from fellow department leaders across the firm.  Department members who observe this laissez faire attitude toward risk might think it gives them license to become dabblers –or worse.

In some firms, the tools and data about risks are walled off from those on-the-ground professionals who need to know.  One advisory to law firms wrote, “In my consulting practice I spend a lot of time reviewing practice group strategy and finances, and quite often I’m advised not to share these confidential data with partners (partners!) in these practices.  It’s startling how many law firms still embrace a closed system in which many if not most of the partners are excluded from the financial operations of the firm.” Moreover, the people in professional service firms who do have information about risks and may be willing to share it are undervalued because they’re “staff” instead of client-facing professionals.  True collaboration across this hierarchical divide is still shockingly rare.

In sum, firms need a more disciplined and collaborative approach to manage financial risk.  They must put in place explicit processes to increase and integrate their partners’ knowledge about operational and client risks, and hold everyone accountable for acting on that knowledge.  Given the sophistication of the threats at hand —cybersecurity perhaps top among them—it’s now more important than ever for professionals to collaborate across organizational silos to identify, prevent and mitigate enterprise risks.  Before it’s too late.

***  What are the best practice examples of risk management in your firm, within and especially across different business units or locations?  Do you have ways to develop professionals’ knowledge about risks (financial, operational, reputational, etc.), and to help them understand how their actions influence outcomes?  Any examples of a time when you de-risked a situation or prevented a bad outcome by collaborating across siloes to identify the issue?  ***

As ever in this Idea Space, please leave your comments below.  If you have a sensitive or confidential example that you’d like to share, then please email me directly on This post is the initial foray into research on the links between collaboration and risk management. Please check out prior topics in the Archive section at right.

Last point:  “Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos” is now at the printers!  It is available for pre-order on Amazon, and will be shipping later this autumn.


Structural overlays to boost cross-discipline working

I’m writing a new article for Harvard Business Review that expands on some material from my book (more info on the book launch coming soon), and looking for an example for the following paragraph:

It’s important to create an organizational structure that supports cross-discipline collaboration.  This may be less about changing existing, formal reporting lines and more about creating an overlay, as was the case at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. [which is explained earlier in the article].   Such overlays are relatively common in large professional service firms, which are now moving toward a sector-based approach that mirrors their clients’ industries and helps align internal experts with the needs of those industries.  But there are plenty of other types of companies bringing together their employees in creative, informal ways to promote innovation or serve customers better.  For example, ___.

Do you know of any non-PSF examples that fit the bill of using “creative, informal ways” or structures to promote innovation or improve customer service?   Perhaps a Center of Excellence that brings together experts across various business units to tackle an issue in a more customer-centric way?  Any leads welcome (articles, anecdotes, contacts, etc.).

Clients’ Point of View – New American Lawyer article

Hot off the press: American Lawyer just published my article, “When and Why Clients
Want You to Collaborate,” which you can access using the link below.  As you’ll see, I’ve used many of the ideas and inputs from you, my Board of Contributors.  Thank you!

This material also features in the final chapter of my book, “SMART COLLABORATION: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos.”    Having received feedback from the editor and several reviewers, I’m now revising the final manuscript.  It’s due in one week (June 1st).  I’ll keep you posted on progress.

In addition, I’ve launched several new streams of research in the last few months.  Each examines a more specific angle about collaboration: gender (!), leadership, and a couple top secret ones.  I’ll begin publishing some early findings within the next few weeks.