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Mintzberg, Managing & the Missing Element of Collaboration

Whether or not it was a rhetorical challenge, I’m taking Henry Mintzberg up on his ask, somewhat, in his book Managing and recommending an adaption or perhaps an enhancement to his “Model of Managing”.

Perhaps he will utilize it in an updated book release. Perhaps.

First to Mintzberg and the “Model of Managing”. In principle, I agree with the archetype and the following definition:

“managing takes place on three planes, from the conceptual to the concrete: with information, through people, and to action directly”.

I do however believe that it’s the separation of information, people and action into the three planes that causes some issues.

Mintzberg goes on to state that:

“It is this dynamic balance that renders futile the teaching of management in a classroom, especially one role or competency at a time. Even mastering all the competencies do not a competent manager make, because the key to this work is the blending of all of its aspects into this dynamic balance.”

What’s missing, however, is the relatively new managing behaviour that I will refer to simply as collaboration. I’ll probably have to write a book about this soon, but for purposes of this blog posting I’ll juxtapose Mintzberg’s model with my own adaptation of his work.

Mintzberg’s model segregates 3 key planes: information, people and action. I believe there are two key planes (collaboration and action) and that these are bound by information and people. That is, managers must collaborate and take action with information and people.

Collaboration is the practice of linking, leading, communicating, connecting, scheduling and framing people and information each and every day through action.

Action is taking those same people and pieces of information and deciding whether to do, delegate, demonstrate or deal.

Collaboration occurs in formal, informal and social ways utilizing face-to-face interactions as well as virtual/asynchronous means to act, be it with people or information.

Action also can occur in formal, informal and/or social ways; the key tenet being it happens with people and information.

Do you agree? Disagree?

Bloggers Note: I normally try to blog weekly, but in the months of July and August, you’ll have to bear with me as I’ll be posting only once per month.


  • Howard / 22 July 2010 8:52

    Thanks; I think your update is valid and important. Two questions:
    #1 If Henry said; “this dynamic balance that renders futile the teaching of management in a classroom”, this update puts it even further outside traditional institutes of learning. Where does management learning occur. My own opinion would be the network al la Hagel Brown and Davison (From Push to Pull).
    #2. Drawing from the idea that the economy is moving from the production of stuff to the production of experiences – Is it the job of the manager to collaborate or is it to design the experiences that drive the collaboration plane.

  • Dan Pontefract / 23 July 2010 9:51

    Thanks Howard.

    #1 – agreed, Education 2.0 and the Long Tail, along with networks of learning is going to be a very important part

    #2 – I believe it’s to collaborate with others in addition to designing the experiences him/herself (ie. a combo) that will help drive the panacea experience

  • Jon Husband / 27 July 2010 12:57

    Glad you enjoyed it, Dan. I agree with your point, and I notice that Mintzberg’s quote says “through people”. Also, when he refers to “a dynamic balance” between the three planes, I am guessing or inferring that he is referring to these in a networked environment. He saw the (coming) organization as a web or a series of flows (viz. organigraphs) a decade or more ago.

    I think he has written relatively often about collaboration (I am going to go check) and of course one of his main activities these days is collaborative coaching, at

    Here, for example, is a 10-year old interview with Mintzberg that is mostly about collaboration and managing. I’d argue that the key points (in bold) are directly applicable to today’s context.

    I’d have to re-read it, but from what I remember his 2004 book “Managers, not MBAs: A hard look at the soft practice of managing and management development” also had a fair bit in it on the importance of developing managers able to work in / with collaboration.

    So .. my assumption is that Mintzberg considers the form(s) of managing he is exploring in his latest book as having to adapt to the conditions that today are creating an increased (real & pragmatic) interest in collaboration and collaborative work / management practices.

    But, good catch. Makes me think …

  • paul / 28 July 2010 12:45

    Dan, I’ve not read his book yet (sigh … too many books, too little time), but some have criticized Mintzberg for failing to draw a clear distinction between managers and leaders. And secondly, for focusing too much on manager as a “position” rather than “managing” as a process. Do you think these are fair assessments?

    Also, in his diagram, Figure 3.2, what is referring to when he mentions “controlling”? And how does that play out w.r.t. your point about collaboration?

  • Pekka Lampelto / 23 September 2013 6:24


    I find your point of view interesting. Personally, Mintzberg’s model makes sense to me. A manager’s task is to transform ideas and decisions into concrete results in the real world. For this, a manager has two options—do it yourself or do it through other people. In this sense, Mintzberg’s choice of putting the action plane below people plane can be questioned. I wouldn’t put the two planes in a hierarchical order. I rather see the planes as equal.

    Nevertheless, Mintzberg’s model did influence my thinking and in my master’s thesis about knowledge work where I aspired to model knowledge work in the same manner as Mintzberg did managing, I made the division between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ realms. In the internal realm, a knowledge worker does analytical and synthetical information processing. These results of the internal realm he or she then transforms into the external realm through communication and operation (or doing).

    Anyhow, interesting discussion here, although some years have already passed.

    – Pekka

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