The Art of Successful Collaboration

Create to CollaborateI have been a fan of collaboration for many years at work. “Many hands make light work”. I hardly questioned that collaboration can actually be a hindrance. Sure, I am – like many – aware if one doesn’t pull his own weight the whole team suffers. Although, I didn’t click what prevents this.

Today I came across this article on 99U by Ron Friedman. Using the example of good and bad marriages as well as John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles he shows that collaboration comes with an opportunity cost. And if that isn’t paid, collaboration pulls everybody down.

I don’t intend to repeat his examples and arguments, please read the above article for it. No, I want to highlight what to do to make collaboration successful (which Ron does towards the end of the article)

The best (visual) design tends to happens late at night.

Jasper Stephenson, a 10 week intern at Adaptive Path said this in his parting blog post.

If I think back to much of my favorite work, the execution part has come from trance-like zen states where I work until well after midnight — not by necessity, but by nature of having a constant flow of ideas that demand to be realized. There’s much to be said for having a team all present in the same space at the same time and the cohesion of ideas that comes from that, but it’s hard to enter a trance of exploration and creation in such an active office.

And this is pretty much what Ron said about The Beatles. The ideas, the rough diamonds, the blink “let’s do this” doesn’t come from the group huddle. It comes from the inspiration at a “non-busy” spot. Like a shower, mowing the lawn, or watching the waves roll in. Then the first bit of hard work starts, working on the very inspiration so I can explain it to my friends.

The Spark

A blank canvas is not stimulating, having 4 or 6 people staring at a blank whiteboard doesn’t help either. A spark is necessary. Much is said about Brainstorming as an idea generating stimulus. Not so. Brainstorming works when you have a facilitator and a topic. Even better, if your participants know the brainstorming session is tomorrow and they have individually time to think about it even if only unconsciously. Ron Friedman demands “homework is necessary”: [The Beatles] collaborated after they [individually] had gotten a piece as far as they could, and were ready for suggestions.

Collaboration

When you meet to discuss the merits and the foolishness of your idea look at your team. Do they tend to agree? Do they have the same sort of thinking? Do they excel at the same disciplines? Let’s face it, while we like people who agree with our ideas – it makes us feel good!, we learn more if people have different view points, different strengths, and can say so without being blunt but in a supportive manner.

Collaborations are most effective when teammates complement rather than replicate one another’s abilities. 

Summing it up

Collaboration works best when

  • there is a rough idea that is the result of hard work – alone
  • there is a team that complements each other
  • there is a team that prepares for collaboration
  • there is a willingness to critique consciously
  • there is a willingness to accept such critique
  • there is a recognition the final outcome is a team effort

 

 

How a junior staff member can review the work of his senior

Jedi Master and ApprenticeA story

There is a small team of 4 developers. These guys are very different from each other.

John is experienced and worked for more than 15 years with the company in different roles. His mantra is “never change a working approach”. He preservers the status quo.

William has the same level of experience in the company but has developed a love for the latest “best practices”. He is always on the look out how to improve things.

Mary is with the company just for a few years and then fresh from University. Some of the “old stuff” she is dealing with is hurting her sense of “doing it right” albeit she acknowledges it works. Refactoring would make maintenance and support easier but would have no visible benefit for the end user.

Alan joins the team and it is his first job. He likes the solid and calm approach from John, the energy from William who always seem to find a way to make stuff better for the customer, and the quick thinking Mary who knows tech stuff in and out.

The team leader struggles at times to get them working together effectively. 2 pairs emerge initially, William and Mary driving change with John and Alan asking, isn’t it working fine? Both have very valid points and the team leader would love to get more synergy going and not risking confrontation between the pairs.

Several approaches come to his mind and he settles on breaking the pairs up by switching the 2 younger members around. To get the learning going he asks the pairs to review their work. One of the older guys, John, has a problem with that as he feels Mary being “too cocky” about the old and well proven way he does things.

The team leader remembers a story he heard once how an airline handled a similar challenge. He takes John and William for a walk and explains to them the idea. He asks them to purposely insert some mistakes in their code. That way there is no loss of face, even if the younger guys find things that were made accidentally. He also tells the younger guys so they know there is no conflict between reviewing code and not making friends with team mates.

This approach can be refined to address the different ways of coding, create appreciation of a new way of doing things as well as proven methods.

Good Judgement

Last month I reviewed a few presentation on Slideshare and made a note about Hubspot‘s policy approach. I remembered that during a walk at the beach while thinking about management principles. This is the note:

We don’t have pages of policies, instead we have a 3 word policy on just everything:

judgement

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Doing just enough …

Good EnoughI just read a blog post by Seth D. Cohen “The cost of doing just enough“.

When I saw the title I mental picture in mind of a certain person. I struggle to get that person stepping up. And here comes a promise that may help.

Disappointment

I really am disappointed by that post it states the obvious and doesn’t address how to create the change of mind. A few days earlier John Stepper wrote about “the Influencer’s checklist“. Now that was much more practical. Thanks John.

Doing just enough is an attitude statement. It tells a story. It says something about not being engaged, not being in tune with the organisation, the team, the project, or the task. As a leader I have an obligation to understand “why”. This is my team and my project. Success doesn’t come by sitting on my hands. High performance teams don’t emerge if I don’t plant the seed, nurture it and get the environment right.

Doing just enough is a statement that something is wrong. It could be a personal thing, it could be a cultural things, it could be a change that doesn’t sit well, and it could be a change in the person itself. People grow and change. A job that is perfectly fine today may not be tomorrow. I, as a leader, need to understand. That’s the only way to decide what to do about.

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Learn to Defy

learn to defyIn my leisure time I’m reading Fantasy and SciFi. Lately I read “Soldier Son” by Robin Hobb. The story evolves around the growing up and education of one son. He is to become a soldier, too – and officer to be precise. From young age he learns to obey and tries hard to do everything right for his father. One day his father decides to give his son to a former enemy for further training. That man makes the son promise to obey his orders. That is hard for the son but he follows as being told. When he is faced with a life threatening situation he finally breaks the promise and makes a decision (other than to follow and obey) on his own. Later the father explains to the mother why he did this. He was concerned his son would never stand on his own feet and would not become a leader.

His words were, “you need to learn to follow orders before you can command others because you must understand the consequences to those who believe in your leadership. “

This is a powerful parable. The question is, is it right?

Just a few days ago I came across a job description for an executive role. There was nothing special about it, it talked about strategy, planning, and operational management. And the interesting part came in the skills and competency section:

“Ensures decisions – own and organisational ones – are being actioned without hesitation.”

This sounded like military to me. And I asked myself, at what stage is the following of orders right and necessary and when is it wrong and dangerous?

This is a good reminder to look at the ethics and values of an organisation. Its adherence to rules, regulations, the law and its moral culture. Doing the right thing is very important to me. A decision that implies action which will undermine the ethics and values should be questioned. One of my mentors told me, the first question you ask when you join a team “Will we cheat?”. This tells you a lot about the team and provides you with a clear idea what to expect.

Your comments are as always welcome.

 

When does a set of complex tasks become a Mini Project?

Last week I had organised a workshop for the team. It was about Project management.

The whole thing came about because we have an inconsistent approach to PM in the wider team. That inconsistency makes hard work for all of us.

  • we cannot easily see who is working on what

You might say, a classic resource management issue. Actually it is not. The team leaders have a very good understanding what the workload of their guys is and what they can add or what has to wait. No, the issue is different. The people in the other teams don’t know that workload and as such their expectations to get things done is not matched by possible actions.

  • we cannot report on project progress consistently

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Destructive Cooperation

Last week I attended a short workshop. My expectations were more on the curiosity side than anything else. The workshop’s premise was

  • people are happiness seekers
  • people are social
  • people want to be good

That resonated with me well as I strongly believe people are inherently trying their best. Now after an introduction by Niki Harre (University of Auckland) she organised an impromptu role play. There were 3 groups of 4 people and they were asked to come up with ideas for a birthday party for a 5 year old.

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