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

 

 

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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.

them or I?

list of choicesChanging roles a few months ago and evaluating different opportunities over the past few weeks made me think about the criteria I use to do so.

For example, while working at Tait and previous roles I steadily climbed the corporate ladder, gained clout, responsibilities, and enjoyed the success of projects. Surely this came with the price tag of accountability and personal availability. There is no free lunch. However, my point is, it was my choice. Several times during my career I made a case why it was good for the business to implement a change that was also good for me.

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Butterflies in my tummy

ButterfliesI’m looking for a new challenge. My dear wife Susani took it literally and asked me if I’m up for a game. I wasn’t sure where she was going with this but agreed.

Which ways can you go?

was her first question. She put my answers each on a sheet of paper. These were for me:

  • “start own business”,
  • “take a similar job with another organisation”, and
  • “go contracting”

She put the paper on the floor and made me stand on one of my choosing.

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Data’ism

data'ismA new word turned up in my weekly read of random pages. David Brooks wrote in the NY Times about “The Philosophy of Data“. Instead of the buzz word “Big Data” he used “Data’ism”.

“We now have the ability to gather huge amounts of data. This ability seems to carry with it certain cultural assumptions — that everything that can be measured should be measured; that data is a transparent and reliable lens that allows us to filter out emotionalism and ideology; that data will help us do remarkable things — like foretell the future.” Continue reading

Clusters – a maverick research

One of my favourite sessions at Gartner ITxpo was Dave Aron’s thought provoking presentation on

“Don’t hire people, hire clusters!”

I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was intrigued. The basic premise wasn’t new: the world of heros is coming to an end, agile teams are the high performers of the 21 century. So far, so good. Then Dave challenged the audience, asking who had experienced working in a high performance team and how long that team stayed together. Many were on board with the first part, but hardly any had a long lasting experience.

The argument for the cause of such teams breaking up was presented of our inability to manage talent effectively. We look at individuals, we appraise individuals, we hire individuals and then we expect them to fit into an existing team where the team members have minimal input in the hiring process.

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