Making Cookies

A family making cookies requires collaboration!

Collaboration is the mantra of teams and productivity experts. Yesterday I used the word more than 20 times (I counted but lost track during a conversation at rest stop in Wisconsin). A simple definition of collaboration is working with someone or a group of someones to generate an outcome. The simple definition covers a lot of ground from simple transactions to shared relationships. In agile, the definition of collaboration strays more to the deeper side of the definition. Collaboration doesn’t occur simply by waving a magic wand. Effective agile collaboration requires three attributes.  All three attributes are interrelated:

  1. Time – Collaboration takes time. People must work together in order to collaborate. If people are committed to 100% capacity with their individual task collaboration is not possible. Kevin Kruse, a New York Times best-selling author interviewed on SPaMCAST 398, states that there are 1440 minutes in a day and there is nothing you can do to change that.  Collaboration might come up with a better solution, but if you don’t have the time it CAN’T happen.
  2. Transparency – Transparency is the sharing of all relevant information, including motives. In order to collaborate effectively, people need to know what they are working on, why they are working on it, the background of what they are working on, and more.  Ensuring transparency requires the attribute of time to collaborate for transparency matters (at least for collaboration). 
  3. Trust – The Cambridge English Dictionary defines trust as “to believe that someone is good and honest and will not harm you, or that something is safe and reliable.“ In agile teams trust is difficult to define operationally, hard to generate, easy to lose, and you know it when you feel it. Trust is built on a belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength (physical and/or character depending on context) of those you are working with. With the exception of blind trust, trust requires time and transparency.

Teams can work together without all three attributes and do something akin to collaboration.  With the time to interact teams and individuals can have transactional interactions. Transactional interactions happen when you do something with or for someone with the expectation of getting something in return. Combining time and transparency allows teams and individuals to work toward a common goal over short periods of time. Examples of this type of “collaboration” occur when rivals work together to achieve a goal then go back to competing — some call this behavior organizational politics. Long term-collaboration occurs when time, transparency, and trust combine to create a situation where there are bonds of shared relationships.  

Collaboration is one of those words that is used way too often and is conflated to cover everything from transactional to shared relationships. In agile, the term collaboration is meant more specifically to mean the scenarios where teams create share relationships so that they can achieve a goal that individually would beyond their capabilities.

Next:  Exploring the time component of collaboration.