Time!

Time is the first requirement for collaboration. Collaboration requires a space in the schedule and the energy to interact with others (for some people the energy needed is more than others).  I have observed that many people’s schedules are so crowded that they run from meeting to meeting. Even when one or more of those meetings are structured for collaboration, many times attendees disrespect each other by hammering away at email or slack as they pretend to pay attention.  Recently I have actually heard someone announce that they are not going to pay attention unless they think something directly impacting them will come up. The meeting was to envision a component in a next-generation product. Why are they there? Between their lack of time and utter disrespect for the other attendees, there was no way they could effectively contribute.  Four factors that influence how much time is available for collaboration include the following:

Importance – Importance is the perception that the work has significance and/or value. Work that has Importance is easier to create the time and space for collaboration to happen. The arch nemesis of importance is urgency.  Urgency reduces the amount of time available for collaboration.

Load – The amount of work that has been allocated to an individual or team can dramatically influence whether there is time for collaboration. Any team or individual with work allocated to 100% (or worse) will immediately be behind the 8 Ball if anything goes wrong — something always goes wrong. As soon as something goes wrong, it will reduce or extinguish the time set aside in the process for collaboration. When people are stressed they make unilateral decisions because it is expedient.

Control – Work entry (how work enters and is taken up by an individual or team) has a huge impact on the time available for collaboration. Pull systems, like kanban, where teams take work when they are ready increase the time available for collaboration. Situations in which work is pushed into a group as it pops up will decrease the time available for collaboration. Teams and individuals need some level of control over the amount and timing of work coming to them to create time and space for collaboration.  Without the ability to predict and control the amount of work a team has to deliver, there will be a need to keep a buffer. That buffer will come from collaboration because it requires more time than taking the first answer or idea that appears and running.

Predictability – As important as controlling work entering, understanding how much work can be delivered in any period is equally important. Teams with a highly erratic delivery pattern either have to severely curtail the work they take or keep a buffer or reserve so that they can deliver on commitments.  Collaboration is sacrificed as buffers are consumed.

The concept of collaboration is used in an almost magical manner.  Peeling back the definition we find all sorts of different activities ranging from people working together on a transactional basis to deep shared relationships. Regardless of the activity, they all start with time.  Without the time required to work together, no effective collaboration can occur.