I recently interviewed several successful technical entrepreneurs. Most have created multiple successful organizations. They have shared several common threads. One of the most basic of those threads is the need for a collaborative culture. Jacob Glenn, President of M Genio (SPaMCAST 626 posting on 17 November 2020) said that he hires people to fit in a collaborative culture. Collaboration is a powerful tool yielding results that include increasing innovation, employee energy, creativity, and productivity. Because the promise is so large, people apply the term to many scenarios where it doesn’t belong. Two of the scenarios that are often confused with collaboration are:

  • Collaboration and Cooperation. Collaboration occurs when people create shared relationships so that they can achieve a common goal beyond the capabilities of the individuals. Achieving a common goal requires the group to subordinate their individual goals to embrace and use a  collective strategy. In cooperative scenarios, individuals’ actions and achievements are more important than the collective. Mob programming is a very vivid example of collaborative behavior.
  • Collaboration and Teamwork. The difference in this scenario is like that seen in collaboration and cooperation. The Civil Service College in the UK describes the difference this way: “whilst teamwork combines the individual efforts of all team members to achieve a goal, people working collaboratively complete a project collectively.” For example, a group of Salesforce administrators that give a tester a heads up as they pull tickets from a work queue is exhibiting teamwork whereas if the coder and tester use a pair programming approach they are exhibiting collaboration. 

The ease of confusing cooperation and teamwork with collaboration suggests that while powerful, collaboration has several requirements that must exist before collaboration can occur.

  • Trust between participants is table stakes for people to invest in collective efforts. Using the example of an agile team, everyone must be able to speak their minds to share ideas and expose differences for solving a business problem. When there is a fear of rejection, collaboration can not occur. 
  • Communication of why leaders want and support collaboration over individual efforts and heroics is required. Recognition and pay policies are forms of communication that are often overlooked and don’t support collaborative efforts. Many agile transformations founder because HR and pay policies don’t match the agile messaging.
  • Common team goals yield a common vision and purpose that provide a rallying point so that individuals can decide to be part of a larger whole.

Agile and lean approaches to work presuppose a collaborative environment. Transformations either fail immediately or stagger forward as pale versions of agile and lean when the organizational culture does not embrace collaboration.

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