I recently surveyed leaders in technology about the critical challenges they face every day when leading teams.  75% of them said “team members are not collaborating effectively”.

So I asked for more details about what is going on, and here is what they said:

  • Some team members don’t contribute; they sit quietly or are not engaged
  • One person tends to dominate (usually a tech lead or other person in leadership)
  • Team members rely on the most vocal person in the group to state opinions or share strong feelings
  • Teams fall into “GroupThink” where people conform to one idea rather than sharing unique ideas

Many leaders believe that Agile teams must collaborate to be effective, but this is not always true.  If a team doesn’t need to innovate or create breakthrough solutions to difficult problems then team cooperation may be sufficient.

What’s the difference between cooperation and collaboration?

Cooperation is people working together to deliver results toward the same goal. There is a smooth flow of work-in-progress from one team member to another or from one team to another. People are friendly, helpful and give constructive feedback to each other. Cooperation is not people interacting with each other through long email trails designed more to place blame than to solve the issue at hand!

Collaboration is highly diversified teams working together inside and/or outside a company with the purpose of creating value by improving innovation, customer relationships and efficiency.  This is done in an environment of courageous sharing and vulnerability where the whole truly can be greater than the sum of its parts.

How can leaders create & encourage collaboration?

  1. Work on cooperation first if it is not already happening.  Coach each team member on the skills and behaviors needed to cooperate, such as taking responsibility for their own actions, using inquiry to understand others points of view, speaking up and sharing opinions while moving the decision forward, and giving feedback.
  2. Set expectations with the team about collaborative behaviors and to come prepared to share open ideas and be engaged. You may want to create an agenda,  define desired outcomes and a short list of ground rules if the session is going to be facilitated.
  3. Let the team know that you are all striving for excellence and it’s okay to take risks.
  4. Take time to reflect as a team and learn from failures.
  5. Recognize and reward team members who collaborate well and remember you are a role model!
  6. Encourage team members to collaborate spontaneously or to lead sessions informally, and to include diverse voices and opinions for best results.
  7. Focus on creating a supportive environment and the behaviors that honor diverse opinions and ways of thinking.  If one person tends to dominate, ask them to spend more time listening and observing, ask questions and be more curious. If someone tends to be quiet, find out why and try to coach them for more confidence or whatever they need.  Then ask them to bring 1-2 ideas to share and give them time to prepare.
  8. Allow some play time during the day and encourage it! Creativity blossoms while folks are relaxed and having fun.

Here’s a list of Collaboration Behaviors you can share with your team that support a healthy, creative environment.

Finally, don’t forget to retrospect and improve as you go. The team will gain energy, intuition and momentum as they grow together.