Monday, December 17, 2007

The Essence of Collaborative Teams

Let's begin with a definition for collaboration. Taken right out of the dictionary the word collaborate means "to work with another person or group in order to achieve something". It's a simple explanation and looks suspiciously like the definition of a team that is working towards a common goal. Something we are doing every day, assuming we are clear about the common goal(s).

It's a matter of degree in the success of collaboration that is more of interest. Collaboration appears to be much more utilized in reference to development teams spread out across the globe. I find it interesting that collaboration and multiple physical location design teams have equivalent meaning. Don't we collaborate over cubicle walls? I contend that the very same requirements for collaboration exist for teams in the same building as those that are 10 time zones apart. We tend to deceive ourselves that we will collaborate to a higher degree if a team shares the same space. The hypothesis is better collaboration through collocation.

Do you believe collaboration can only be improved by collocating the team? A positive response tends to indicate a trust in an osmosis type process to convey project information, requirements, deliverable expectations and plans among the team members. To clarify further, an assumption that collocation would be a fix confirms that the team is lacking in skills to formally communicate expectations and requirements of each other. Team member discussion as noted on the slide to left exemplifies collaborative inefficiencies. Team meetings that are peppered with conversations such as these should send up a warning flag that there are communication challenges impacting the teams ability to effectively collaborate.

Hint: Collaboration and communication are one in the same. You can't do one without the other. Registering a high reading on the collaboration meter means a high read on the communications meter. If verbal, one on one, on the fly communication is the dominant mode of operation, I would expect a failing grade in the area of collaboration. Focus on formal, crisp, clear and concise visual communication and collaboration will be a breeze. Given that the meaning of collaboration is "to work with another person or group in order to achieve something" it makes sense that everyone must have the proper forum/environment to participate in the definition of "achieving something" and defining what it takes to get there.

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