High Performance Agile Teams: An Overview of Collaboration

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reason, listening began to occur. Individuals began to take responsibility for the team's results rather than arguing about who was to blame. Suddenly, there were four brains working on each problem and objective rather than four rivals. They even started to like each other!

At the same time the team of high performers began to fail. They would split up the objectives and work on them alone. Later they would try and integrate the different solutions but they didn't come together very well. The team members felt that as long as they completed “their part” of the solution they wouldn't have to worry.

Ultimately the team of “low performers” almost always ended up with the best solution, while the “high performers” almost always had the worst one. This was a common and remarkable experience across training sessions, trainers, and trainees.

What happened? The low performers became a high performing team because they started collaborating rather than just working together. Objectives and goals belonged to the team. Everyone was responsible for the final result and no one was “in charge.”

Often, group leadership shifted effortlessly between team members as appropriate for the circumstances. Multiple brains looked at each problem, and each brain's contributions were embraced. Ideas may have been rejected, but team members never were. A group of low performing individuals became, after interacting collaboratively, a high-performing team.

The Elements of Collaboration
Teams can't just “do” collaboration. A highly collaborative team emerges from addressing a set of practices that provide the foundation to leverage the relationships and rigor of the team as a whole.

Focus on Team Success
Team members focus on the business problem to be solved and the objectives that must be achieved rather than personal indicators of success. Of course, individuals have career goals and desires that need to be recognized and addressed. But collaborative team members are assessed primarily on the results the team produces and their contribution to team success rather than personal heroics.

Instead of trying to “win” by getting one's own solution accepted, or running off to solve a problem on their own, individuals in a collaborative environment leverage the skills of the entire group.

In fact, heroes are dangerous. Heroic individuals reduce collaboration by asserting themselves the sole authority that can solve a problem. In the case study above, it was heroes that lead to team failure. In high-performing teams individuals will be seen as great team players rather than “the one with the great idea.” Teams become more efficient and successful as individuals learn to leverage the team to accomplish objectives instead of counting on individual heroics.

High-trust Environment
A team in a high-trust environment counts on the organization to allow its members to define their objectives and how to meet them. The organization trusts the team will recover from the inevitable mistakes it will make along the way. This means management must surrender some authority to the team. Managers can't expect teams to perform at a high level without allowing them to be the authors of the solution.

Even so, asking a manager to grant decision-making authority to another group of people puts the manager in a scary situation. The team has to earn this trust by consistently staying true to the problem being solved and meeting their objectives. The collaborative environment of the Eclipse open source project is an example of this. The open source initiative requires higher collaboration than other types of projects before solutions can be implemented. Yet in five years they have never missed a deadline.

Trust means people can admit mistakes with little fear of retribution,

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