High Performance Agile Teams: An Overview of Collaboration

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poor reviews, or loss of status. Conversely, team members respect the input of others and quickly get over the perceived “sting” that comes from criticism.

This is one of the reasons for having a clearly defined business problem. It gives individuals a place to go when rivalry and heroism appear. It can be a tool to help people take the attention off their own agendas and gain a larger perspective.

High-trust environments require time, effort, and rigor. No team starts operating in a high-trust manner immediately. Team members learn to trust each other by exercising tolerance for errors and overcoming the imperatives of personal recognition. High-performing teams can't avoid this hard work no matter how much skill or experience each team member has.

Shared Leadership and Responsibility
Low collaborative groups usually have a minority of members who generate the majority of recommendations and ideas. This minority performs most of the leadership tasks. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn't provide the significant business and personal payoffs that being highly collaborative provides.

For instance, individuals who sit back and wait for others to identify objectives or parcel out tasks must learn to contribute instead. They need to abandon the timidity or pessimism that keeps them from participating, and other team members need to encourage this. The more eyes, ears, and brains that are applied to a problem, the greater the chance it will be easy (or easier) to solve. Collaborative teams can be more efficient than individuals in this way.

A manager working as a team member can actually reduce collaboration. People will naturally fall in line with the person who hands our performance reviews. In a highly collaborative team the “leadership” of the group moves between team members as appropriate.

Benefits of Collaboration  
Collaboration (as opposed to simply working together) requires commitment on the part of the organization and the individuals involved. What benefit do the players receive by committing to collaboration?

    • Less risk in defining objectives and making decisions. The more brains exposed to a problem the greater the chance the solution is correct. 
    • Decisions are quicker when the focus is on the group's objectives rather than on personal agendas. 
    • A highly collaborative group is self-managing and requires less oversight. 
    • Errors are less likely to arise, in general, when everyone is responsible for the entire group. Fewer things will fall through the cracks. 
    • Members of a highly collaborative group are usually the most content members of an organization.

Choosing Less Collaboration
Collaboration is about achieving shared goals, so every team collaborates. The choice is whether it will be done well or poorly. Over the long term a highly collaborative team will be more effective then a low collaboration team. But there are times when it may be appropriate to choose to reduce the level of collaboration. 

It may take less time in the short-run to make unilateral instead of collaborative decisions. If an emergency arises that requires an immediate and significant response, it may be wise to have a single leader direct the efforts of the team until the emergency is handled. This should be done with caution. Some organizations are always in “emergency mode.” This mode reflects a low-trust environment that will have difficultly achieving high collaboration.

Organizations that constantly address emergencies, have rigid management hierarchies, resist experimentation, or are punitive will have difficulty achieving a highly collaborative environment. A single team may have difficulty creating a more collaborative environment, and individuals may even find that they put themselves at risk by attempting this. It may be necessary to abandon the attempt at higher collaboration

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