What does it take to be part of winning team?
What does it take to be part of winning team?

The Collaboration Effect

The secret sauce of winning teams

In the previous post, Ryan looked at ways to alleviate the biggest fear of Millenials in the workplace, namely boredom. His first remedy to the problem — collaboration — is something I feel so passionate about, that I want to zoom into the subject a bit more with this post.

But first things first — how does this relate to agile? The answer can be found in the first value of the Agile Manifesto.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

The authors of the agile manifesto realized that face-to-face communication is the most effective, and efficient, way of communication. Emails often get misinterpreted or ignored “by accident”, and sorry to disappoint you, but no-one reads those long documents you spent hours working on. Skype and Slack conversations get scanned through to find only what you deem to be relevant, often skipping valuable insights and information.

The busy-ness snowball

These ineffective ways of communication create an ever-growing snowball of other problems. What seemed to have been an innocent means to relieve you from your busy-ness, soon is the cause of it.

Increasingly different team members work only on what they deem to be important, and slowly but surely the team starts drifting further and further apart without anyone noticing.

Until one day, usually a few days before launch when it’s too late.

Suddenly everyone realizes to their dismay that what they’ve worked on so hard, can’t be used. All as a result of everyone being too busy to talk to each other.

Photo posted by Tim Bray on Twitter.

It’s by no means a reflection of the skills of the people, nor the quality of the work delivered. But, like the photo posted by Tim Bray on Twitter shows, two passing unit tests don’t mean a passing ‘whole’ system.

It is only valuable when it can be used.

Identifying the warning signs

One of the first things I look at when joining a new team, is their communication patterns. It tells me much of what I need to know to help them solve their problems.

When teams rely on tools and documents to communicate, or refrain from meeting, it usually means that there is a problem with the team communication.

Here are some things to look for, and why:

  1. A busy calendar

An overly busy calendar is an indication of what I call the ‘all-talk-and-no-do-syndrome’. Unfortunately, not very uncommon.

It’s a manifestation of our desperate yearning to connect and collaborate with others towards a shared purpose — which is one of the things that makes us really happy — however, it’s the wrong way of going about it.

Collaboration makes us happy, but progress and results are what motivates us.

Without time to action what has been decided or discussed, you’re being busy, not productive. You can only be productive if you take action.

For each one-hour meeting to be productive, you need to spend at least an hour thinking of what you want to achieve and preparing prior to the meeting, and another hour afterwards taking action and following-up on what has been discussed.

A full calendar doesn’t allow you to take action or think about solutions. Clean out your calendar and aim for only one or two meetings per day.

2. An over-busy chat channel

When you’re chatting, you’re not doing any work. So a quiet chat channel is not necessarily a sign that people don’t want to voice their opinion. It might be because they are busy working.

A lot of people use chat as a means to look busy. In my experience, however, the people most active on the chat channels, are the ones doing the least work.

Chat is convenient to ask questions without having to wait for the next meeting to discuss a problem with a colleague. On the other hand, it’s annoying and counter-productive to constantly be interrupted.

When used right, chat is an awesome collaboration tool. It’s good for urgent, broadcast messages or discussing tasks. It’s not so awesome when you use it as the primary communication tool, as the moment that the chat message is out of view, the contents are probably forgotten.

As a rule of thumb, when you need input on a thought process, use chat. When you need action, use email or voice calls.

3. A lot of documentation

When people write down a lot of things, it points to one of two possible issues — firstly, that the team is not talking to each other, secondly, that the team is taking too long to implement decisions made, or a long cycle time.

People don’t read, so stop wasting your time writing up all the little details. Rule number one of agile:

If it doesn’t fit on one page, it’s not agile.

A mindmap or rough drawing is sufficient. Take a photo of the white-board after the discussion or a screendump of your discussion notes and post it. Even better, make sketch notes. A picture speaks a thousand words, and it saves a lot of time.

4. “Me” or “I” or “Us” vs “Them” vocabulary

There’s a time to include everyone, and there’s a time to do things on your own. However, when in meetings people tend to use sentences that separates them from the team, it’s a warning sign.

Look for responses like “let me look at it” when you ask a question, or “I will be working on ….” when the previous person in the value chain is working on something totally different.

Aim for a single one-piece flow throughout the organization, from idea to done. When the design team is working a feature that will only be done in 3 months by the developers, or they’re part of different teams, it may be a warning sign.

5. No clear targets

When there is not a collaborative purpose or goal, there is no need for collaboration.

If you want people to collaborate, they need to share a goal. People will only have a conversation when it is relevant to them now. Building on the previous points, when there is a big lag between the designers and the developers, they will not have a conversation.

This means that they will need to spend a lot more time documenting insights and ideas, and that they will only receive feedback much later, which makes it much harder to change as you first have to remember what you were thinking.

For effective collaboration, make sure that you defined clear weekly or daily targets for the team, not individuals.


The effect collaboration has on Millennials is that it gives them a sense of purpose and responsibility to the group they are collaborating in. — Ryan Key

Look for the warning signs that inhibits collaboration, and act as much as you collaborate or more. Action without collaboration is potentially as harmful as collaboration without action.

Related posts

Interested in the subject? Read more on collaboration and communication, get inspired with ideas on how to improve collaboration, and find out how to alleviate boredom in the workplace:

An Agile Culture is Never Boring — The Millenial Fear Debunked

12 Principles of Collaboration

The Real Answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything

Happy workplaces all have this one thing in common

What is agile anyway? — Part 3 — Why teams should be cross-functional

Originally published on Medium: https://everydayagile.com/the-collaboration-effect-5b3d1b669f12