Communicate, Collaborate or Crash

Insights | 01 June 2016

Collaboration is seen as an inherent characteristic of many agile approaches. We all just nod and agree to such statements as:

“Yes the team will work collaboratively on the project”

“We need to work collaboratively with the business and users for a successful project”

Agile – it’s all about collaboration, working iteratively and incrementally….”

But what do we really mean when we talk about ‘collaboration’ and ‘working collaboratively’? Has it just become another buzz word… another on-trend term that is assumed?

The word collaboration (from the Latin) in its basic everyday English usage is “the action of working with someone to produce something”. (Oxford Dictionary)

Well, we need to do that all the time in business as usual and projects, don’t we?

Taking Collaboration to the next level

In a recent workshop we were examining the ‘agile mindset’ and debating what was valued more: collaboration or communication. Someone commented “aren’t they the same?!” Yes, to collaborate we need to communicate, but to communicate, do we always collaborate?

Do a little investigation and ask a few people for an example of a ‘means’ or method of communication, and typically 9/10 immediate responses will be “email”. Agree, email seems to have become a daily necessity but is it really synonymous with collaboration?

I like to remind myself of the following definition of collaboration:

Cooperative arrangement in which two or more parties (which may or may not have any previous relationship) work jointly towards a common goal”.

Sums it up perfectly for a project environment, regardless of whether agile approaches are being applied or not. Isn’t that what projects are about – working together to a common goal?

7 Quick Tips for Assessing the Level of Collaboration in your Project

  1. Do we have a ‘one team’ culture? As opposed to an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation when things aren’t going smoothly…
  2. It’s not about ‘cc emails’. Doesn’t really need explaining, does it? We have all seen the cc email. True collaboration is about trust not blame.
  3. When we think collaboration do we think all stakeholders? Collaboration at a team level is great and if you are applying the Scrum role of Product Owner, yes you have the customer involved. In other approaches we need to ensure that we collaborate with everyone – both internal and external stakeholders.
  4. Does everyone have a shared understanding of the goal? We are all working towards the same end result aren’t we? No hidden agendas. Be transparent.
  5. Are people truly empowered? Do team members really feel empowered and responsible for the way they work and their results? Are the teams empowered to make their own decisions?
  6. Are we engaging with the business and user as opposed to working for them? Yes, a fine line here, but a useful mindset shift. We are all in this together, regardless of our specific role. Engaging means involvement – not just up front, but on a committed regular basis.
  7. Do we help each other?  Look out for our team? This becomes the true ‘acid test’ of collaboration. Consider the example:

“…where a team is falling behind with work due to one person having difficulties with a technical problem. One person on the team is ahead of schedule on their own work, so they stop to help the colleague.”


PRINCE2 Agile® is a registered trade mark of AXELOS Limited.

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