Merriam-Webster dictionary defines collaboration as: “To work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.” What the definition ignores is that working together is hard. It involves different personalities, opinions, experiences, cultures and much more. So how do we strike the right balance in that complicated endeavor while still allowing time for individual work?

Collaboration levels can differ greatly when working with others. People create things together, perform different jobs on related products, conduct peer review, build components that need to interoperate and sometimes it just comes down to sharing ideas.

Choosing to Collaborate or Not

When it comes to collaborating, sometimes people have a choice, but sometimes it is thrust upon them, so a balance is required to work effectively. We may not be able to always choose collaboration, however we can impact the relationship and drive toward a common outcome.

Situations will differ and the amount of collaboration will as well. When collaborating it is important to discuss it in advance and perhaps create a working agreement that addresses items such as: 

  • Are you working together or asking for feedback?
  • Is one person leading?
  • What is the desired outcome?
  • Can work be broken into individual work items?
  • How will disagreements be resolved?
  • Can opinions be separated from facts?
  • Does collaboration mean sharing or doing together?

Related Article: Finding the Balance Between Deep Work and Collaboration

Scrum to Improve Collaboration

What Is Scrum?

Scrum is a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value. The Scrum framework, developed in the mid '90s, is the most widely used Agile method for delivering products to market. Scrum originally developed for software development, but is now used across almost all industries and business areas including oil and gas, medical research, marketing, human resources, education and much more.

A Scrum Team is small enough to remain nimble and large enough to complete significant work within 30 days or less, typically with 10 or fewer people.

Scrum Events

Within Scrum, there are four formal events in place to enhance collaboration. All work done by the Scrum Team is contained within what is called a Sprint. Each Sprint is one month or less. The Sprint begins with Sprint Planning. Sprint Planning is an opportunity for the entire Scrum Team to come together to discuss the Sprint Goal for the upcoming Sprint and determine what work may be done to help achieve that goal.

Each day, the Sprint Team comes together in what is called a Daily Scrum. The Daily Scrum is a meeting of 15 minutes or less where they inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal, adjusting the upcoming planned work. Daily Scrums improve communications, identify impediments, promote quick decision-making, and consequently eliminate the need for other meetings.

At the end of each Sprint, the Scrum Team collaborates with users and other stakeholders of what they are working on to inspect the outcome of the Sprint and determine future adaptations in the Sprint Review. The Scrum Team presents the results of their work to these key stakeholders and progress toward the overall Product Goal is discussed.

The last event is the Sprint Retrospective. Its purpose is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness. In the meeting, the Scrum Team inspects how the last Sprint went with regards to individuals, interactions, processes and tools.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Do We Collaborate Too Much?

Collaborating Towards a Common Goal

As the descriptions of the Scrum Team and Scrum Events indicate, they are all about working together toward a common goal. The name “Scrum” was intentionally chosen to emphasize the aspects of a team of people working together. It doesn’t mean that everyone works on everything together, it means that everyone has a common goal in the end. Emphasizing collaborative accountabilities so that everyone has a little skin in the game.

Conflicts will always happen, that is just human nature. As a self-managing team, the members of the Scrum Team can be called upon to help handle team conflict and the Scrum Master may work with the rest of the team to help coach them through conflicts.

Individual work items are discussed by the Scrum Team and often the concept of “pairing” may be used where people work together on items. Pairing can benefit in many ways including:

  • Pairing partners are more likely to do the right thing.
  • Pairing partners are less likely to go down gopher holes, each helping the other maintain focus.
  • When done well, pairing often helps to improve morale.
  • Collective ownership and cohesion.
  • Mentoring.
  • Shared knowledge and understanding.

Related Article: Do You Have the Right Collaboration Habits?

A Shared Accountability and Focus

Collaboration can be difficult. People may be reluctant, things can get in the way or cause confusion, but lack of collaboration can be destructive. When working on a common goal, people tend to work better together, they share accountabilities and focus. Without this, we are all in our own silos and the overall goal can be disconnected from the work.

By using Scrum, people are a part of a team, they are tied by a common set of goals, longer-term (Product Goal) and shorter-term (Sprint Goal) and they collectively have accountability for all work. This brings them together, emphasizes sharing and shared work. It doesn’t mean that people on the Scrum Team are doing everything together, but instead, they are considering the impact of their work on others and work together as needed.

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