Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Overcoming Fears with Collaboration

Since Agile is so team-centric, collaboration between team members and customers is essential for success. However, for some people collaboration isn't an easy thing. There may be some fears that need to be overcome to fully see the benefits of collaboration.

Fears fall into these categories:

1) External Fears - The organization may have fears of being too transparent to their customers, competitors or other outside interests. Sharing too much information could be considered giving away company secrets to your competitor. Having your customers talk with other may uncover issues they have with your organization. Your customer may have information you might not want to hear (but should).

2) Organizational Fears - Executive management is supposed to drive the long term vision and strategy of the company. Operational teams are supposed to implement this strategy. But what if the two groups should clash? What if the operational teams come up with ideas that will cause a need to change the direction of the company? What if strategy is on a "need to know" basis and executive management doesn't give enough information to operational teams? What if management doesn't trust operational teams? What if operational teams don't trust management?

3) Individual Fears - Perhaps the individual hasn't had the education and skills developed that encourage collaboration. Most people grew up going to school where the teacher talks and everybody listens. The teacher gives you the homework and you follow the instruction. No coloring outside the lines. No challenging ideas. Speak when spoken to. Then, that person starts their career where the manager talks and you listen. The manager gives you tasks and you complete them. Same structure, but highly different than a collaborative environment.

So, how do you combat these fears?

1) External Fears - Managers worry about transparency because they think that outsiders don't know what is going on in the company, but in this Information Age the opposite is true. Customers will talk with other customers. Competitors will find out what you are doing. The competitive advantage is no longer how you hold on to information, but how quickly and better you can implement those ideas. Once you understand this, you will be more open to knowing what is out there. The more transparent the organization can be in an collaborative environment, the more accurate you will meet the needs of those "outsiders". The competitor who is most open and both listens and responds to what is being said, the better they will be.

2) Organizational Fears - Collaborative environments have one thing in common - an environment of high trust and respect for each individual. Strategies need to be shared. Everybody may have knowledge on any topic so every topic should be shared. People need to understand the vision. Most of all, everybody in the organization should help influence where the company needs to go. It's not just Executive management's role, but everybody who has a stake in the company.

3) Individual Fears - New people have the most opportunity for collaboration because they come with a fresh and naive perspective. No questions are "dumb" ones. Organizations need to encourage new employees to contribute in any way possible as soon as possible. There needs to be retraining and rethinking about how individuals should contribute. Some people are more comfortable in a verbal discussions. Others need time to digest information then respond. Yet others feel more comfortable in "tweaking" existing ideas instead of coming up with new ideas. Others like to respond in writing. You need to provide an environment that plays to each person's strengths and allows them to participate.

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