Collaboration and Teamwork

Laurent Bossavit quotes these instructions from a college exam for testers: Incipient.oO{}: Certifications, degrees, teamwork “It is essential that you work on this exam ALONE with no input or assistance from other people. You MAY NOT discuss your progress or results with other students in the class.”

And makes this response:

Some time after I’d left the official education circuit, I came to the conclusion that it hadn’t been that much of a loss, since it had utterly failed to equip me with the skills that were to prove most crucial in my work as a software professional.

Among the chief such skills were those related to teamwork, and working in collaboration with others. I’m pretty sure that collaboration and teamwork are as important for a tester as they are for a software developer.

Yes, indeedy. I hear that things are different in schools now, that kids often work on group projects. Maybe in 20 years those kids will change the face of collaboration in corporations.

In the meanwhile, groups in software organizations struggle to work together effectively.

Many companies throw up organizational barriers to collaboration:

–reward structures that focus on individual achievement

–recognition of individuals for group efforts

–disbanding groups that do work well together (the “seeding” principle)

–promotion of individual stars

And most “team building” misses the mark. Ropes courses, pep talks, and inspirational posters are a crock.

Effective collaboration requires:

A healthy dose of self-esteem. People who feel good about themselves can be generous towards others. Self-esteem leads to good boundaries…neither a doormat nor a steamroller be. People who don’t feel good about themselves have a hard time feeling good about others. Some people who don’t feel good about themselves have to make other people “less” so they can feel “more.”

Self-awareness. The more people understand about themselves– their communication style and preferences, blindspots, responses, quirks, and strengths — the better able they are to adjust to context and circumstances, ask for what they need and offer talents where they excel.

Conflict and negotiation skills. Any relationship between two people involves conflict, because we all have different interests, needs, and wants. Close working relationships require the capability to work through those differences in a constructive way.

Feedback skills. People who collaborate well know how to give feedback to their co-workers: information about the past, given in the present with the hope of influencing the future (to use the definition in Weinberg, Seashore and Seashore). They don’t sit back and say “It’s the manager’s job to give feedback.”

Willingness to let the other guy be right (some of the time). Collaboration requires sharing of ideas and sharing credit. People who always have to be right have trouble working collaboratively. (Plus it’s not that fun to work with them.)

Listening skills. Don’t be thinking about your response while the other person is talking. Listen for understanding, seek clarification, and listen for what’s behind the words. (And check it out, don’t just guess.)

Reflection. People get better at working together when they take time to reflect on their process, discuss what’s working and develop new strategies for interacting.

What would you add to this list?