Collaboration comes naturally

Time to bounce

This last weekend was grey, cold and dank. It certainly wasn’t the best of weather for keeping my three daughters amused. They found their own solution to the amusement problem by all going outside in the cold depressing grey weather and jumping on a trampoline. Zipped inside the trampoline safety-net I largely left them to it. Turns out that three kids of various ages can easily and naturally self-organise around nothing more than bouncing. They naturally collaborated to create games, to synchronise activity to ensure that each one of them is getting enjoyment and achievement. All in the space of a 10-foot trampoline. They spent hours at this, they probably would have continued, if allowed, into the night. So collaboration for all of us used to come naturally. We were all like this once.

This display of unity and collaboration got me thinking. Why do children do this so readily when adults in the workplace seem to struggle with it?

Well for one thing they’re siblings which means there is a good level of trust or to put buzz words around it psychological safety. Nobody is trying to make anyone else look bad, the success of one isn’t based on the failure of others. They know that despite their age differences they are all equals. With trust in place, they can listen to each other’s verbal and non-verbal communication without judging. They can be open and honest knowing that nobody has an agenda.

Collaboration comes naturally, right up until the age when it doesn’t.

As we get older we seem to lose this level of trust or it takes a lot longer to form. Throw my youngest into a soft play area and she’ll soon form a ragtag team of like kids and go on an adventure. My eldest has much more of a protective mindset and it takes a lot longer to build trust. There is a fear of failure or a chance that the goals won’t align. Something in the process of growing older causes us to lose our ability to take people at face value and trust them. Perhaps our insistence on comparing kids in the education system or the prevalence of social media which is essentially just a lifestyle comparison tool. Having said that, she still displays more trust and acceptance than you sometimes find in the workplace.

Team trampoline also had a shared goal or need that they can all get behind. They all want to have fun and be entertained. They were 100% committed to it. They didn’t have to put together a strategy or vision document for this. It wasn’t even talked about. It was just the natural goal to fix on when bored. Collaboration allows them to negotiate a state where each of them gets their need for entertainment met.

They did a lot of experimentation, lots of different things were tried and many of them failed to entertain all. However, through an approach of blameless trial and error, they managed to find ways to achieve an entertained state. The courage to suggest things that may or may not work meant that they explored several ideas and discovered the ones that really worked for them. The ability to be honest with each other about how they feel with each idea meant that the ones that weren’t fun for all were soon dropped. Admittedly much of this communication from their youngest member was non-verbal and involved sitting with chin up, both arms and legs crossed while looking into the distance. Something I’d advise we all try at work when we don’t agree with a suggestion in a meeting.

So how does this help?

Well, I’m not suggesting we put our teams in a confined space and ask them to spend the day jumping up and down. Although this would be a good experiment, well it would make me laugh anyway!

Unfortunately, I’m not sure any of this is new news but we need to ensure that the team members trust each other. The obvious trouble here is that you can not force people to trust one another. You can, however, create environments where that is more likely to happen. Create opportunities for trust to get a foothold and flourish. What you can proactively do is push back on trust eroding behaviours. Lead by example, demonstrate vulnerability and unconditional trust. Coach those that are not open to trusting and those that decrease it.

Things you could try

  • Tea/Coffee breaks; as a team take 15–20 minutes to come together with a cup of tea and a biscuit and talk about anything non-work related. Hopefully, this will make the team more cohesive and more likely to trust each other.
  • Honest feedback sessions; book a meeting for the team where individuals ask the team for honest feedback. The feedback must always come from caring about the individuals and teams growth. This may start anonymously but should eventually build, as trust grows, to a state where honest criticism and praise can be given openly.
  • Team events; all go for lunch together once in a while. Maybe arrange some after-work social activities or if things are really bad, sports :)
  • Communicate; get the team to talk about the strengths and weaknesses, especially the strengths and weaknesses they bring to work. Ask the team how they will support each other’s weaknesses and grow each other’s strengths.
  • Listen; stop any blame that is going on in conversations; ensure conversations around responsibility are primarily focussed on the team rather than individuals.

What next

Once the team members trust each other (I’m not suggesting this is a quick thing) they can start to understand each other’s goals and motivators. As a result, supporting each other’s personal dreams and team goals. Certainly allowing collaboration to appear. Without trust, talking about personal goals is less likely to reveal individuals true goals and motivators.

  • Explore with your teams what they want to achieve in their career in open and honest ways. Start by defining your own goals and dreams. Find a way for the team to support that growth.
  • Find out what intrinsic motivators people have.
  • If you need some inspiration look to Dan Pink and Simon Sinek either their books or for a daily booster on YouTube.

They need to have a team goal or vision that they can truly get behind and support. Something that they can unify around. Work with your organisation's leaders to ensure that it is clear to all why you are doing the work you are doing and what the impact for the company, and most importantly its customers, will be.

  • Ensure that the intent is understood and that the team owns the execution.
  • Ask the team members individually what they think the goal is and what benefit it will bring. If the vision is not strong enough you will soon start hearing different messages.
  • Use the start or end of any iteration or release to re-enforce why you are doing this and the progress made.

Then stealing deeply from my Scrum roots you need to work on courage, respect, openness, focus and commitment.

  • The Scrum Values are not just for Scrum they’re for teams. Read into them and you’ll see that they are crucial for any high functioning team.
  • Read or re-read “5 Dysfunctions of a team”.
  • Challenge assumptions around perceived constraints.
  • Why are the team doing the things they’re doing?
  • Why should we be having these meetings?
  • Why are we working this way?
  • Why can’t we?
  • Have fun and encourage the team to have fun. We spend far too long at work to not focus on this.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, release your inner child and find your trampoline.

About the author:

Chris Davey works at understanding people and how they interact with one another. This has caused him to explore life coaching, CBT, NLP and in a very large part himself. He spends his days helping people work together, often with-in the software industry. In his spare time, he likes to create, playing and writing about games (http://awaitingmaturity.blogspot.com/), snowboard, travel and every now and again just sit and think. You can keep up with the adventures on www.steelcurve.com, Medium @chrisjsdavey, LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisjsdavey/ , Twitter @Kemlock and www.steelcurve.com. If you are really determined you can catch me on most PC gaming platforms as “Chemlock” or “AwaitingMaturity”.

I’m interested in why you do the things you do and why I do the things I do. I help people explore their truths and business engage their individuals.