One of the more popular myths in the tech industry is that of the lone wolf. We highlight the tenacity, persistence, and courage of leaders that build wonderful products that we use every day. We place a person on a pedestal, attributing their success to their own efforts. In essence, they were the lone wolf that conquered all odds and built an amazing business, service, or product. Where once they were working in the garage, now they are in the highest echelons of power.
Except, that is not how any of this works at all. Wolves are pack animals, and so are humans. The achievements of one person were on the shoulders of others. The purpose of this article is to reposition the importance of collaboration as vital to anyone’s success.
Going Your Own Way is Painful
Can you build an amazing thing on your own? Sure. This article is not to say that it cannot be done; but really question if it is better that way. You can certainly build an app, but how will you know that it will deliver value? How will you know that it will withstand all the constraints and demands of an audience? How do you know the design is of any one except for you? That is the problem: you do not. If you are a lone wolf, then you are operating on a handful of assumptions. And, due to those assumptions, you will try and learn something new in a singular, slow pace, pivot and try again.
However, if you collaborate with others that have special expertise and knowledge, you can know learn in parallel, making your pivots and enhancements faster. This is why collaboration is so important. It does not mean talking to another person. Collaboration means actively learning and building off one-another’s ideas. Collaboration is at the heart of any “agile” framework. And despite what framework you follow, it should be the heart of your daily activities.
That is true for anyone on a team or anyone acting as a “solopreneur”. Even if you are running your own business alone, you probably still have a network of mentors that you reach out to help guide you on your journey.
The Building Blocks of Collaboration
Collaboration does not mean meetings. Or, collaboration does not always happen in meetings. I have been in many meetings where we discuss solutions, but collaboration does not happen. Some meetings are one-sided lectures or talks. Other meetings are to check a box in the name of busyness, but no real business solutions emerge. The one thing meetings offer, though, is a dedicated time. Time set aside for a chance to talk through something is a primary building block of collaboration.
The next thing you need, aside from time is capacity. Meaning, everyone must be able to take the dedicated time for a discussion and then dedicate their focus to that discussion. But, if everyone is to preoccupied with other requests, tasks, or interests you will get nowhere. Collaboration is where people offer ideas, propose alternatives, and really think deeply about a subject. But, if everyone is too distracted, you will never see collaboration happen.
Another building block of capacity is psychological safety. This is a loaded term these days, but all this means is that everyone must be able to feel safe to contribute their ideas. No one in a collaboration session has the right idea initially. Everyone must seek to understand the concepts or questions shared in the group. Do not dismiss a comment or contribution without understanding it. This takes time, which is also why having time is important (as already mentioned).
A final building block of successful collaboration is diversity. A discussion among solely technical people will result in one solution. A conversation between business people will result in another solution. A combination of technical and business professionals will result in a much better solution. This is why agile frameworks suggest cross functional teams. The diverse backgrounds in each of the groups push each other in other areas of thinking and call into question various assumptions.
In a previous blog post about collaboration, I mentioned the importance of colocation. That was in a pre-Covid world where lockdowns were unheard of. Well, now, we have had to learn more about collaboration virtually. I still think colocation is best, but in a remote and hybrid workforce, other alternatives must prevail. In those situations, I think there is value in having cameras on so you can see everyone in the meeting. You also need to leverage virtual whiteboards in an easy way to get them in the discussion. In other words, the virtual software needs to be easy to use and get information/ideas in front of everyone so that it does not hinder a discussion session.
There are a lot of software options out there to foster collaboration. Too many to discuss here, but the point is you need to be proficient enough with that software prior to the collaboration session to maintain the flow.
Going it alone is not actually a thing. Even if you are a “solopreneur”, consultant, or freelancing dev, you still need to collaborate. Find partners, mentors, colleagues, and customers to help you learn and iterate on your ideas. That should be one of the key ingredients in any process you choose to follow. Wolves hunt in packs; So, work in teams, partnerships, or however you want to structure it. Don’t just meet, collaborate.
If you found this helpful, please share with your colleagues, friends, boss, etc. Also, feel free to start reading my Agile Laws series here.
Thanks for reading!