Getting Collaboration Right

August 23, 2018

Getting Collaboration Right 

Your group didn’t get a report in on time and you need to figure out what caused the lack of collaboration. You want to challenge the assumption that the most important thing is getting along. Raising the issue with Megan and Jean won’t be an easy conversation but it’s necessary.

Challenging the lack of collaboration

YOU: So, guys, I wanted to talk about the report not going out last week.

Expect avoidance

Jean: But it went the Tuesday after so no harm done.
YOU:  I’d like to discuss why it didn’t go on Friday.

Expect sniping

Megan: (undertone) Because the data weren’t there.
Jean: I heard that!
YOU: Let’s stick to the issue. Jean, you didn’t get the data to Megan on Wednesday. Why?
Jean: I wanted to make it right.
YOU: Megan needed it.

Expect defensiveness

Jean: Crummy research can’t go out!
YOU: But what could you have done?
Jean: Huh?

Suggest solutions the first time

YOU: Why not tell Megan you were going to be late?
Jean: She knew when it didn’t arrive.
Megan:  I needed a heads up.
Jean: Wouldn’t have made a difference.
YOU: But you two might have worked something to meet the deadline with good data.
Jean: She could have called any time.

Avoid fingerpointing

Megan: Why should I when it’s your fault?
Jean: My fault? When all I want is—
YOU: Guys, this is about doing better not fingerpointing. Why didn’t anyone pick up the phone?

This is the crux of the matter

Megan: Wasn’t my place to tell her her job.
Jean: Damn straight.
YOU: Working through the problem together is not telling anyone anything.
Megan & Jean: (Silence)
YOU:  I expect us to focus on working together. How could we avoid this in the future? Jean?

Ask them to commit to a solution

Jean: I suppose I could have told her about the late data.
YOU: And discussed a solution?
Jean: Yeah, yeah.
YOU: Okay. Megan?
Megan: Me? I’m not—
YOU: The point was to deliver on time. What could you have done?
Megan:  I guess I could have called her on Thursday.

Getting the right level of collaboration

Just the first step

Not much fun, was it? And worse, it’s unlikely to change unless you reinforce the solution. When the situation happens again—as it will—you need to require everyone to act according to the agreement.

Modeling the behavior

By having the conversation, you model when it is appropriate to speak up, even when uncomfortable. They see that you can keep the important parts of harmony —respectful treatment, calm discussion, and fostering of a team—while tackling a prickly issue.

I know this need for harmony can be a bit tricky to get your head around, so later in my postings, I will present a situation where the need for harmony is operating even though it looks as if the opposite is happening. This is tricky stuff.

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