Tonight was the second class for Tribal Leadership Intensive Two and it was one of those classes centered mainly on discussions of various topics. Gracious collaboration was one topic and strong versus weak links was the other. As we broke out of the triad discussion on collaboration, I realized I had more to share. To learn my thoughts on tonight’s class, please read on.

I find it is harder for me to keep my focus on classes centered around discussions but tonight was good for me in that regards. The participants had compelling stories to tell and it was easier to stay engaged. The gracious collaboration conversation resonated well with me for a couple of different reasons. In the last couple of years, I took part in various projects with people spread across the world and it taught me some lessons about collaboration. I will try to explain some of these lessons and adapt them to triad thinking.

Lesson 1: Keep the end goal in mind

When writing the book “€œA Practical Guide to Distributed Scrum”€, we had thirty to forty people working together in brainstorming sessions. We were three people that took the result of the sessions and turned them into chapters. When writing a chapter draft one of us would write it and seek feedback. This resulted in another author rewriting or reorganizing half of the chapter while adding new content and the original author could then accept or refuse the proposed changes. We repeated this cycle until we completed the chapter.

Honestly, it is humbling to see your efforts partially shredded but we always resolved our differences by focusing on what was right for the book. That was always our starting point and we put our egos aside for the greater good. As three authors make for a natural triad, there was always one of us making sure the relationship between the three of us worked.

Lesson 2: Use an interpreter

I once worked in highly collaborative team of four, but it did not begin this way. Although we tried being collaborative, the personalities and values of the different team members caused challenges we needed to overcome.

One person in the team was upset with me and systematically tossed away any changes I proposed. Another teammate realized what was happening and started repeating my proposals using slightly different words. Somehow, the same ideas sounded better coming from this other person so my new goal became making sure my supporter understood what I was saying so he could help me sell the idea.

Lesson 3: Use the right language

You may also need to change your language to allow your message to resonate with someone else.

For example, Discovery Insights is an interesting personality test which can break people down to four different colors: Red, blue, yellow and green. Everyone has a dominant color tied to them and some colors do not work well together. For example, a red person bases everything on results, while a green person bases everything on people and emotions.

When two people with these dominant opposite colors work together, they must change their language to adjust to the other person. To get traction with the green person, the red person needs to learn to talk about a situation through the human factor to resonate with them. In contrast, a green person talking about emotions to a red person will probably get nothing but laughter in return.

Understanding the personalities of your triad members may allow you to bridge gaps by acting as the interpreter between people of two opposing types.

Other personality tests such as MBTI present similar breakdowns with similar challenges.

Lesson 4: Build trust and be genuine when offering support

Offering token support and not following up when asked does not build trust. If necessary, set the proper boundaries for your help and respect those boundaries.

In another team, I offered to do copy editing for English documents the team was producing. English was not their native language and they struggled in the past with someone else copy editing their work. They were skeptical at first and expected me to rewrite their documents and they would no longer recognize their work. I promised them I would copy edit while respecting the essence of what they were saying and they would have the final acceptance of my work.

One person decided to give me an opportunity to edit his work and was happy with the results of the editing process. He shared this happiness with the rest of the team and once they saw I consistently respected those boundaries, I could rewrite significant portions of their documents with no conflicts. They even came to discover they could also challenge me on my edits and I would adjust to their needs.

Lessons 5: Build a common understanding

When a two-person relationship breaks down, the first thing I recommend is to build a common understanding of the problem.

One approach I use it to parrot back what I understand using statements such as:

  • “€œLet me make sure I understand correctly, are you saying…”
  • “€œThis is my understanding of what you are saying…”€

Or I have them parrot back what they understand by asking questions such as:

  • “What is your understanding of what I am saying?”

As you slowly build a common understanding on issues, recognize it openly with statements such as:

  • “€œGood, I feel we are on the same page here”€
  • “€œYay! I feel we are making progress now”

I often experienced this when working with distributed multicultural teams. I found that rewinding and starting from scratch to build a common understanding helped me better understand where the disconnect occurred.

Before trying to build a common understanding you may want to quickly explain to the other person this is what you are doing to build a cooperative spirit. I usually mention I feel we have a disconnect and we need to take a couple of steps back to better understand each others viewpoints.

The challenge is working through the disconnect once you find it and the best advice I can provide here is to find ways to increase your collaboration level. They say the highest level is face to face communication, but sometimes drawing on a whiteboard while explaining can do miracles as well.

Conclusion

Accepting you do not always have the best solution and fostering an environment where people build on each others ideas is the key to building a collaborative team. In my experience, to achieve this you need professionalism, dedication and having the entire team commit to working in a collaborative way.