collaboration: tangibles and intangibles

Product teams are usually made up of geographically dispersed, differently skilled and talented people working toward the common goal of shipping something exciting and profitable.

This creates huge challenges, but can, under the right circumstances be an inspirational experience that produces great results. Wrong circumstances, bad experience, disappointing results. Real collaboration involves dividing responsibility and sharing ideas, insight and expertise. This is often a mix of structured and unstructured, formal and informal free style interaction that needs both tangible and intangible support and assets to succeed.

Tangibles

The tangibles in collaboration have to do with making the collaboration itself logistically easier. There are 3 core activities that current technology has begun to make great stride in:

1. Communication – Email, phone, IM, teleconferences, video conferences, etc. The tools of group communication are good and getting better.

2. Sharing – this is where some of the web 2.0 technology has made a real contribution. Wiki‘s and wiki based tools make sharing a lot of data in an unstructured way easy and fast.
3. Reuse. As professionals, we’re often asked to do things analogous to what we and other people we work with have done before. There’s frequently a lot of research and documentation of results. Most of the time, however, all that remains of this process is the documentation, and the memories preserved in the minds of the people involved. Wouldn’t it be handy if the research and collection phase were self-documenting? This is an area yet to be addressed by technology, and as such should perhaps be in the “intangibles” section – but I have hope for a solution here, and soon.

Intangibles

1. Respect. You all know you are all good at your jobs. Each person’s opinion is worth something.

2. Trust – you’re there to help each other, not climb over each other.

3. A shared sense of goals. Working toward a common objective and vision, not competing with one another.

With these three intangibles in place, nearly any group can have productive debate that sparks real innovation, problem solving and the excitement that gets the hard work done. Without them, debate becomes bickering, the team lacks the ability to refer to one another to solve problems, and the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

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