Thursday, July 13, 2006

Book summary: Collaboration Explained

I read Jean Tabaka's book: Collaboration Explained: Facilitation Skills for Software Project Leaders. It describes many techniques an agile leader should keep handy in his/her toolbox - I recommend it.

Here is a brief summary of some of the salient points from the book.

Collaboration and servant leadership

In a collaborative culture, teamwork and self-organizing teams are highly valued. A collaborative culture is on the opposite end of the spectrum from a command and control culture. Leaders seek to get the best out of the team by optimizing their collaboration and protecting the team from outside influences which work against collaboration. The agile leader should be a servant leader: a position of strength, they determine that the greatest power they can wield is in service to their teams as leader.
Some attributes of a servant leader
  • Goal setting to guide the team rather than prescribing tasks
  • Listening as a means to lead - ask questions!
  • Clear sense of values
  • Personal growth
  • Tolerance of imperfection - trust the team's decisions
  • Positive attitude
Evolving toward a high performance team

Teams go through 4 stages on the route to high performance, and they need different leadership techniques at each stage.
  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming
  4. Performing
Characteristics of a collaborative team
  • Self-organizing (vs. title or role-based)
  • Empowered to make decisions
  • Members believe they can solve problems for themselves
  • Committed to success as a team
  • Motivated by trust, mutual respect and mutual accountability
  • Engage in participatory decision making
  • Decisions are consensus-driven
  • Constructive disagreement is healthy
Preparing for collaborative meetings
A good rule of thumb is for the leader/facilitator to spend 2 hours preparing for every 1 hour of meeting time.
  • Interview the meeting sponsor
  • Survey participants
  • Set the agenda
Conflict resolution and Consensus building
Teams should strive for consensus on major decisions, but it can take considerable time and effort to reach a consensus. Teams should decide in advance which decisions require consensus and which can be decided more quickly (by majority vote, for example).

Use the "fist of five" technique to measure consensus. When someone in the group has proposed a decision, ask everyone to simultaneously to show a number of fingers indicating their level of agreement:
  • 5 fingers: I'm wildly enthusiastic about it
  • 4 fingers: I like the idea and fully support it
  • 3 fingers: It's not perfect, but I can support it
  • 2 fingers: I don't like it, and can't fully support it
  • 1 finger: I am very much opposed to this idea

Thomas-Kilmann conflict resolution mode
The following lists the modes and how often teams should strive to resolve conflict via that mode:
  • Collaboration: 65%
  • Compromise: 20%
  • Avoidance: 10%
  • Accomodation: 5%
  • Competition: never!
Leadership and facilitation techniques
The book is full of useful techniques in these areas:
  • Meeting organizing tools, e.g. the parking lot
  • Kicking off a meeting
  • Gathering information
  • Project & task estimating
  • Processing and organizing information
  • Retrospection and visioning
  • Managing meeting participants
  • Managing conflict
  • Closing a meeting
    • Action plans
    • "A bridge to each desk"
  • Practices for distributed teams

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