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Naresh Jain on the Dark Side of Collaboration

Naresh Jain, conference chair and founder of Confengine opened the second day of the Agile India conference with his talk titled the Dark Side of Collaboration.  

The premise of his talk is that in the rush to encourage collaborative workspaces and the hype about the benefits of collaborative work organisations have forgotten the importance of solitary thinking time for creativity and ideation.   A large proportion of the population are introverts and they need quiet time to think through new ideas and to come up with innovative solutions to problems. 

He started by asking the audience to write down a word or phrase that comes to mind when they think of collaboration, then he showed a series of slides where people had done and the definitions they came up with:

  • Working together on the same task
  • Working together, conversations, open-minded
  • Consent
  • Interactive learning
  • Multiple simultaneous authors
  • #teammind
  • Finding an idea and implementing together with fun
  • Building on each other’s ideas
  • Jam band

Jean Tabaka is the author of Collaboration Explained, he quoted her definition:

Collaboration is about people having a working-agreement and collectively deciding what needs to be done.  They might go off on their own and do stuff, but as long as they are regularly checking-in with each other, they are still collaborating

He shifted focus and looked at some deterrents to collaboration (quoting Pollyanna Pixton):

Deterrents for Collaboration

Next he presented the answers he received to the question “When would you recommend not to use collaboration?”

  • I know of none, collaboration always helps
  • If you already know what you want, don’t waste my time pretending to collaborate
  • Lack of respect for different skills & approaches
  • Don’t use it to manipulate or align

Next he asked the audience to consider when they came up with their best work-related ideas, where were they, were they actively collaborating with other people at the time or were they on their own.   The answers varied and many of the participants indicated that they had their best ideas on their own.

Based on his knowledge of the authors of the Agile Manifesto he stated that the level of collaboration in that group was actually quite low - most of the writing was done by two of the authors and the group of 17 authors has never assembled again.  

He then explored diversity in teams, especially the introvert-extrovert difference.  He played excerpts from a Ted Talk by Susan Cain titled “The power of introverts”.   He quoted a figure from the Myers-Briggs organisation that stated that 50.7% of Americans are introverts.  The collaborative work environment and the emphasis on groupwork activities mitigates against these people being at their most effective.

He discussed the Open Source movement - as an active contributor to open source projects he seldom sees people working together synchroniously but there is a high level of collaboration going on, even though the motivation for the individual contributors does not directly align around a shared goal.  He feels that most people contribute to open source projects to "scratch a personal itch" not to work towards a shared goal. 

He also examined the groupthink phenomenon which shows how bad decisions can be made in groups where it is unsafe to question or challenge opinions.

He referenced Daniel Pink’s work on motivation and pointed out that Autonomy and Mastery are things that are most often achieved individually, not in groups.  

He then referenced the design process and Leisa Reichelt’s contention that Design should never be democratic.

He ended by discussing the Cynefin framework and the domain being worked in should be an indicator of the level of collaboration needed to solve the problem, and encouraging the audience to allow time and space for both collaborative work and individual introspective work. 

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