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Collaboration model

Arlo Belshee edited this page Jan 10, 2017 · 47 revisions

This model is an attempt to help people understand the scopes in which they interact and the degree to which they collaborate in each scope.

There are three different scopes for interaction. Two of them are currently addressed by this model. We are still gathering data and insights about the third.

  1. In team: Within my cross-functional team. Between individual humans who are working on the same piece of work. Typically up to 15 people, and includes all roles needed to deliver product.
  2. Cross-team: Between two different work teams. These may be nearby teams, reporting to the same manager and delivering work into the same product, they may be teams from different ends of the company, or anything in between.
  3. (Future) Working out loud: Between my team and whoever may be interested. This applies to those teams with whom I do not yet know I am interacting.

In-team interaction is measured on a 5-level scale:

  1. Competition: Each person has an individual objective. Each person places his goals ahead of those of others.
  2. Conglomeration: Each person has an individual objective. These objectives are aligned such that they are parts of a larger goal, but the goals are independent. The work is executed individually. It is possible for some people to succeed and others to fail.
  3. Coordination: Each person has an individual objective. Those objectives interact. The teams coordinate their efforts to ensure all objectives are met. The work is executed individually. People have specific roles and work products move from role to role. It is possible (and routine) to ascribe any group-level failure to individual failure.
  4. Cooperation: Each person has an individual objective. Each person is aware of the people with related objectives and what those objective are. The work is mostly done individually, with people actively doing support work to help each other. People have specific roles and work products move from role to role. The team succeeds or fails together.
  5. Collaboration: All people share the same objective, or have objectives that cannot be met without meeting the others. The work is done simultaneously by multiple people with regular and informal trade-offs between people. People have individual talents and each bring their talents to bear on multiple parts of the work. No single part of the work can be associated with any one person.

Cross-team relationships use the same scale to describe their relationship. However the focus is on the interactions between the teams rather than between the individuals within the teams.

The rest of this model details each level. It indicates the common patterns we have observed in teams at each level.

@arlobelshee The rest of this is too dry. We need some evocative examples. Also the Actions sections belong in special purpose recipes – they are techniquest to move from one level to another. Not sure, but skills may be the same.

Interaction within your team

Note: There is no section for Competition because it is assumed to be undesirable and therefore there is no need to describe the skills needed.

Conglomeration within a team


  • No one’s work depends on anyone else in the team. Each individual can deliver customer value on his own.
  • Team members rarely need to communicate with each other. There is no need for a common process.
  • People succeed or fail independently. The product as a whole succeeds if at least some individuals succeed.
  • The work product consists of a bunch of independent pieces that can be used together or separately. Failure of one part does not break the whole product.
  • Managers make work breakdown decisions, then assign work to implementers.

Skills needed

  • All of the basic skills one learns in school and other places about how to complete individual work assignments with high quality and on time.


  • Large chunks of work that don’t get broken down.
  • Managers who are indecisive or change assignments / priorities without warning and / or reason.
  • Lack of understanding about what the customer needs.

Coordination within a team


  • Project managers organize the work to be done. They ensure that each person finishes their task in time for the people who depend on that task’s completion.
  • Each person completes his tasks indpendently of others. When some task takes longer than expected, that causes a ripple delay but others cannot really help because they are not up to speed on that work.
  • People feel that helping someone else with a task directly impairs their ability to complete their own tasks. Team members help each other from time to time, but view it as a trade-off.
  • Roles and specialties exist. Each person is expected to perform their specialty, and only their specialty.

Skills needed

  • Negotiation – ability to work through delegates.
  • Altruism – willingness to help others even if it is viewed as delaying own work completion or success.
  • Prediction – ability to see roadblocks before they arrive, to warn others of pending delivery delays.


  • Stack ranking with individual accountability. Prevents people being willing to take dependencies on any risky work being done by others. This dramatically increases total product size and complexity.

Cooperation within a team


  • Work products are broken into tasks as a team. Each task is assigned to a specific person, but each work product involves multiple people.
  • People directly assist on each others’ tasks, because this is the most effective way to get all of the tasks done.
  • People issues are dealt with via 1:1s with managers.
  • Managers are no longer deciding work breakdowns; they spend time managing the team’s process and interactions.

Skills needed

  • Decision-making – have a defined process
  • Feedback – how to give it well
  • Make a request (not sure what this means)
  • Pair? (not sure what this means)
  • Share what I learned (not sure what this means)
  • Each team member is able to see individual benefit from helping others on the team achieve their tasks.


  • Team members do not know each other
  • Lack of working agreements
  • Fear of losing independence, privacy
  • Anything which measures work output of team members against each other.
  • Lack of trust between team members – anything that makes one person suspect another is less qualified / capable / engaged.

Collaboration within team


  • “Strong opinions held lightly”
  • High metacognition within the team. Many team members are aware of the team dynamics and actively attempting to improve them.

Skills needed

  • Different modes of communication – knowledge of and how to apply
  • Communication – being direct and speaking intentions
  • Communication – being aware of other and empathizing
  • Co-learning – seek a partner when there is something I don’t know
  • Soliciting feedback proactively
  • Trust – sharing objectives and goals
  • Roles – being comfortable with letting go of strict assignments and responsibilities
  • Team empowerment – taking actions, setting goals
  • Clear alignment between individual and team objectives, such that mutual benefit is obvious to all.


  • Individual commitments.
  • Multi-utilization (team members work on several projects).
  • Lack of access (people have unequal levels of access to other people in the team. For example, one team member telecommutes or one works in an office while the others are in a shared space).
  • Insufficient access to grow or maintain trust.

Interaction between your team and a partner team

Conglomeration between teams


  • Near total lack of awareness of what partner team is delivering, or when. And possibly even who is on the partner team.
  • No time spent on thinking about partnership opportunities.
  • No time spent on understanding the customer journey across different teams’ deliverables.
  • Presence of scorecard that independently tracks each status of each team’s objectives.

Skills needed

  • Ability to internalize and operationalize own team’s part of larger vision for the group / org.
  • Ability to tune out problems other teams are having.


  • Plan or product which prevents one team from having market success if the other fails to deliver.

Coordination between teams


  • Communication between teams through delegate.
  • Work coordinated through deadlines, milestones, and handoffs.
  • List of dependencies between own team and partner team(s).
  • Semi-regular meetings with partner team(s) to discuss schedule and blocking issues on dependencies.
  • Use of scorecard as discussion vehicle to identify points of interaction between teams and dependencies.

Skills needed

  • Ability to understand the interaction between own objectives and partner team(s)’ to identify dependencies.


  • Unclear team goals, no roadmap or knowledge of which systems to build.
  • Lack of awareness of who partner team(s) are.
  • Lack of understanding of what partner team(s) are delivering due to things like tenting (secrecy).
  • Failure to prioritize the time to have semi-regular sync meetings with partner team(s).

Cooperation between teams


  • Direct team-to-team communication between the people doing the specific work items.
  • Default to low-interruption communications (email instead of face to face) but relying on more than just semi-regular sync meetings.

Skills needed

  • Ability to conduct basic team- and trust-building exercises between teams.
  • Ability to make other team(s)’ goals explicit and visible.


  • Lack of support by management for spending time on team and trust building.

Collaboration between teams


  • Default to high-bandwidth communications (face to face over email).
  • Ability of person on other team to speak to own teams’ current situation.

Skills needed

  • Fluency among critical mass of team members on communication and trust skills listed in individual collaboration section above.
  • Comfort with being flexible and adaptive depending on other teams’ changing needs, not just own team’s.


  • Unequal support for collaborative work across all of the management teams involved.
  • Lack of alignment on priority of shared work.
  • Lack of (or delays in) access to information from partner teams.

How to use the model

The model is used slightly differently at each scope. It is intended to be used in a distributed fashion. Each team applies it individually to improve itself. Each pair of interacting teams apply it to define and improve their mode of interaction.

You are going to focus on improving your team’s fluency at its target proficiency level. See road to collaboration for the overall approach.

Each of the scopes describe fundamentally different contexts for interaction. As such, they are each improved differently. Detail pages each list recipes for one context:

  1. Improve my team (aka “Get your own nest in order”)
  2. Improve partner relations (aka “Make friends”)

These pages identify new behaviors you will need to express, practices you can do to make the behaviors easier, skills you will need to learn and a number of other traits. Most importantly, they also list blockers for each level. These are things which, if they are true about the team / system / company in which you find yourself, will prevent interacting at that level. Blockers must be addressed if the team is to progress.

You will likely find that your improvement actions fall into one of two camps:

  1. Decrease the level of collaboration required between teams to deliver customer value.
  2. Help a team become fluent at a level of collaboration to which it is currently aspiring.

You rarely need to help a team aspire to a higher level of collaboration. Humans tend to do this naturally. They will regularly aspire to a couple levels above what is safe in their environment.

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