OnPoint, LLC

Collaboration Issues – Is there an iceberg nearby?

Agility requires collaboration.  You will not hear many arguments against that statement.  After all, one of the four agile values is “individuals and interactions over processes and tools (www.agilemanifesto.org).”  Collaboration enables quick feedback, allowing teams to solve problems faster, and increase velocity.  High-performing, self-directed teams cannot exist without collaboration.  And yet in many organizations, even those that have been on an agile journey for some time, there are built-in barriers to collaboration.  Here are some examples. 

  • Hierarchical organizational structures that hinder horizontal communication
  • Leaders who promote “us vs. them” inter-departmental rivalry
  • Managers who behave as if their sole mission is gatekeeping
  • Office floor plans that prevent team co-location because they were designed to allow line managers to “keep an eye on” their developers
  • Line managers who insist on “no surprises” and being the first to know everything


These barriers are remnants of the command and control culture in which many of us built our “pre-agile” careers.  Some barriers are so ingrained in our thinking that we may not notice them anymore, but they will manifest directly or indirectly in the form of impediments raised by our teams, such as:

  • Product owners who are disengaged, delaying needed decisions on priorities or sign-off on completed deliverables
  • Toxic behavior (e.g. back-biting, gossip, emotional outbursts) by team members
  • Miscommunication regarding success criteria, resulting in challenges integrating deliverables from other teams
  • Subject matter experts who do not have sufficient band width to consult with the team when needed


So what can we do to remove barriers to collaboration? We can chip away at the problem by attempting to remove impediments as they are raised up by our teams, but that will be not be sufficient.  Since these impediments exist because of legacy beliefs, values, and behaviors, the real solution lies in the cultural change that must accompany any agile transformation. The subject of changing culture is beyond the scope of a single blog post (or even an entire book) but for now it is helpful to understand that collaboration barriers are merely the tip of a pretty large iceberg.

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