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Friday, August 10, 2007

The Stages of Collaboration

Recently I've been working on an effort to create a new standard for a network protocol in the Model Railroad industry. There are several groups who began work on this effort independently without knowledge of the other groups. As it turns out, there are two groups with similar approaches and we've been trying to work together to create a unified proposal.

During this process, I realized that there are four stages that you must work through before you can come together with a unified approach that is truly a group effort:

Respect: First, you have to respect other people's knowledge and abilities. If you don't respect them, you're not going to listen to what they have to say. They also need to respect you, so there needs to be some work up front so each member learns to respect the other team members.

Understanding: This is a two way street. You need to make sure you understand what other people are proposing so you can see similarities and differences before you suggest changes. If you see what you believe are holes in another approach, you should ask questions about how they would handle that situation to help you understand. Either you'll help them see the hole, or you'll discover you didn't fully understand their approach. In either case, your questions must be sincere questions designed to help you understand both the advantages and disadvantages of other approaches.

Trust: You have to believe that each person is trying to work together to a common goal without hidden agendas. If you suspect they have a hidden agenda, you haven't achieved mutual trust yet.

Compromise: For any group effort to succeed, you must have compromise. But the compromises must come after the understanding and trust have developed or you're just giving in to reach an agreement.

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