In a Scrum environment, How Much Team Collaboration is Enough?

When to increase collaboration, and when to reduce it.

Scrum is centered around the spirit of collaboration. Teamwork is a fundamental aspect of operating within a scrum environment. At the same time, individual effort cannot be ignored. A team should strike a balance between teamwork and individual effort, and it’s not an easy balance. Let’s explore.  

Delivering value is always the primary focus of the Scrum team. A Scrum team member should take value delivery as his or her personal agenda. The importance of teamwork doesn’t take away the power of individual contributions. Rather, if everyone on the team is focused on how they can individually contribute to the delivery of value, the team becomes stronger and more effective.

Collaboration in Scrum: A Description 

Collaboration simply means tapping into everybody’s wisdom and the skill of a group to achieve a common purpose. As Scrum Teams work on complex problems, it’s in the best interest of the team to collaborate to find a solution or answer to questions. 

Through effective collaboration, teams make best use of their skills and experience by helping on projects and joining development discussions. 

There are several advantages to collaboration:

  • It challenges everyone’s assumptions and finds a common ground to the solution. 
  • Successful collaboration will minimize change requests because all interested parties are involved in the development process all along.
  • Collaboration mitigates risk; members of the team are more likely to identify problems in a plan before the problems become costly.
  • Good collaboration increases efficiency as we avoid any duplication of effort.

The Right Time for Teamwork: When Collaboration is Right 

Before thinking about when collaboration is appropriate in specific circumstances, it’s important to remember the five core values of Scrum, because ultimately, all your decisions on processes and approaches should be made with these values in mind.

The 5 Scrum Values:

  • Commitment:  Team members have a personal commitment to achieving the Scrum team’s goals 
  • Focus:  Team members are focused on the Sprint and the team’s broader goals
  • Openness:  The Scrum team and the other stakeholders agree to be open about the team’s work, goals, and challenges
  • Respect:  Members of the Scrum team respect each other to be capable and independent people 
  • Courage:  Scrum team members have the courage to address problems and do the right thing when necessary

The Five Values of Scrum are interesting because they highlight the importance of both the team and the individual, meaning there is no one set way to think about how much collaboration is the right amount of collaboration. The Scrum Values stress the empowerment of the Scrum Team to address and solve problems as a unit. 

Collaboration is important and required when knowledge gained through the collaboration is more than the sum of individual knowledge shared by two or more people.

In many situations, it’s often true that no one person has complete answers to the questions. Complex product development problems can often only be solved when information is shared between individuals. That’s why Scrum Teams consist of cross-functional members from a number of realms in relation to the product. No one person can know everything.

An Example of Collaboration

Let’s say, for example, that the company TechKnow is deciding what new feature to release for its research software platform. The Product Owner may have some ideas about launching  a new dashboard feature, but not understand the technical aspects of its implementation. Different technical members of the Scrum Team may have different ideas on the UI and technical dependencies, but may not know how the users are expected to use the feature in the real world.

By bringing the team members together for a discussion session, all the small pieces of information, and the members’ individual skills and experience, can be applied toward making the best decision for the product and the company. 

As long as everyone on the team is focused on early delivery of value, they can collaborate to see how soon and how much Value can be delivered in the first version of this dashboard. 

When challenges require application of a broad range of skills and experiences, collaboration should be used. 

The Wrong Time for Teamwork: When Collaboration is the Wrong Approach

Returning again to one of the Scrum values, focus, you see the responsibility the individual has for attending to his or her assigned tasks, as well as identifying ways in which he or she can be useful beyond their immediate duties. Members of the Scrum Team are expected to step-up when necessary, and trust the other team members will do the same.

That means that Scrum deliberately leaves space for team members to work on their own, without collaboration, when the task at hand requires it.

An Example of Individual Work

For example, once the Scrum Team from TechKnow has a clear vision for the next feature on their research software platform, it’s likely that each member will need to complete certain tasks before they collaborate again, maybe in their next Daily Scrum and Sprint Review meetings. Every team member now should focus on his or her individual task keeping in mind the bigger goal in mind.  

These aren’t tasks that would likely benefit from collaboration. It’s the role of the Scrum Master assigned to the team to monitor how the group is functioning while the members are on their own. The Scrum Master should help them recognize when new challenges require group collaboration once again, and when it’s best to have team members working on their own.

A use of a Scrum Board, updated regularly and displayed in a prominent place, will help individual team members remain connected to the progress each member is making. It will remind team members of the broader goals of the collaboration, without taking the time required to schedule and hold an actual meeting. 

A Word of Caution

Don’t use bad or unsuccessful collaboration as an excuse to collaborate less. Use it as motivation to collaborate better.  

Collaborations often fail because there isn’t a common goal or teams lack a sense of ownership of the process or lack trust between team members. 

This is an opportunity to fine tune your collaborative efforts. 

Some Final Thoughts

The bottom-line answer is that the right amount of collaboration is the amount that gets results, that develops Value, and that lays a foundation for continued productive teamwork by generating trust. 

There’s no one right answer telling you how much collaboration is the “right” amount.

The correct approach builds on past successes, establishes the groundwork for a product’s continued development, and allows workers to feel valued as members of a team and as important, empowered individuals. 

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