Sunday, July 31, 2011

Project Teams – Coordinating or Collaborating?

By Dean Hawkinson

I recently attended a webinar led by Steven M.R. Covey, the author of the book, “The Speed of Trust.” In this webinar, Mr. Covey talked about teams working together, and discussed the differences between coordination and collaboration. I began to think about this in the context of an instructional design project team made up of subject matter experts (SMEs) and other project team members.

Mr. Covey had us imagine a continuum, with Coordination being at one end and Collaboration at the other. He then asked us to think about our own teams and identify where on the continuum we were. In order to do this, he talked about the differences in the ends of the continuum. Below are some of the highlights:

Coordination – Starting at one end of the continuum is Coordination. Coordination is not a bad thing, and it does include people working together and talking and synchronizing. However, it is limited in scope. There is limited trust. In an instructional design project, at this level, the project may be completed by the deadline, but the culture of the project may be more of a client “telling” the designer what to do, and it is very one-sided. The client puts forth little effort to listen to the designer as a consultant with expertise in learning.

Cooperation – Halfway up the continuum is Cooperation. This level is Coordination with a bit more give and take. There is more listening and influencing, but it still leaves a lot to be desired as far as a true team environment. With Cooperation, the project can still be completed as scheduled and as requested and may even include some more discussion, but it is still a client-driven environment. The client may respect some of what the designer has to say about learning, but still ultimately makes the decisions.

Collaboration – What sets Collaboration apart from the other two is the nature of the relationships on the team. At this level, it is a true partnership. For instructional design, this means a true trust between client and designer, whether an internal or external client. The designer listens to the client’s needs, but the difference includes the client trusting the designer’s expertise in adult learning, and respecting the designer as a true consultant with expertise in learning.

So, where does your relationship with your clients fall on the continuum?

Mr. Covey went on to explain that the single most important element that drives our team relationships to a true Collaboration is trust. Here are some questions to ask yourself about your project teams:

  • Is there true listening going on? Is this listening active and are team members truly seeking to understand each other?

  • Is there true respect being shown for everyone’s opinions, especially when there is disagreement?

  • Are people transparent/open with each other, or do they tend to hide things for fear of being shot down?

  • Does the team focus on clarifying expectations and is there accountability for responsibilities?

Trust enables groups to work together in a collaborative environment, which adds to the efficiency and productivity of the team. For us as instructional designers or learning & performance specialists, this means working in an environment where our clients look to us as specialists in the area of learning, and trusting and listening to our viewpoints on the effectiveness of the training. At the same time, however, we are truly listening to our clients to understand their needs and fostering that trust by providing them with a product that meets those needs but does not compromise solid adult learning and instructional design principles.

What types of experiences have you had collaborating with project teams? Feel free to share!

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