Major projects are typically fraught with issues and problems. Teams are generally set up with the resources to solve day to day difficulties. It is why most of us like working on projects. What happens, however, when you have to rely on another team to find the answer? This is why every project needs to pay attention to the development of collaborative interfaces.
More often than not when we talk about collaboration we think of it as some form of generic process or activity that should be taking place across the whole of a project at all times. The reality is that collaboration is only needed when a problem occurs at the interface between two or more teams engaged in the delivery process. One of the key leadership activities sitting under the collaboration workstream should focus on the potential points of inter-team friction.
Here are some suggestions to consider that will improve collaboration by reducing friction:
1) Create an Interface Management Plan
Each team within a project should invest time in developing an ‘interface management plan’. This is a simple document that captures the thinking around the following questions
a. Who are we going to be dependent on to deliver our portion of the works
b. Who is going to be dependent on us
c. What are the potential friction points where problems could arise
d. Who are the individuals we need to get to know in those teams where we have a degree on interdependency
e. How should we connect and communicate with them to establish the right relationships? The development of the plan should be treated as a short and simple exercise, the output from which is contained in a single sheet of paper. It can be created in a couple of hours, but should be a team exercise so that everyone is aware of the need to manage the interfaces.
2) Build collaborative relationships
If you know you are going to need help from someone in another team, it is a good idea to have some form of positive relationship with them. We advocate the process of building what is known as Level 2 relationships, where we seek to have the kind of social exchanges which enable us to learn enough about the other party to be able to see them as human beings rather than simply names attached to a role. Of course, people must be allowed to make their own choices about building personal relationships, but we can put in place mechanisms to stimulate our team’s knowledge of each other through meetings, workshops and social events.
3) Manage blame instinct
It is also helpful to train your teams to understand the counter-productive nature of blame when things go wrong. Blame is an emotional reaction to frustration and anger, but it tends to be highly destructive and usually closes down our ability to find solutions as we limit communication and establish adversarial positions. As human beings, we cannot control our emotions, but we can learn to manage them. So train your teams to understand the need to move quickly from a reactive response that the other team is at fault, to a reflective position where you try to understand what has gone wrong and how to remedy the situation.
Paying attention to collaborative interfaces can be thought of as another form of risk management. It requires identifying key interdependencies in advance and putting in place a plan of activities to mitigate the consequences of inter-team conflict. At ResoLex, we come across too many projects where the leadership takes a view that a proactive approach to collaborative relationships is unnecessary. This attitude is somewhat complacent as human beings have a tendency to react negatively when under pressure or stress. So paying some attention to establishing positive interfaces between the right people at the right time, will significantly improve the chances of a successful outcome.