Collegiality Versus Collaboration: Getting our Hands Dirty

Merriam-Webster Online defines:

collegiality as, “the cooperative relationship of colleagues.”

collaboration as, “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.”

In the article, Norms of Collegiality and Experimentation: Workplace Conditions of School Success, Judith Warren Little places true collaboration at the end of a continuum of collegial relations.

Starting from weakest to strongest:

Of these four, only joint work is “strong enough to contribute to a collaborative culture of enduring benefit.”

Joint work is the sharing of tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is acquired through experience but difficult for the holder to express in words. It is core to craftsmanship and mastery.

Tacit knowledge is transfered when we work in collaboration with another person. In The New Product Development Game, Nonaka and Takeuchi call this “osmotic” learning and consider it the first phase in the organization knowledge creation process.

Nonaka and Takeuchi describe how attempts to design the first bread maker failed miserably until an engineer apprenticed herself to a baker, learning by doing the movements required to kneed great bread. She took that learning back to Matsushita, devising a paddle system that became an essential innovation in a wildly successful, new class of home appliance.

The relationship between product owner and team in most agile projects is certainly collegial. We communicate by story telling. Participants make themselves available to help each other. We share explicit knowledge across business and technical domains as best we can. However, all of this falls short of true collaboration.

The lesson I take away is if we want to foster creativity and innovation we need to get past the barriers of status and roles, go beyond talk, roll up our sleeves and labor together — joint investment, joint consequences, and joint work.

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About Ken Judy

I am an executive manager, software developer, father and husband trying to do more good than harm. I am an agile practitioner. I say this fully aware I say nothing. Sold as a tool to solve problems, agile is more a set of principles that encourage us to confront problems. Broad adoption of the jargon has not resulted in wide embrace of these principles. I strive to create material and human good by respecting co-workers, telling truth to employers, improving my skills, and caring for the people affected by the software I help build.