Contrived Collegiality

This is one of three patterns of collaboration that entrench status quo.

“The unpredictable nature of collaborative cultures can lead administrators towards forms of collegiality which they can control, regulate, and tame.” 1

Contrived Collegiality

People in leadership roles often resist honest and open exchange. They don’t want change. They want it done their way. They fear loss of influence or status. They dislike confrontation. They feel external pressure. They are proud, defensive, in denial, or simply insecure.

With a courteous, professional veneer and a stated goal of collaboration, they suppress equal participation by:

  • controlling the schedule, conversation, or process,
  • withholding or misrepresenting critical information,
  • defining the collaborative task or roles too narrowly,
  • overly constraining allowed responses or behaviors.

Within an agile context, a product owner can prescribe a solution then use the agile planning to solicit a limited range of responses:

“Is it feasible?” “How long will it take?” “How much will it cost?”

All Scrum guarantees is that these questions will consider a manageable chunk of the application. But whether it’s a user story, minimum marketable feature or a full specification these questions fail to engage the life experience and passions of the team to addressing the core problem or opportunity.

Go on to create an environment where contrary thinking is a problem, define “buy in” as a lack of visible dissent and you’ve placed the development team in a black box they cannot see out of and you cannot see into.

Contrived collegiality leaves the product owner out on a limb. You’ve limited the chances of anticipating risks, redefining the opportunity in some dynamic way, and invention at any but the tactical level. Despite agile processes and a surface of collaboration, you are relying almost solely on your own abilities to avoid, as Mike Cohn says, “the wrong thing, on time and on budget.”

1 Hargreaves A. and Fullan M., What’s Worth Fighting for in Your School?, Teacher’s College Press, New York, 1991.

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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.

3 thoughts on “Contrived Collegiality

  1. Pingback: Collaboration and Competition: Balkanization vs. Bounded Cohabitation | Ken H. Judy

  2. All true points. The expertise is in re-framing the argument to something that is in the middle. There are very few black and white scenarios in the world and Balkanization vs. Bounded Cohabitation paints a world view at far ends of the spectrum.

    I would try to come up with something in the middle. A compromise, a solution, a win-win. What do both sides need to win (or survive)?

    It is in this this compromise that the solution will come.

  3. Pingback: Bounded Collaboration | Ken H. Judy

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