I've spent all of my professional career working at a large multinational company. In this time I've been involved in lots of different cross-team and cross-divisional collaboration efforts. Some times these groups were in the same organization and other times you would have to go up five to ten levels up the org chart before you found a shared manager. Surprisingly, the presence or lack of shared management has never been the key factor that has helped or hindered such collaborative efforts.

Of all the problems I've seen when I've had to depend on other teams for help in getting a task accomplished or vice versa; there have been two insidious that tend to crop up in situations where things go awry. The first is misaligned goals. Just because two groups are working together doesn't mean they have the same motivations or expected end results. Things quickly go awry when one group's primary goals either run counter to the goal(s) of the group they are supposed to be collaborating with. For example, consider a company that requires its technical support to have very low average call time to meet their metrics. Imagine that same company also puts together a task force to improve the customer satisfaction with the technical support experience after lots of complaints from their customers. What are the chances that the task force will be able to effect positive change if the metrics used to reward their tech support staff remain the same? The funny thing is that large companies often end up creating groups that are working at cross purposes yet are supposed to be working together.

What makes misaligned goals so insidious is that the members of the collaborating groups who are working through the project often don't realize that the problem is that their goals are misaligned. A lot of the time people tend to think the problem is the other group is evil, a bunch of jerks or just plain selfish. The truth is often that the so-called jerks are really just thinking You're not my manager, so I'm not going to ask how high when you tell me to jump. Once you find out you've hit this problem then the path to solving it is clear. You either have to (i) make sure all collaborating parties want to reach the same outcome and place have similar priorities or (ii) jettison the collaboration effort.

Another problem that has scuttled many a collaboration effort is when one or more of the parties involved has undisclosed concerns about the risks of collaborating which prevents them from entering into the collaboration wholeheartedly or even worse has them actively working against it. Software development teams experience this when they have to manage dependences on their project or that they have on other projects. There's a good paper on the topic entitled Managing Cognitive and Affective Trust in the Conceptual R&D Organization by Diane H. Sonnenwald which breaks down the problem of distrust in conceptual organizations (aka virtual teams) in the following way

Two Types of Trust and Distrust: Cognitive and Affective
Two types of trust, cognitive and affective, have been identified as important in organizations (McAllister, 1995; Rocco, et al, 2001). Cognitive trust focuses on judgments of competence and reliability. Can a co-worker complete a task? Will the results be of sufficient quality? Will the task be completed on time? These are issues that comprise cognitive trust and distrust. The more strongly one believes the answers to these types of questions are affirmative, the stronger one’s cognitive trust. The more strongly one believes the answers to these types of questions are negative, the stronger one’s cognitive distrust.

Affective trust focuses on interpersonal bonds among individuals and institutions, including perceptions of colleagues’ motivation, intentions, ethics and citizenship. Affective trust typically emerges from repeated interactions among individuals, and experiences of reciprocated interpersonal care and concern (Rosseau, et al, 1998). It is also referred to as emotional trust (Rocco, et al, 2001) and relational trust (Rosseau, et al, 1998). It can be “the grease that turns the wheel” (Sonnenwald, 1996).

The issue of affective distrust is strongly related to lacking shared goals while working together as a team which I've already discussed. Cognitive distrust typically results in one or more parties in the collaboration acting with the assumption that the collaboration is going to fail. Since these distrusting group(s) assume failure will be the end result of the collaboration they will take steps to insulate themselves from this failure. However what makes this problem insidious is that the "untrusted" groups are often not formally confronted about the lack of trust in their efforts and thus risk mitigation is not formally built into the collaboration effort. Eventually this leads to behavior that is counterproductive to the collaboration as teams try to mitigate risks in isolation and eventually there is distrust between all parties in the collaboration. Project failure often soon follows.

The best way to prevent this from happening once you find yourself in this situation is to put everyone's concerns on the table. Once the concerns are on the table, be they concerns about product quality, timelines or any of the other myriad issues that impact collaboration, mitigations can be put in place. As the saying goes sunlight is the best disinfectant, thus I've also seen that when the "distrusted" team becomes fully transparent in their workings and information disclosure it quickly makes matters clear. Because one of two things will happen; it will either (i) reassure their dependents that their fears are unfounded or (ii) confirm their concerns in a timely fashion. Either of which is preferable to the status quo.

Now Playing: Mariah Carey - Cruise Control (featuring Damian Marley)


 

Saturday, May 17, 2008 4:26:52 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
This past week I had several occasions to bemoan your absence. And now here you are.

Thanks for this. The cognitive-affective distinction is interesting and adds something useful to problems about unspoken (different) agendas and need for cooperative risk management.

I can apply this immediately. I also find that the problem of distrust and how it has great self-fulfilling prophecy strength is very important.

There's another, not gone into here, but I think it applies: when we are distrusting of another, we can justify all of our own untrustworthy behavior. It is easy to see examples in public life, international relations, and business dealings.
Monday, May 19, 2008 9:30:29 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Very interesting, I took some serious notes of things I plan to implement in our teams at work.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008 6:45:28 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Hi Dare, I was wondering if you were the one who developed the Flickr badge gadget for msn spaces, I have just added to my space but I can´t reach how to save my own pictures, it always show the default user pictures, any idea of how can I correct this. Thanks
Comments are closed.