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Teamwork should be multiplicative not additive

Teach students how to level up their team collaboration to achieve more

A few months ago Cliff Hazel posted a question on LinkedIn that speculated that ‘the sum is greater than the parts’, because you multiply people instead of adding them in a team. Without going into exact detail, I’d like to think this through a bit more.

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

Imagine a team of six students. There are a number of possible scenarios for how they do their work together.

Option A: Each person does their work on their own, and once a week they gather to integrate their work, and plan the work for the next week. This is probably the default option that I see the most frequently with my students.

Option B: Each person pairs with another person to do their work together, and the team gathers weekly as a mob to integrate their work, and plan the work for the next week. This happen less frequently with my students.

My assumption is that Option A would be additive, and Option B might be multiplicative in practice. In Option B the sum is greater than the parts.

Team work should include collaboration

In Option A the team members are doing the minimal possible in their collaboration. They are pulling the work together to achieve a shared goal, but they are spending as little time as possible doing the work together. Each team member is trying to follow their ‘normal’ way of working on their own. This will also mean a slow feedback loop, as missing work, or poor quality will only be noticed during the weekly meeting.

In Option B the team members are doing more collaboration. They are doing the work together. The team has a shared vision of how to do the work to achieve their shared goal. They are spending more time together to do the work. Each team member is working in a collaborative mode to avoid doing work individually. This will be fast feedback in pairing and mobbing sessions. The quality and speed of adapting to new information will be higher.

In Option B the team is discovering ways of working, of collaborating to improve the work they do together. In Option B the team is getting out of the way to enable their collaboration to reach its potential.

Encourage your student teams to use Option B

You can help your student teams to do better. Ask them questions when you meet with each team to find out how they do their work. Do people pick tasks, do they pair, or mob? If they aren’t, then ask them why they’re not doing this.

I discovered that some teams thought when I said they should ‘pair on tasks’ that this meant two people work on it individually and then combine their work. I had to carefully explain that I meant do the work together at the same time, in the same place. When they understood this, then they moved to do that more often.

When the team have busy schedules, then remind them to prioritise the time spent pairing/mobbing for complicated work. They can do the less complicated work individually.

As a bonus, remind them this pairing will also help them improve the work of the students, who are less present in the team. There is often one team, who has a person who is late to meetings, and contributes less. By pairing with this person, the team can help them improve their contribution by learning how to do the work with another person. This is good for both of them as explained in a previous post.

When will you talk about this with your teams?

This post is part of a project pulling together my materials and ideas about Teaching Team Collaboration: the Human-Side of Software Development for software development to students.

The ideas above are from my book 101+ Ideas to Improve Team Collaboration, which covers all of these little things that students can do to improve their collaboration.

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