A Structured Analytical Approach to Team Collaboration

A recent client of mine said I delivered a structured approach and deep analytical skills to help their team approach a nebulous problem through collaboration. This feedback made me realize that ‘collaboration’ is one of those nebulous words like ‘innovation’ or ‘sustainability.’ While the consensus is that these concepts will lead to high performance in an organization, there is not consensus on what these concepts really mean. Because ‘collaboration’ is so nebulous, I used my analytical skills and 25 years of corporate experience with teams to develop a ‘Team Collaboration Assessment’ tool.

Fulcrum Connection’s ‘Team Collaboration Assessment’ tool is a structured approach based on a deep understanding of the social science behind collaboration to improve the performance of a team. The tool is based on the premise that improvement is not about doing everything otherwise you will surely fail. Improvement is first about assessment so that improvement needs can be prioritized. The tool enables a team to identify and then prioritize improvement needs and even provides guidance on follow-up action items to address the improvement needs. The tool also recognizes that a credible assessment needs a proven framework. A proven framework is one that has a track record for producing desired results. Fulcrum’s team collaboration assessment is based on three proven frameworks as follows:

Since I had not come across a tool like this in my 25 years of teamwork, I thought the tool might be unique. I did some online secondary research to test this concept and discovered ‘Kerry Buckley’s checklist for collaboration.’ This post compares Fulcrum’s ‘Team Collaboration Assessment’ tool to ‘Kerry Buckley’s checklist for collaboration.’

In overview, the checklist is comprised of 9 categories with a total of 51 elements. The assessment is comprised of three categories with a total of 28 elements.


Kerry Buckley Checklist for Collaboration Overview

Overview of Kerry Buckley’s Checklist for Collaboration

Team Collaboration Assessment Tool Pyramid 13Mar2015

Fulcrum Connection LLC’s Team Collaboration Assessment Tool Pyramid


The checklist helps provide conditions and a foundation for successful collaboration while the assessment diagnoses and then offers treatment for what is broken and not working well in a particular collaboration. More specifically, the checklist was designed to be a comprehensive approach to improve intelligence analysis within the intelligence community. The idea behind the checklist is that if you adequately address all the items on the checklist then collaboration will be successful. The assessment, on the other hand, was designed to improve the performance of teams within a science or technology organization. The assessment is a customizable approach. The idea behind the assessment is to learn from the gaps and prioritize the areas needing improvement based on what is most important to the team in achieving its objective.

In comparing the checklist to the assessment, both recognize the importance of process in effective collaboration but in different ways. Process brings the structure needed to account for interpersonal dynamics and to deliver results in the case of the assessment. Process enables the structure to assign roles and sustain interaction in the case of the checklist.

It is noteworthy that the checklist also advocates the use of extrinsic rewards which is a popular managerial approach. In his 2009 TED Talk titled ‘The Puzzle of Motivation,’ Daniel Pink provides the science behind why extrinsic rewards don’t work for knowledge workers (http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation?language=en). Knowledge workers are those whose job tasks require them to spend at least one-third of their time using knowledge from their brain rather than from something written down. Knowledge workers are motivated from within – they need work that is meaningful. Pink says the following:

…need a whole new approach for knowledge workers based on intrinsic motivation: a desire to do things because they matter, because they like it, because they are interesting and because they are part of something important.

Pink goes on to say ‘management is great if you want compliance’ but ‘if you want engagement, self-direction works better.’ Therefore, the checklist may be more appropriate for jobs that have low knowledge content because of the inclusion of extrinsic rewards. On the other hand, Fulcrum’s assessment is more appropriate for knowledge workers because the assessment empowers teams to improve themselves so they can excel at their knowledge work.

In comparing the checklist to the assessment, the assessment is unique in that it recognizes that interpersonal elements are as important as process elements for effective collaboration. Interpersonal elements account for 32% of the elements for the assessment while only 2% of the elements for the checklist. In a previous post (https://fulcrumconnection.com/blog/soft-stuff-hard-stuff-collaboratin/), the point was made that cognitive sharing becomes collaboration when it is combined with excellent relationship skills and there is a shared commitment by two or more people to address a problem or make a decision that produces value of importance to the participants. In addition, interpersonal relationship skills include cooperation and coordination, trust, intercultural sensitivity, service orientation, self presentation, social influence, and conflict resolution and negotiation. These are all interpersonal skills. Consequently, relationship skills are built from a foundation of effective interpersonal skills.

The assessment is also unique in that it recognizes the importance of delivering results during the collaboration. Elements related to delivering results during the collaboration accounted for 14% of the elements for the assessment versus 4% of the elements for the checklist. Fulcrum sees delivering results as the purpose of collaboration; one collaborates because you can have better results and more impact than if you pursue a goal on your own. Including delivery of results in the assessment comes from the mindset of self-direction for teams. Self-direction works best for knowledge workers per Daniel Pink above. Collaboration efforts for knowledge workers in a climate of control and compliance may not get enough autonomy to surpass managerial expectations for the collaboration. It is noteworthy that a results-orientation includes broadened thinking by the team to explore how to focus on the right results.

In comparing the checklist to the assessment, the checklist is unique in that it recognizes the importance of planning which accounts for 27% of the elements for the checklist and only 7% of the elements for the assessment. The checklist is also unique in that it recognizes the importance of ground rules at 12% of its elements while none of the elements of the assessment relate to ground rules. In the case of the assessment, planning and ground rules as pertains to collaboration are encompassed in the process elements.

The assessment recognizes that each group is unique and need only pay attention to the subset of behaviors most important to the objectives of and participants in the collaboration. In the checklist, one element is to identify the barriers to trust for the specific group. This is much harder than it sounds. For example, in “Speed of Trust” (http://www.myspeedoftrust.com/), Stephen M. Covey identifies 4 cores for self-trust, 13 behaviors for relationship trust, and each 7 low-trust taxes and 7 high-trust dividends for organizational trust. The subject of trust has many dimensions and is quite a complex topic in and of itself. Trust is one important element of collaboration but there are more that make the topic of collaboration a complex topic as well. The checklist provides a comprehensive approach to collaboration most suited for low knowledge-content work. An alternative to the comprehensive approach for knowledge workers is Fulcrum’s assessment to focus in on which aspects of this complexity to prioritize for improvement given the situation.

One final thought on the topic of improving collaboration: how you approach collaboration will be shaped by the type of climate in the organization. For example, collaboration in a hierarchical organization requires groundwork such as insuring you are not stepping on the wrong toes and that you are getting buy-in on the compelling results possible to persuade managers to give up some control over their employees to enable them to participate in the collaboration. Regardless of the organization’s climate, collaboration is always a challenge. Using tools like the checklist or the assessment can help identify ways to address the challenge of collaboration.

If you would like to learn more about how to improve your organization’s ability to collaborate or about the ‘Team Collaboration Assessment’ tool to help your project team achieve high performance, then contact Valerie Patrick at Fulcrum Connection LLC (412-742-9675 or valerie.patrick@fulcrumconnection.com). Ask about the first-time client offer.