The Diplomacy of Collaboration

Image credit: iStockphoto/SetsukoN

Collaboration between internal teams is problematic. And the first step toward finding a solution is admitting that the problem exists.

Synergy occurs when groups of people combine their time, ideas, and resources to work together and create a single outcome. But employees need direction and motivation to collaborate effectively.

The goal is to create an environment that allows collaborative endeavors to grow and evolve. And to do that, we strive to become diplomats.

How diplomats communicate

Diplomacy is typically applied to the political wrangling of nation-states but applies to “office politics” as well. Regardless of how well your teams seem to get along, individual agendas can cause gaps in communication, hindering collaboration. How do we get our teams to speak the same language?

The first step is to understand that even though teams are supposed to be on the same page, they don't necessarily speak the same language. It doesn't work that way.

Mind your language

Language reflects culture, and it's just as complicated. Experts from China, Singapore, and the U.S., for example, don't communicate the same way even though they all use the English language. Add in technical terms, and the situation resembles a Tower of Babel very quickly. It's no wonder that communication professionals are frustrated.

The key to encouraging stakeholders to talk to each other is to establish a common language, which is not as simple as it sounds. Remember the culture aspect. Consider that while programmers may live on Planet Code, CISOs live on Planet Spreadsheet — that is, different groups have different priorities, which may not be obvious to the casual observer.

Language reflects culture, and it's just as complicated

Another example: developers and DevOps teams typically want to test before production. They see ownership of cloud infrastructure as a strategy and may see it as the only way forward. Conversely, security teams — and their Ops counterparts — seek to embed security as early as possible in the software development lifecycle (SDLC). They see this as an essential foundation for the DevSecOps culture.

We see a culture clash. Effective collaboration depends on getting these different tribes to work towards a common goal. This is a challenging journey, but the rewards justify the effort.

A goal, not a timeframe

Our lives would be easier if developer teams communicated with security teams — starting tomorrow or even earlier. But our strategies will be easier if we view this outcome as a goal rather than an item to be ticked off a to-do list.

Think of diplomacy as the art of persuading teams with different mindsets, skill-sets, and perceived goals to reach a common goal. Managers should view themselves as diplomats working towards that goal.

Hear the similarities, not the differences

Teams cannot be expected to speak the same language in-house. And there's another layer of obfuscation when it comes to technology workers — many skilled workers in these disciplines are, for lack of a better term, less than talkative. They prefer to let their work (their code, their development) speak for them. And their culture reflects this — if the language is clearly written on screens, they feel they don't have to speak up.

These workers may be shy and think they have no useful information to add. Yet often, the quietest employees have the most to contribute. Give them an opportunity to do so.

Remember that organized collaboration can be stressful for some employees—especially if they're introverted and accustomed to working silently (and remember that the quiet ones just might be your most valuable employees). It's helpful to refer to an initial collaborative effort as a “brainstorming session” to create an air of informality and take the pressure off.

Another technique is to allow nonverbal communication in a non-intrusive manner. Text-messaging apps can provide anonymous communication channels for live participation and drive input from participants that would otherwise be lacking.

Eyes on the prize

Effective collaboration is an important goal, and we won't get there overnight. It's important to remind all stakeholders to keep an eye on the prize: an effective and efficient workflow that benefits everyone.

Successful planning of collective work requires time and dedication. The function of diplomacy is to convince all participants that such efforts are worth it in the long run.

Creative collaboration strategies

As this series continues, we'll explore different strategies while continuing our journey of diplomacy. Here are some ideas to keep in mind:

• Progress, not perfection

• Keep stakeholders curious

• Hear the similarities, not the differences

• Get them to talk about their culture and what's important to them

• Don't quantify the positive effects of collaboration at first—focus instead on the importance of communication

This article is the first in a series on effective collaboration techniques for cybersecurity.

Stefan Hammond is a contributing editor to CDOTrends. Best practices, the IOT, payment gateways, robotics and the ongoing battle against cyberpirates pique his interest. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/SetsukoN