No Easy Solutions to Collaboration Problems

Image credit: iStockphoto/zoff-photo

Tech vendors love to talk about “solutions” — by which they mean their products. But let's not forget that there are no solutions unless someone has a problem.

Software is created to solve specific problems. Elegantly written software makes our personal and professional lives easier — where would modern society be without databases, for example?

Software and accompanying hardware are so pervasive in our present society that we forget the basic premise: a solution is created to solve a problem or set of problems. So let's talk about solutions to collaboration problems.

Spoiled by technology

As our business tools increasingly swerve towards the realm of technology, we tend to forget how fortunate we are to have computing power embedded into our processes. The NASA space program that launched humans into space in the 1960s had less total compute power than one of today's smartphones.

Let's reclaim the term “solution” from the marketing departments

We take massive databases and multi-core processors for granted. We copy files onto thumb-sized USB sticks that hold half a terabyte. We get upset if our food delivery apps don't remember that we like pineapple on our pizza...or hate it.

Technology handles so many of our problems that we have become accustomed to electronic luxury. Why complain about problems when we can just charge up the solutions on USB?

Because software is a hard solution to discrete problems. And this is why collaboration software cannot be viewed as a blanket solution to an organization's collaboration challenges. The path to a solution begins with diplomacy.


As we learned in the first article of this series, collaboration between intra-office teams is an exercise in diplomacy. We can talk about the tools we use (or plan to use) with “Shift left-testing,” but tools are of limited use unless we're willing to address related culture issues.

We have become accustomed to electronic luxury

In a recent virtual roundtable sponsored by Snyk titled “Silos Decoupled: The Case for Shifting Left and Right,” one participant gave culture a 90% score versus 10% for tools. Clearly, what an organization brings to the table in terms of soft skills helps define its culture, and that culture shapes collaboration strategies. It's never one-size-fits-all.

Intrapersonal versus interpersonal

Strong collaboration skills are desirable, but this is a journey and not a goal with KPIs. Remember, we are dealing with soft skills here.

With that in mind, let's look at two different kinds of skills:

Intrapersonal skills

The best way to remember this type of skill is “self-awareness.” People with strong intrapersonal skills are keenly aware of their strengths and weaknesses. These people typically see themselves as able to handle stress and frustrations calmly. This is a plus but remember that such people may have similar expectations of their colleagues. They may not empathize with coworkers who are less intrapersonally skilled.

Interpersonal skills

This describes how people who communicate with other people effectively. Those with strong interpersonal skills are comfortable with vetting possible solutions and developing action plans for them. These workers practice active listening as an aid to communication.

Note that intrapersonal versus interpersonal skills do not always indicate which employees are considered introverted versus extroverted. The former is more “inward-looking,” while the latter is considered more socially oriented. Employers want value from their employees, so people who demonstrate good interpersonal skills typically stand out from the pack.

Encourage the shy ones

Many tech workers (and often, the best ones) seem shy and nervous. They don't demonstrate strong interpersonal skills at the outset. Some are introverts, so let's take a look at what that means:


A person who prefers calm environments, limits social engagement, or embraces a greater than average preference for solitude.” Introverts can be socially awkward, but because an employee isn't keen on spectator sports and company functions doesn't mean they have little to offer. Especially in the tech world, many excellent and productive workers prefer to live their lives behind screens, secure in their calm and limited environments.


By contrast, an extrovert is “an outgoing, gregarious person who thrives in dynamic environments and seeks to maximize social engagement.” These are the employees who are quick to be noticed among their peers. That doesn't mean they are the most productive employees, nor the ones keenest to collaborate.

Path to a solution

We've seen that the technical term “solution” often rings hollow. Yet solving our problems (and clearing up our headaches) is our desired goal, so how do we achieve that?

Let's reclaim the term “solution” from the marketing departments and regard it in a more holistic light. Technical tools are helpful but not the be-all and end-all to our communication headaches.

The best approach is a diplomatic approach, where we consider all stakeholders — regardless of extroversion/introversion — within the overall equation.

This article is the fourth 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/zoff-photo