Poaching vs. Collaboration

September 12, 2014


No one wants advice, only collaboration. – John Steinbeck

Imagine you are working as part of a team on a project. One day your manager approaches you and says, “There is this really high priority project that has come up and we need you and your expertise on it. We are going to move you onto that team for the duration of the project. Is that OK with you?”

How would you feel about that? I know how I would feel. I would feel jerked around. I would not feel in control or part of the decision making. I might even feel that the value of my membership to the team that I’m already on is being discounted. In short, it would suck.

How do you think your team would feel about it? Would they feel like they were able to participate in, let alone determine, the membership of their team? They wouldn’t feel in control of anything either. In fact, they might even feel victimized by the whole experience. They might be thinking, “Geez, we are screwed. How are we going to finish this project without Joe?” They might even wonder why you were the one who was chosen. That could lead to all sorts of fun misunderstandings.

So what would you do instead? After all, there is this project or team that needs help. It’s a top priority – a higher priority than anything else you are working on now. How can we manage this situation without destroying the integrity of the team?

Instead of moving individuals we could take the problem to the whole team. Perhaps a manager would come and sit down with the team and describe what they need. They could explain the trade offs and the specifics of what the other team needs help with. Then they might ask, “Could you guys help this other team out…as a team.”

This would have all sorts of advantages. If a team needs help and you send them just one guy, you’ve increased your team size by one person. If instead, an entire team pitches in to help, then you get the resources of 6 or 7 guys. Forget whatever multiplier effect you might get from a closely knit team – which solution is going to deliver results faster? That’s right, the team of 7. And there is more benefit besides productivity. By engaging the team in this fashion you are asking them to remain a team, and to help another team. Team’s helping teams – what a great idea!

You don’t hurt morale. You leave the decisions on how to manage the problem to the teams – so they feel like they own the problem. They are engaged, they are helping someone else. It really does have a lot going for it.

So what about that other project you were working on? You know, the one that you had to put down to help out with that other team? What about that project? Wasn’t it important too? Sure, but it wasn’t as high a priority, so it waits. This encourages the kind of organizational focus where everyone is attending to the most important issues first, rather than scattering their efforts across multiple lower priority issues in the name of higher utilization or productivity.

So if you are currently in the habit of pulling people off of teams in order to solve resourcing problems, I’m here to tell you that there is another way. If you are open minded enough to give it a try, you might just find that it may be a better way.