Agility and collaboration
The evolution of human collaboration

  The SAFe DevOps picture:  

DevOps can’t take root and grow without a culture of sharing and collaboration.

In order to create a successful DevOps environment, we have to build a culture of sharing and collaboration. 

SAFe DevOps is also all encompassing. It is a single continuous flow from the Hypothesis on what product or service the customer may want all the way to delivering the service, collecting data on the use of the product and learning from it. 

Making SAFe work basically requires a culture of company-wide collaboration.

Seems a tall order. At least agile only requires self-governing multi-functional teams and we are finally learning how to build those (check out our TeamGrowing approach). But here we are talking about collaboration across the entire Value stream, and why not, the entire company.

Googling Cooperation and Collaboration does not offer a lot of consolation either.

 Cooperation is working together, say in a project. 

Collaboration is the real stuff, with trust and being involved and work with each other. Teamwork++ so to say. 

Googling “psychology of collaboration” then brings to light the next point. 

There is no psychological theory of collaboration.

Game theory, yes. Some other stuff, obviously. But a real theory: no. The Institute of Collaborative Working comes with an impressive document, which starts out with the statement: “It is important to restate that collaboration is interpersonal. It begins with people.” Who would have guessed… The report concludes that making an industry standard for collaboration is not possible. Not that surprising, I would say.

There is a biological theory of collaboration, though, and as I am a biologist by training, let me share some points.

For starters, you may want to watch the TED-talk by Frans de Waal https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPsSKKL8N0s.

I once met Frans de Waal while I was a student. He showed himself a man after my heart by imitating the calls of a dominant male chimpanzee in the restaurant of Burger’s Zoo in the Netherlands, where he was studying a group of chimpanzees at the time. He became the leading authority on chimpanzee politics.

We can indeed learn a lot about ourselves by studying chimpanzees and our other biological closest relatives.

But humans are no chimpanzees. We are way more social animals.

You can get a clue by looking at the skulls from a male and a female chimp. Look at the canines...

And look what this translates into when the male opens his mouth:


And now compare with human skulls:


And see what happens when a human male opens his mouth.

Do you want this guy on your team? Looks friendly. Looks collaborative…

As a woman, you may not mind this guy to be the father of your children, either? Such a smile...

So how did we become so different from chimpanzees..

Below is a picture of a hunting-gathering people, the San. This is how we lived for hundreds of thousands of years. In small, intensely collaborative groups of people. Males and females largely equal, although with a different role and foraging strategy, with the men hunting and the women gathering edible plants. With built in systems in our brains, rewarding us for the right kind of behavior. Making us fall in love, so that we stay with a single partner. An acute sense of fairness. Collaborative.

So here we see the essence of human collaboration: males and females work together, long-time. Males work together as well, adopting monogamy and reducing competition for the females after the initial partner selection.

Humans are the collaborative ape, biologically speaking. It is built in.

I visited the San last year, and the striking thing is the scantiness of their possessions. Hunters walk around with a small quiver containing a few arrows and an astonishingly small bow. No house, no property, just living of skills and collaboration. No longer, of course, currently the San are settled as their way of life is considered poaching.

It somewhere went wrong. Herding and agriculture allowed the accumulation of wealth. Worth fighting for. Defending, military, chiefs, kings.

So yes, we have learnt how to build and maintain hierarchies, defend property, used other people as slaves, fought wars, played politics like chimpanzees, oppressed women. Still do. And we have learnt how to work and collaborate in such hierarchies.

But this may not be who we really are, the species we evolved into.

And then an interesting thing is happening now. We have finally created an economic environment where agile, multi-functional teams without hierarchy are more successful that the traditional hierarchies. Where women are equally valued. Where you ‘travel light’ and are successful based on your skills rather than your economic assets.

Strangely, then, we may be returning to the roots of what defines us a humans, biologically speaking. Working in small groups of equals, dealing with an unpredictable environment and relying on our wits. And the stories we tell...


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