When young people ask me for career advice, I always tell them: “Don’t just focus on your own accomplishments. Be a collaborator,”

The quote above comes from Harvard Career Expert, Heidi K. Gardner, in her article, “The No. 1 ‘desirable skill’ that very few people have—especially men.” In it she describes how her research unlocked an important and often overlooked insight: “People who figured out how to collaborate across teams gained a major competitive edge over those who did not.” Collaborators have been shown to deliver better results, have more satisfied customers and get promoted faster. 

She also goes on to explain a fact that shocked her even more: Collaboration skills are surprisingly rare, especially among men. Gardner points to a McKinsey study that found that female leaders are roughly twice as likely to spend substantial time collaborating as men. Counterpoint to this though, is that OSS / BSS projects tend to have a significantly higher proportion of men involved (in our experience at least).

The crucial role of collaboration in successful OSS/BSS projects

Anyone who has been involved in a major OSS / BSS project, will know just how important collaboration is. These projects are an amalgam of skills including software development, network expertise, IT administration, project management, operations awareness, training, testing, user interaction design, workflow design, data migration and much more. It’s rare for these skills to all be implemented by a single individual, even if one person on the team does possess all of these skills. There’s simply too much to do for all tasks to be allocated to one individual. 

As you look through that list of skills above, and their associated activities, you’ll notice just how cross-dependent they are upon each other. The overall solution simply can’t be assembled without collaboration. 

Not only that, but OSS and BSS tools are designed with a primary purpose of aiding with coordination and collaboration. They not only require collaboration, but promote the delivery of collaboration. Clearly, collaboration is tightly entwined in the DNA of every OSS / BSS project.

Collaborators: the secret to achieving greatness in OSS/BSS projects

If you stop to think about it, do you notice that the people who are “the glue” that binds all of these skills together on any given OSS/BSS project are also the broadest collaborators? And possibly the most valuable for making the project delivery happen?

So, if:

  • Collaboration skills are essential for the delivery of great project outcomes and
  • Collaborators have a competitive edge over those who don’t and
  • OSS/BSS projects could be argued to be statistically less likely to contain collaborators

Is there anything you can do about it, personally or as a team on your OSS/BSS project (or career for that matter)?

How to become a more collaborative leader?

Gardner argues that there is. Her article identifies 5 ways to become a more collaborative leader (even if you don’t possess the title of a leader).

  1. Be an inclusive leader – take steps to draw diverse people, domains and thinking together into conversations
  2. Show appreciation and acknowledgement – many workers, especially men, don’t give adequate credit to their colleagues for their accomplishments, as outlined in this Harvard Business School study
  3. Ask for help – reach out to others when seeking insights. Their opinions and knowledge helps to make your findings more rounded and compelling. Mentioning your colleagues when presenting your findings also helps to give them additional credibility
  4. Crowdsource – find ways, such as informal communities, to increase collaboration and knowledge sharing
  5. Share data streams – not just on an individual level, but on a project-wide level by using visible scorecards and dashboards to make critical information accessible and transparent

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how collaboration has impacted your OSS/BSS project and whether you have other ideas on how to become a more collaborative leader.