Work with a partner

There are times when working with a single other person – pair management – is better than working alone or with a team.

Some professions such as police have a long tradition of working in pairs. Recently software programmers have started to practice pair programming where two people sit together and alternate roles of writing and reviewing software code. The resulting quality improvements can make this process more productive overall.

Pair management has some of the benefits of teams. A pair will generate more ideas than one person working alone. A pair generates a greater diversity of ideas, increasing the chances of having better ideas. A pair can work in parallel, going faster by simultaneously working on two related tasks. A pair can improve quality by working together on the same task. A pair of people can morally support each other, and people feel more satisfaction and learn more when working in pairs than alone.

A pair can work more quickly than a team because communication and coordination between two people is easier than among a team.

Do it now
Begin with a defined project or task that can benefit from more than one person but doesn’t require a team to complete. Collaborate with someone who has complimentary skills and select an interaction style from the list below.

Work with a partner who has complimentary skills, such as:

  • Different skills with the same perspective, such as a more creative person to compliment a more analytical person
  • Similar skills with a different perspective, such as knowledge from inside the organization to compliment knowledge from outside the organization
  • Broader or deeper skills, such a range of relevant experience to compliment deep expertise in a particular area

When working with a partner, choose an interaction style suited to the activity at hand, for example:

  • In continuous review one person does the work and the partner continuously reviews the quality of the work. The pair periodically switches roles.
  • In problem solving both partners work together to solve a problem through tasks like generating ideas and building an analytical model.
  • In complimentary tasks each partner does a different task that benefits from real-time communication with the other partner. For example, if you’re testing a prototype one person can run the test and the other person records the results.

The main pitfall to avoid when working in a pair is groupthink. Partners need to feel comfortable showing healthy skepticism toward each other’s ideas. Careful matching of personalities is important in forming effective pairs. For example, it can be difficult for someone to provide honest feedback to another person higher up in the organizational hierarchy.

There are times when working alone or with a proper team is better, see Work Alone and Work as a Team.

Work as a team

A group of people working as a team is often the best way to complete a project because teams can generate more work of higher quality than individuals or large groups.

Do it now
Form a team of people for a project requiring new ideas and more work than one or two people can do. Keep the team small (seven or fewer people). Include complimentary skill sets and knowledge in the people you choose. Establish a goal for the team and establish a way the team should work together. Ensure everyone knows the whole team is responsible for the team’s performance; no one person can succeed without the whole team succeeding.

A team can generate many ideas of a greater diversity because each person contributes their own ideas. A team can work quickly by simultaneously performing several tasks. A team can improve quality be checking each other’s work. Through collaboration (see Create by designing together), teams can apply complimentary expertise to one goal.

For small or well-defined tasks, teams can be less productive than other configurations of people. At some point the added communication and coordination required among a team results in diminishing benefits and it becomes better to work alone or in pairs.

The biggest pitfall is a group of people working together who think they’re a team, but don’t act as one. If each individual primarily works in his or her own department and collaborates by trading emails and meeting occasionally, this is not a team. A team is a small group of people collaborating closely on a daily basis to accomplish a defined goal.

Work alone

There are times when working alone is more productive than working with a partner or a team.

Working alone is useful when you need to expand on an existing idea, to carefully synthesize information, or do imaginative thinking. Working alone can also be useful to finish a familiar task quickly without interference.

Working alone isn’t always the most productive; particularly when you want to generate a large diversity of ideas, accomplish a team’s worth of work, or check the quality of your own work. There are times when working with a partner or with a team is better.

Do it now
Reserve time on your calendar for working alone. Go to a quiet place that stimulates productive work, like a library. If you have a definitive goal, start by planning how you’ll use your time.

Create by designing together

Working directly with other people to design or build something – co-creation – can produce significantly more productive results when creating a product than talking only.

Do it now
At the next meeting of your team, set a single goal for everyone to accomplish together. Post big sheets of paper on the wall and give each person a marker to contribute. Ask everyone to express his or her thoughts on the goal in the form of writing/drawing on the wall.

When talking, people may address the same topic but talk about it so that they further their own goals instead of the group’s goals. To align the group, set a goal that the product must produce and instruct them to work together to create a product that achieves that goal. The group can work on building the actual product, or design it on paper or electronically, though to Radiate information it’s often best to start with big sheets of paper or a whiteboard. By changing the style of work from discussion to creation the individual agendas become secondary to the shared agenda of designing the product.

Here’s a story: A programmer and a marketer were in a meeting talking about creating a new watch for runners. “If we use satellite positioning, we can show runners where they are at any time,” said the programmer, “it’s a killer technology.”

“So what?” replied the marketer, “it’s a novelty that will get old. Our research shows they want a watch that will make their daily run less monotonous. Maybe it plays a different melody at each 100 meter mark.”

“That’s definitely not a novelty,” joked the programmer. “We can’t charge more money for that, but we could if we included satellite positioning.”

Pulling out a big sheet of paper, they write down the goal: A watch that makes daily running less monotonous and can sell for $150. They brainstormed different ways of making running more fun, of using the available technology, and of which product features consumers pay a premium. Every suggestion had to make sense within those constraints. Eventually they designed a satellite positioning watch that plotted a different route for each run through the runner’s neighborhood.