Together is the matter

Motivating is not enough

Integration is an important issue in project management and is defined in the PMBOK as “Integration management is a collection of processes required to ensure that the various elements of the projects are properly coordinated. It involves making trade-offs among competing objectives and alternatives to meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations.” More than important, it is the kind of thing able to make any manager lose quite a few nights of sleep, once managers (and related roles) are the ones who will not be praised if only the “parts” work, but if the “whole” does not. Nevertheless, regardless how many motivational videos might be carefully fed into the mouth of the team members, even if a tiny emotive tear forms up on the corner of their eyes, still, as soon as they sit on their chairs to do their work, their first thought will probably be about their own to-do tasks.
And who could blame them? After all, aren’t we individuals? And even if they would get touched by these reflexions on the importance of integration, what would they be supposed to do then? Do we expect them to stalk their colleagues during lunchtime to find out what they are doing? Or actively using their precious working hours inquiring somebody else’s deliverables? And what if one tries to do such a thing, and ends up being the only one who unofficially spent a lot of time on the “whole”, at the cost of delaying what is officially expected from the “self”? That is certainly a scary thought for anyone, and why would somebody run such risk? Especially when having no clue if these efforts will be at least acknowledge. It is like expecting a company to do some nonprofitable socially conscious action without a regulatory organ intervention or at least a media strategy for some sparkles.
Like a flower, integration is something that can only grow given the right conditions.

Abstract brutal force does not work

If motivating is not enough, one could maybe contemplate the possibility of simply adding the integration as an official task to everybody. But, why exactly does integration mean? If we give a moment of our time to reflect on it, we will realize that integration as a concept, can be very abstract. We know that for integration to succeed, the individual parts must be compatible. But, what precisely would we expect the team members to do? In this situation, we could simply end up with loads of specification documents written. And, nothing against that, as of course, we need documents, but is this really enough? How can we guarantee everybody is going to truly and thoroughly read them, and more importantly, understand them, and even more crucial, react on its contents? If nobody reacts, how can the manager know there was indeed no problem or if simply nobody reacted? And even if people would always react, what if the written specifications do not cover all the unclarities that some team members have in their minds regarding determined deliverables? And even if a methodology was created, using a whole suite of forms, documents, and diagrams that could help to cover all these possibilities, do you think people would really give their best thoughts for a tedious and heavy extra task like that? People would probably hate it and fantasize about finishing it before they even started it. Would that be effective? I doubt it.

Induced integration works

We are people, we are eager, we are lazy, we are sensitive,… we are alive! It is so much easier to gather strength to open our mouths and ask a question to somebody who we are sensing in front of us, than writing an e-mail or a document. Bringing people together physically seems like an obvious first step to construct an effective process of integration.
However, what is it being together? There are couples who have been married for years, share the same house, room, and bed, but in practice, barely talk to each other, and sometimes become complete strangers. Even when in the same environment, at times people just dive into their own thoughts. Furthermore, inquiring is not trivial, and one could even argue it is an art. Sometimes there is more contribution in asking the right question then in answering it. Besides, it is not uncommon that people tend to appreciate more the act of giving a speech than receiving one. And, of course, that, when one chooses a topic to address, they will probably prefer something they have clear in their minds, when what is actually tricky and worth to be discussed are the topics which are blurry, hard to see, or even dark and invisible to ourselves.
Having all these difficulties in mind, we decided to tackle them by creating situations for our team, on which conversation can be induced (inspired) and guided (moderated), challenging people to collaborate.
The first step was the realization of a Hackathon full of activities that created a situation for people to communicate regarding integration issues. This way they were not just required to ask/speak, but inspired to. This event allowed them to express and discuss their main doubts, fears, and expectations.
In the end, the event received a lot of positive feedback, and people said they felt not only much more informed about what was going on with the rest of the team (and their deliverables) but also felt more “listened to”.
The Hackathon gave birth to two kinds of meetings that became regular, though in different frequencies: The Friendly Meeting, for bringing people together and creating a constructive discussion environment, and the Pool Party, to be like a group hands-on session.

In summary, the Hackathon was a prototype for the Friendly Meeting, which is a preparation for the Pool Party, that finally, is a pretest for the moment of testing the final product when the deadline comes.

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