Work Solo or Collaborate? How to Choose Based on What Benefits You

Work Solo or Collaborate? How to Choose Based on What Benefits You

Do you prefer collaborative or solo work? Some of us prefer to work alone because we know how to be effective, even if our work is not independent of everyone else's work. Or, if we work as part of a workgroup, such as HR or Finance, we only share a departmental goal, not a product goal. Workgroups might not need to collaborate because their work might be independent of anyone else's deliverables.

I see too many disincentives to collaborate, even when people are part of product or feature teams—when those teams share a common goal.

But, sometimes, it depends not just on the type of work but also on the cultural context.

Benefits of Solo Work

Most people tell me they love solo work because they can focus. That “get-into-the-zone” focus allows people to:

  • Feel as if we work faster,
  • Enjoy solving the problem, and
  • Gain the finishing satisfaction.

We feel we have more autonomy, mastery, and purpose when we work alone.

But what happens when your work has to mesh or integrate with other people's work? One of us—even in focus—might delay all the work. (You can measure the cycle time to measure and visualize those delays.) While people can work alone, the work is not independent.

That's why I recommend managers and product/feature teams collaborate on their work.

Benefits of Collaborative Work

When we collaborate even with just one person, we can:

  • Integrate feedback as we proceed to learn and make the product better.
  • Build trust and respect with others as we work. (Especially if you pair, swarm, or mob with your team.) In my experience, managers discount the value of trust and respect because they are intangible benefits.
  • Continual assessment of why and how we're doing this work.

However, collaboration isn't for everyone and every team/workgroup. Often, that's because of the culture of your organization.

Cultural Considerations

How busy are you? Are you “stretching” to meet your daily or weekly goal because you have so much individual work? That's a sign your managers think in resource efficiency, not flow efficiency. You can choose to collaborate with others, but you might feel safe enough to do so, especially if you feel that supporting someone else might negatively affect your salary or bonus.

But you might feel unsafe for other reasons. Sometimes, managers believe that 10x people exist. Then, managers allow supposed “superstars” to work as unjellers. The unjellers destroy potential teamwork and reinforce a nasty culture. (See Management Myth #6: I Can Save Everyone or more of a discussion in Practical Ways to Lead and Serve Others.)

Consider Your Viable Options

I see these options, especially if you feel overwhelmed with work:

  • Keep your head down and continue to work alone. Yes, this is a viable and reasonable option. You'll finish your work, even if you won't help the organization ship product faster. Or help yourself learn earlier. But you'll protect your salary and bonus.
  • Raise the idea of collaboration with your manager. Ask your manager how collaboration might affect them and their pay structure.
  • Consider peer one-on-ones to socialize the concept of collaboration. You can start collaborating one-on-one.

You might see other options.

Solo Work Differs from Independent Work

Many managers believe that people can work solo because each person's work is independent of another. That might be true for a workgroup, such as Sales, Finance, or HR. But that's not true for product development teams.

While we can work independently, many of us learn better when we work—at least a little—with others. Consider your options for solo or collaborative work and what you will do to create your desired culture.

(I wrote this because several people asked about when it was not reasonable to have peer one-on-ones. When you work alone, no, you don't need many one-on-ones. Although, you probably need many more meetings to manage the interdependencies. This newsletter touches on several topics in Modern Management Made Easy, book 2, Practical Ways to Lead and Serve Others.)


Learn with Johanna

I'm almost ready to announce the Q1 2023 writing workshop. In the meantime, feel free to add yourself to the email list if you think you want to take that workshop in the future.

I'm also considering offering public management workshops. Up until now, I've only offered them as private in-house workshops. If you're interested in public management workshops, take a look at that page and add yourself to the email list. And, if you want me to bring those workshops to your leaders and managers, reply to this newsletter and we can chat.


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© 2022 Johanna Rothman

Pragmatic Manager: Vol 19, #11, ISSN: 2164-1196

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