What if some prefer privacy above cooperation? – PolyU student question

One of the questions asked by PolyU students is:


Everyone cherishes his/hers privacy. Therefore, I think privacy is more an excuse than a real reason why someone does not cooperate. Effective cooperation requires certain amount of vulnerability from everyone involved. This is much easier for a person with higher status – official or unofficial by means of knowledge, experience, or earned respect. These people are less likely to put themselves in vulnerable position, because they do not need to be vulnerable in order to cooperate. They simply rely on e.g. their knowledge. This gives them a sense of security. Cooperation with others could even been seen as a mean to further elevate their status.

I believe that most important reason why people not collaborate is lack of this security. They might feel less capable, and therefore less confident, than the rest of the group. From their perspective, they are also not / will not be appreciated for their contribution. If both of these problems are active, collaboration becomes impossible. In other words, if anything or anyone threatens to make someone seem less capable, that someone will definitely tend to not cooperate out of protection.

Some might say, a person is simply an introvert. A large misconception about introverts is that they don’t like to cooperate. Introverts definitely love to engage with others in order to create something together. They only have their own rules before spending their energy on cooperation. They also need to feel comfortable with a person first.

In Agile environment, it is simply unworkable to have people working in corners alone, protecting their privacy. Self-organising teams cannot operate without everyone’s involvement. I sometimes express this to a whole team, without ever calling the person by name. Also, in most of Agile practices everyone is involved. Mere introduction of these might solve the problem.

Another reason why people are not cooperating, is because they believe it is more effective to work alone. Why? Because of the exactly opposite reason: the rest is not as capable as he is, why bother? In IT, we call this: Hero-Driven Development. One, or few guys who do everything because the rest is too slow. It looks as if team would never work without these guys, but very opposite is the truth. In extreme cases, the best thing to do is firing this hero.

This all does not mean we are allowed to force someone to collaborate. It does not work like that. As I just described, the reasons can be very deep. It takes a lot of effort to change them. This effort must come just as much from the rest of the group, as the person in question. One universal approach is appreciation. Encourage the person to contribute by asking her help, ask and value her opinion, give compliments when she contributes. This all takes time, sometimes years in order to see a change. I’ve seen some amazing changes in the past years. Therefore, newly forged short living teams are less likely to work as really self-organising teams.

In Asia, language seems to be a problem. In more international companies, where English is the main language, Asians tend to feel a bit insecure in presence of all those British or Americans. This might influence collaboration. The word here is: patience. Let person find his words, take his time, do not interrupt him, or prematurely state that you already know what he is trying to say.

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