Why is collaboration important? I once worked someplace that had collaboration as a core value, but not all of its employees collaborated. So I learned first hand why collaboration is important. It’s one of the best ways to be successful without making enemies.
I’m a security professional by trade. Security professionals are notoriously bad at collaborating. Collaboration may be the only thing I do better than other security professionals I’ve met, so I see the importance of it. And not just in security, and not just in IT.
It’s about success, but not just personal success
A couple of years ago, my son was having problems with his coach. His coach was a nice guy, but he’d played in college. My son is a great kid but not a great athlete. The coach was giving him a hard time, and one of his teammates was bullying him.
I told my son he’s never going to play in college, let alone professionally, and none of his teammates would either. But there was one thing he could learn from playing sports, and he’d learned it. He’d learned how to be a good teammate, and even his lousy coach who had it out for him acknowledged that.
At the time, I had two companies trying to hire me, and my son knew it. “There is only one reason those two companies want to hire me,” I told him. “They know I’m a good teammate. And good teammates are hard to find.”
I pulled my son from the sport and enrolled him in martial arts. I called his coach and told him what I was doing, and told him he could explain to his team why they’d be playing the last two games of the season shorthanded.
Collaboration as a corporate value
When I started at the company that has collaboration as a corporate value, I walked into a security team that had a toxic relationship with its infrastructure team. My security team had a few accomplishments that looked impressive on paper. But they looked better on paper than they worked in practice. We’ll leave it at that.
I went to the infrastructure team and introduced myself to them. I told them I’d worked infrastructure for nine years earlier in my career, including pushing patches. And I said I hoped we could work together.
We accomplished a lot together. In one summer, we cleared out about 75 percent of a backlog of work that was years in the making, and I had a get-well plan for what remained. I worked with three different teams, and by the end of that summer, not only were they working with me, but I had them collaborating with each other as well. I found that any given month, each of those teams knew one thing the others didn’t. Usually it was just one–these guys knew their stuff. By getting them to share their experience and their secrets, they made each other better.
One month, 25 percent of the work evaporated overnight. That specific project had some history behind it and they were afraid of having to unwind it if something went wrong. I told them that if something went wrong, to unwind it, but immediately tell me so I could go talk to the VP they were afraid of and deflect his wrath. I knew he wouldn’t be as upset as they thought he would be. They did the work, since I was giving them top cover. And it worked.
I gave them credit for the work they’d done. Later I found out not taking credit myself may have cost me some bonus money, but my integrity is worth more than that. Those guys would bail me out of jail if I needed them to.
Collaboration vs dictation
Another problem we had in our relationship was that security all too often dictated things to infrastructure. You can guess the result. Things got done badly. Or they didn’t get done.
One day, a manager asked me about an initiative that he found unpleasant. I knew what he was getting at. This initiative made his life harder. We went to a whiteboard and I mapped out the stages of an attack from a hacker. Hacking always involves seven phases. They don’t necessarily occur in order and some of them can repeat, but every attack has them.
I explained to him that everything a security team asks for is designed to either stop or disrupt one or more of those phases. If we’re able to successfully disrupt all seven of those things, our chances of ever being hacked were very low.
No one had ever explained that to him before. Today he’s a liaison between the two teams because he understands why the security team wants the things it wants.
On the day I gave my two weeks’ notice, one of the people on his team told me I was the only guy in security they would talk to, because I was the only one who listened to them.
A month later he sent me a text message. Someone else from security was on a rampage and driving him nuts. “Tell him to collaborate, not dictate,” I texted back. “Figuring out how to do the work is your job, not his. So is when. He’s not the only one asking you for stuff.”
Why is collaboration important? In conclusion
So why is collaboration important? Because it allows us to accomplish more than we would on our own, and everyone is happier with the results. It provides opportunities we wouldn’t get otherwise.
And it’s a small world. I run into people from my past all the time. If we’ve had a good, collaborative relationship in the past, things go well when we work together again. And if we didn’t have a good, collaborative relationship in the past? Chances are they didn’t collaborate with others either. And usually that’s still holding them back.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.