This article is the second in a series of three which is a republishing of my chapter on soft skills from the PowerShell Conference Book Volume 2.

If you haven’t read the first article on communication, that’s okay, as each article has it’s own topics. I would suggest to read it though, as it will help round out your general knowledge of soft skills.


Collaboration isn’t easy.

Personalities often collide, fueling negative emotions which break down the connections that allow for collaboration. This happens because everyone is a unique individual, a human being capable of myriad emotions (some simultaneously).

Collaboration fails due to a lack of goals and expectations. It’s also hindered by trust issues between Us and Them, especially because of the Chasm of IT.

How to Collaborate for Success

Collaboration takes effort. Draft, enact, and maintain a plan to promote success for collaboration. Like communication, collaboration is a skill that can be learned and expanded upon.

Defined Goals

Your team, department, and organization should be working toward a single, clearly defined goal. In fact, having one goal is a staple for an organization implementing DevOps principles.

Collaboration within your team should further that goal. Create short and long-term goals that support it.

Everyone on the team must understand the current goal, along with the organizational goal. Furthermore, each team member must know how their contribution will meet various goal objectives.


The collaboration team must set the expectations for each member’s role assignment and set the frequency of standing meetings. The team must decide the ways information will be shared, both internally and externally.

Discuss tools and standards for communication and work performed. Establish metrics that should correlate with specific outcomes of each goal.


The pioneers and early adopters of DevOps practices realized that teamwork was the only way to alter the IT landscape to support emerging demands. Collaboration, the foundation of teamwork, requires trust between team members and trust between the employee and the organization. People mustn’t fear judgment to present their ideas and solutions. Failures shouldn’t be fodder for blame-casting.

DevOps is a result of a healthy culture and healthy thinking.

—Dave Hahn, SRE Manager at Netflix, DevOpsDays Rockies 2016

Building trust, or especially repairing broken trust, doesn’t happen overnight. People must walk away from their comfort zones and have a safe setting, free from retribution. It must be okay for people to allow their humanity to show, to be human, and to make mistakes.

Humans Make Mistakes, Learn from Them

You are Human

The Greeks were the first to utter “know thyself” but they weren’t the last. As you continue to learn new skills in your career, and the world in general, don’t forget to learn about the most important person to you there is—you! It’ll take some reflection and insight to figure out just who you are, how you feel, and why you feel. Don’t worry if you struggle to find, and meet, the inner you. Certain types of people are better at self-reflection and self-awareness. Don’t allow discouragement to settle on you and don’t give up.

Here are a few things to remember:

  • You are a human being, prone to mistakes.
  • Emotions and needs drive you.
  • Forgive yourself for your shortcomings, failures, bad decisions, and mistakes.
  • Forgive others, not only for them but for yourself.
  • Emotional baggage will encumber you, so keep it as light as possible.
  • Accept yourself, as is, without warranty.
  • Your voice and your experience are valid and can help others.
  • Believe in yourself.
Your Co-workers are Human, Too

You should realize that everyone else is a human being, just like you. Likewise, they’re prone to mistakes and they’re driven by needs and emotions. From the outside, you can’t see their emotional baggage but, internally, they could be pushing a hotel luggage cart full of bags with another one in tow behind them.

If you were overloaded emotionally, you would want a little compassion or, at least, consideration. It’s logical (and courteous) to assume your co-workers, friends, or family would want the same. For instance, while in a conversation with another, if you happen to sense they’re emotionally compromised, offer to postpone the discussion. Give them space so they can recharge their batteries or deal with whatever is bothering them.

Be excellent to each other.

—Bill S. Preston, Esq., Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Effective Meetings

Most collaboration occurs in, or begins with, meetings. Meetings and other face-to-face communications should have an agenda. It may be as simple as ordering some hot chicken at Hattie B’s, or it could be discussing the firewall requirements of supporting network traffic for Microsoft 365 applications. The agenda is usually set by the person who called the meeting (or who stepped up to the counter at Hattie B’s).

Stay On Topic

Discuss and assign current tasks and how they relate to the team’s goal in meetings, along with accomplishments and setbacks.

It’s the responsibility of the meeting’s leader to keep the discussion on topic. Each topic on the agenda should have an allotted time. After the topic discussion has ended or the allotted time reached, the leader should take control of the meeting. They should restate any conclusions and action items for the topic, allowing for attendees to make comments or exceptions. Any exceptions should be added to the next meeting’s agenda or followed up via email. Lastly, the leader should introduce the next item on the agenda and start the discussion or ask the person who added the topic to begin.

Off Agenda Topics

If a topic isn’t on the agenda, or a discussion devolves into another topic, the leader should acknowledge it and the person who brought it up. The topic, however, should be shelved until the end of the meeting. If there is enough time left, the topic can be discussed. If not, then the topic should be added to the next meeting’s agenda.

Limited-Time Offer

Without a strong leader, a meeting’s discussion can derail into a jumbled mess. Meetings that fall apart is one reason why people typically don’t like meetings. These unproductive meetings do, in fact, become a waste of time.

Be sure to send out a summary of the meeting discussion and any action items as soon as possible after the meeting adjourns. This allows attendees another chance to verify their understanding of the meeting’s outcome, or reply with follow up questions.


During meetings or other collaborative spaces, you need to execute the art of negotiation. Here are some key points that should help you negotiate more effectively.

  • Act professionally always, treating everyone with respect and civility.
  • Compromise requires give and take.
  • Learn how to recognize the signs of brewing conflict or misunderstanding.
  • Once conflict presents itself, learn how to resolve it.

You’ve probably been in meetings many times when tension starts growing. You can hear it in the voices in the room. You can see it in facial expressions and body movements—the look of bewilderment squinching the mouth or anger furling the brow.

When you recognize these signs, try to pause the meeting. Take the conversation back a few sentences and start a discussion around the topic that caused some misunderstanding or infuriated someone. Many times, a wrong word choice causes the misunderstanding. Other times, preconceptions causes the confusion.

Handling an angry person is far more complicated than dealing with a misunderstanding. Begin with keeping your own emotions out of the discussion. Calm and collected is the way to go. Acknowledge their anger. If possible, get them to tell you what exactly angered them. If you were the cause, perhaps take responsibility and apologize. Involve a third-party to help with conflict resolution, if necessary.

Most importantly, never put yourself or others in harms way, and never allow a heated discussion to escalate to a physical altercation.


Collaboration can only come from effective communication which comes from listening and understanding each other. Knowing that people are driven by emotions and needs, you must allow yourself and others to be human. Be sincere and genuine when you offer to help others achieve their goals; remember the times when someone helped you.

As this is the second article in a short multi-part series, please add this site to your favorite news aggregator or bookmark it to return next week when part two on collaboration will be published.

Thank you for reading this article. I really would like to hear your thoughts on it.

DevOps Reading Material

While this chapter focuses on improving soft skills, the books (and one yearly report) listed below illustrate the shift in mindset required for a practicing DevOps organization.

Title Author(s)
The Unicorn Project: A Novel about Digital Disruption, Rebels, and Overthrowing the Ancient Powerful Order Gene Kim
The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford
Beyond the Phoenix Project Gene Kim, John Willis
The DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organizations Gene Kim, Jez Humble, and Patrick Debois
Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations Nicole Forsgren PhD, Jez Humble, Gene Kim
Continuous Delivery: Reliable Software Releases through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation Jez Humble and David Farley
Making Work Visible: Exposing Time Theft to Optimize Work and Flow Dominica DeGrandis
The State of DevOps Report, a yearly report based on survey data Puppet
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement Eliyahu M. Goldratt, Jeff Cox
Theory of Constraints Eliyahu M. Goldratt

Note: The last two books aren’t directly related to DevOps. They were, however, inspirational in establishing the underpinnings of DevOps.

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