Workplace Collaboration: Here’s Why It Doesn’t Always Work

Jan 9, 2015

It’s hard to remember a time when collaboration wasn’t a widely discussed and accepted concept.

It drives how we design offices, how we form teams, and how we plan strategically.

However, as a result of its universal popularity, the word has been stripped of much of its meaning. Whereas it originally was a process for creatively and effectively completing complex projects, in practice it can be diluted to mean simply working together in groups.

While an open office plan and a commitment to group brainstorms help add collaborative elements to your team, they only really tackle the first step by bringing your team together. Truly effective collaboration takes more attention to detail. Here are three things to watch for:

1. Too many cooks

When it comes time to form a team to tackle a project, the tendency may be to include as many people as possible. “Everyone is welcome to contribute!” can be a nice sentiment, but can significantly bog down your process.

Bringing in redundant employees not only isn’t an effective use of everyone’s time, but can also offset the balance of a discussion by placing too much emphasis on one perspective or area of expertise.

Ensure you’re using your talent wisely by having a specific reason for each person you invite to contribute to your project. Further, tell them in advance what you’re expecting their role to be and what they can uniquely bring to the table. This will help ensure that they participate in a complementary manner as much as possible.

2. Don’t validate the leader

As the leader of a team, ideally you want your employees to challenge and strengthen your ideas, and in some cases prove them wrong. Unfortunately, as the leader and the gatekeeper to a project, your team may be biased towards confirming your thinking out of some combination of respect, admiration, or appreciation for the opportunity.

Providing good leadership in this case means serving the role as moderator as much as possible, and especially at the beginning of the process.

Present the problem and set the guard rails, but don’t rush to share your ideas. Let the discussion play out, engage everyone, and ask questions. Once you have gotten as much as you can from your team in the time allotted, discuss what you think is the right way forward and support it with points from your team.

3. Make decisions

The trickiest thing about collaborating is that the spirit of the concept is somewhat in opposition to values held dear in the business world. The problem lies in mistaking the means of the process for the desired end.

Bringing together several people and their unique perspectives is an important element of a strong, successfully completed project, but the point is still to complete that project in a timely manner.

Striving to involve your full team in a decision is great, but don’t let it hold up the show. Avoid this pitfall by setting deadlines and sticking to them. When it comes time to make a decision, be decisive and more forward.

Most importantly: Collaborate wisely

Collaboration is still an important part of a high performance culture. It drives innovation, keeps employees engaged and supports talent development when done right. Just don’t do it for collaboration’s sake.

How do you make sure your collaborative exercises are effective?

This originally appeared on the blog.

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