When Collaboration Doesn’t Work
Stop bowing at the altar of collaboration.
It’s usually better to work with others – to collaborate. But, collaboration isn’t always useful or necessary.
Collaboration can be cumbersome, ineffective, or detrimental.
Sometimes, having someone work for you is better than working with them.
Collaboration isn’t useful when:
- Time is short. Collaboration is slower than working alone. That’s why frustrated managers end up saying, “I’ll do it myself.” Additionally, a crisis isn’t the place for collaboration. If the house is on fire, get the people out, don’t call a meeting.
- Dealing with issues irrelevant to others. Don’t waste your time collaborating with those who don’t care. At best, it’s frustrating. At worst, progress ends.
- Collaboration skills are absent. Some don’t know how to collaborate. Stop wasting your time. Teach collaboration skills when appropriate. Even then, some won’t get it. Assign them tasks that don’t require collaboration. Explain the context, ask for input, and be directive.
- Values collide. Collaboration degenerates to a tug-of-war when values aren’t shared. The moment you realize values are clashing, forget collaborating on projects and initiatives. Search for and validate shared values.
Collaboration makes matters
worse when values collide.
Collaboration is useful when you are:
- Dealing with complexity. Collaboration provides multiple skill-sets and perspectives that prevent you from overlooking key elements of opportunities and challenges.
- Leveraging diversity. Cross-gender collaboration, for example, adds richness.
- Inviting buy-in. Collaborating elevates everyone’s status. It says you matter. People participate when their participation matters.
- Dealing with strategic issues. The bigger the issue the more essential collaboration becomes.
- Solving long-term challenges or finding long-term solutions.
How have you seen collaboration NOT work?
What are the secrets to effective collaboration?
We need to see from others perspective. Why someone will collaborate if he or she does not see any value out of it. Organizational prevalent practices of collaboration is generally based on trends than needs. And there are only few who actually actively participate in collaboration than others. These few people are those who see their benefits like promotion, rewards or more authority etc.Others see it just wastage of time. Recently during my data collection for my PhD I came to know that when Banks achieve its target, CMD, ED and GMs get some incentive but others are not entitled. Now, given the situation why someone except these person will actually collaborate where only few gets benefits. It clearly means that leaders or management need to create opportunity to all those who are collaborated. They should see it with logical reasons. Any lop sided opportunity will again lead to perceptual biasness and attitudinal difference. The other issues why collaboration does not work is behavioral issues.
When there is lack of trust and respect among the people, then this collaboration might not work effectively. Though it will seem that people are collaborated but actually result is not optimal. I think collaboration work most effectively where opportunity prevails for all and people are respected irrespective of gender, position or social status.
Thank you for sharing your insights, Ajay.
Reading your contribution makes me realize the importance of equity and transparency for collaboration to work. Powerful ideas and useful insights into the reasons collaborative efforts eventually fail.
Thank you for consistently sharing your ideas with us.
Thanks for these words Michael! Been banging my head against the wall trying to get all to collaborate. Nice to be reminded that it isn’t always necessary or the best way to move forward!
I once attended a week long workshop on continuous quality improvement. We teachers were put into groups with projects to discuss and accomplish. One guy just loved to hear himself talk and the discussions would seem to go on forever and never get anywhere. Round and round they would go as we accomplished nothing. I thought I would go mad.
I learned a lot about myself that week. I divorced myself from the whole discussion. I’d identify some part of the project and just go do it. I discovered I can’t talk about something forever. I have to accomplish something. I’m not necessarily proud of that. I seemed to be the one most uncomfortable with this.
It was pretty self revealing.
Wonderful story Dauna. Thank you for sharing. I think many leaders get frustrated with talk, unless action quickly follows.
I’m with you, I want to collaborate but sometimes I just want to get on with it.
“Get on with it” types can ask: “If we move now will we create any major problems? Do we know enough to make progress without making serious blunders? Is the next step public and perilous or can it be done with relative ease and low cost?”
You can see I totally left the idea of collaboration out of my reply… hmmm …
Great post, I agree totally.
You ask what the secret to effective collaboration is: TRUST. Without it you will never collaborate. This is why it so hard to collaborate with remote teams, for instance.
The other thing is to allow enough TIME for collaboration. Start early on it when you need to explore ideas, share values, get creative. It’s hard to do in a rush.
So the next question is how you build trust, which I suspect is the subject of another blog!
Time and Trust are necessary for collaboration… KaPow! Thanks for your insights.
Great post, glad I found my way here via Glenn Briskin’s excellent blog (The Other Side of Risk http://othersideofrisk.com/2012/10/24/situational-collaboration/).
I have been in a situation with a team member who didn’t collaborate the way I expected, nor with the people I expected. I communicated my concern about lack of collaboration, based on the progress to date, then took a step back to see if that person’s method and chosen participants would work. And it did. Lesson: analyze with metrics, communicate based on metrics and see how that person is seeing the situation, give that person’s way a chance, trust and verify.
My experience has been different from Michael’s in that I found it quite easy to build trust with remote teams but maybe that’s because the team was composed of locally grouped teams. But in any case, I love the phone. Also, virtual meetings, which I find a lot easier to manage, including taking charge when someone is over-dominating the conversation, which, by the way, is not a bad thing at all, just a typical behavior of one of the communicator types. Those types need constructive leadership to allow them to shine just as the quiet “thinkers” need to enabled to get their full thoughts across.
Sometimes you need to bring in a sponsor to just make a decision though. ;–)
Thanks for the great insights and provocative topic.
Collaboration is a skill (which must be learned) and a tactic (which may be applied). It is not a universal value which always must be used.
Absolutely…and you didn’t even ask if it was ok to say that. 🙂
Nicely provocative. Some mistake collaboration as somehow being helpful / nice to each other. However, not having the skills to be collaborative – when it’s required – is worse than the tyranny of being nice (ineffective).
I’m reminded of the line. ‘Organizations are full of people dying to be told what to do’. I add, how you tell them matters!
OH MY! …. “The tryanny of being nice!” EEEE OUCH!! 🙂
Being an introvert, I find the concept of collaboration to be an idealized concept. In the meetings where we were expected to act as a team, I often find myself listening to people who love to hear themselves talk and be the center of attention. I am a person who prefers to work alone. I have decided not to be ashamed to admit it!
Well said Cheryl. The goal of effective management is helping people find their place of maximum contribution by aligning their skills and in this case personality with opportunities… You’ve added so much to the conversation. Thank you
This article Avoiding the wet blanket in creative collaboration has some useful tips on effective collaboration.
Great post and excellent comments. Really makes me think.
I’m a die hard collaborator as a project manager and consultant. Collaboration falls in between telling people what to do and being told what to do. Move toward either pole, and you are being less collaborative. But, collaboration is still there to some extent.
If asked to be the expert consultant or the kick butt project manager, I want to deliver for my client. I recognize that they are seeing the situation as not being ripe for collaborative efforts. To have the greatest impact, I try to engage the client in the solution where possible and consider how they can learn and benefit long term. That’s collaboration even if I’m taking a directive role. That’s applying many other Leadership Freak posts to the situation.
At the other pole, we just want take our orders and get the job done. This almost always involves some level of communication and feedback with others to be sure we are on track to get it right.
So, in the end, I guess we have situational collaboration. Like situational leadership, we have to decide the form collaboration should take to be appropriate to the situation and make the greatest contribution to the group and the task.
Great post in that it helps us see when the situation calls for more or less collaboration. Thanks!
Frustrated managers end up doing it themselves, sometimes because they (mis)perceive(d) the urgency or have reflexively fallen into reacting to crisis dejour rather than being proactive. Time is definitely a factor, but should not be a repeated excuse.
Taking a step back, incorporating the trust aspects others have noted, there also needs to be a foundational ‘understanding’ within the process. Understanding your role and expectations of you within the current time constraints is vital for collaboration to be effective.
Others have spoken clearly to the value of introversion, respect, trust and certainly timing. Glenn’s point of situational collaboration is spot on…there is value even in a partial collaboration…as long as it isn’t merely a token drive-by, but has some level of investment or engagement.
And remember that being in a Mode of Collaboration, as a general rule, will often open your eyes to new possibilities, since we tend to see all things the same way all the time (the way our brain filters information) — and because other people have different filters, they can see alternatives.
Yes there are downsides to collaboration: I work very fast on things that I am quite competent in doing, like writing. I can rock and roll along quite nicely, thank you.
But that along kinda destines me to seeing only my thoughts, instead of reading and considering and reacting to things like Dan’s contributions to so many things. lots of ways to collaborate and contribute, include “Letters to the Editor” like this one.
I saw a cartoon on StumbleUpon and that got me looking at the post of Jason Wells and that got me generating a new blog today on The Lessons of Monkeys. (Really). It is alternative thinking about behavior and about collaboration / engagement, really…
Have fun out there, but DO step back from the wagon on occasion.
Wow, Scott, great link! 😉
“Collaboration is useful when you are: 1. Dealing with complexity.” When are you not dealing with complexity when people are involved in the system?? Non-collaboration is appropriate for short term, inconsequential issues, simple problems or perhaps to get out of a chaotic situation e.g. crisis management.
Most collaborations are done with meticulous planning and analysis of the core competencies along with likely benefits that both parties can derive in future. TRUST and HONORING COMMITMENTS per MOU signed are very important. Top management and their close interactions on a progressive basis can strengthen the tie-ups and the collaborative efforts.
Professionalism is the right key to success. Yet, HR plays a great role in bringing good alignment beteween both the parties and organization restructring process.
This is excellent, once again, Dan. I so believe in the value of teamwork that I have made the mistake of trying to force it in the wrong situations. I am learning discernment. Another great resource is Keith Sawyer’s “Group Genius” – he writes a great chapter about when to use – and not use – brainstorming. Very similar conclusions – very helpful for considering which tool to use when.
I feel it’s part of being a leader to recognize and acknowledge 1. Those situations which will (and will not) benefit from collaboration; and 2. That collaboration doesn’t just happen simply because we decide to collaborate. Expectations and outcomes need to be spelled out. Ground rules need to be clearly established. The right people need to be identified to collaborate with.