The Perils of Collaboration

I was recently reading an article on collaboration (Collaborative Overload) and some of the problems that it can create for an organization. Wait, what? Collaboration is a problem? That may seem like an odd claim in this day and age when we seek ever increasing levels of collaboration and teamwork in our workforces. As the article points out though, there are potential problems out there if the effects of collaboration are not managed effectively.

The basic problem with collaboration that is identified by the authors is that demands for collaborative activities - like attending meetings - pulls people away from being able to work on the actual tasks that they have been hired to work on. This creates a cycle requiring them to do things like take work home, which in turn increases stress, which then leads to burnout and turnover.

The article also points out that this problem is exacerbated for high performers as their assistance is increasingly sought. They note that a mere 3-5% of the workforce typically contribute around one-third of the valuable contributions that collaboration produces.

With all of this in mind, some steps are suggested for managing collaboration and especially to make sure the top performers don't suffer and end up walking out the door. Some steps include:

  • redistributing the workload
  • encouraging behavioral changes to deal with demands (i.e. employing productivity enhancing techniques)
  • implementing technology and physical space improvements for more effective collaboration
  • structural changes

One item I found interesting was the discussion of building performance metrics that encourage both teamwork and individual excellence. Maybe I found it particularly noteworthy since one of the examples crossed over into a personal area for me - encouraging soccer players to excel on the field both as individual players and to ensure the success of the team.


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