Collaboration is one of the most important things that every business wants to master and get right. And there is a good reason for that. If conducted correctly, collaboration can bring a host of benefits for businesses, including increased innovation and creativity, better problem solving, engaged teams and an overall improved business performance.
With these benefits in mind, teams often commit – or perhaps overcommit – to collaboration in order to achieve these goals. However, in some cases collaboration can backfire and it certainly has its own limitations when we make certain mistakes.
In this blog post, we will explore some collaboration mistakes and limitations and how to avoid them.
- Too much collaboration negatively affects productivity and employees well-being
In a previous blog post in this series, I walked through the common misconceptions about collaboration in business in general and the workplace in particular. One of the most common misunderstandings is that it is the answer to everything. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
In a way, every team requires some sort of collaboration to get things done. At the end of the day, two heads are most probably better than one. Yet, what we witness in most businesses is an over-reliance on collaboration to deal with even the smallest of challenges. This has moved collaboration from being a means to an end to being an end in itself.
Over-collaborating and the dangers of unhealthy collaboration are well-documented and researched topics. In an article written for HBR, Michael Mankins explains that the roots to collaboration failures are directly correlated with organizational complexity and a culture of “collaboration for collaboration’s sake”.
First, as is the case with any growing business, there will most certainly be new teams, new subsidiaries and new divisions. This ultimately leads to a more complex decision-making process with multiple stakeholders involved.
In this situation, we often witness a surge in the number of daily meetings, emails and other forms of collaboration in an attempt to advance matters. Yet what sometimes happens is the complete opposite. Employees will become less productive as they then feel under more pressure to attend meetings (some of which are unnecessary) out of fear that they would otherwise offend their managers and their counterparts or that they would be left behind, thereby posing a threat to their position within the company.
With more time dedicated to collaboration and less time to productive tasks, employees will have no choice but to take their work home, which results in increased stress levels, burnout and ultimately a high turnover rate.
So what should be done about collaboration overload?
In a research study conducted by Brain Research in collaboration with The Economist, the most productive companies – out of the 300 surveyed – were able to free up approximately 50% of employee time spent on unproductive tasks and meetings, with higher-performing companies able to free upwards of half a day. This time can be spent on more productive activities, which primarily results in enhanced business performance and especially an engaged workforce and a revamped working experience.
This can be achieved by restructuring the organizational hierarchy and reviewing how decisions are made. The fewer decision makers involved, the faster information can travel effectively and efficiently, which helps avoid lengthy and unnecessary meetings and endless email threads and prevents the loss of data.
- Collaborative tools overload
Collaboration overload in most cases often leads to the use of multiple tools to allow teams to communicate and collaborate in real time.
A typical business would put in place a variety of platforms and apps, each designed to tackle a specific need – for example, a chat application aimed at the ability to communicate instantly, a videoconferencing tool for meetings, a project management application for managing projects, and so on.
It probably comes as no surprise that deploying all of these tools and expecting employees to use them (not taking into consideration the apps used by employees without the knowledge of the IT department) can be overwhelming for employees to say the least. Having to learn how to use each app, memorizing/managing passwords and simply having to toggle and switch between all of these apps can amount to days, if not weeks, in lost productivity.
In fact, according to RingCentral, an average worker uses approximately four communication apps, with a further 20% using six or more. This can eventually equate to 32 days and billions of dollars in lost productivity.
So what’s the key to finding the perfect balance?
Well, if too much of something is bad, then we may have to settle for a little. According to the same RingCentral research, most of the surveyed respondents stated that using one central communication hub can help them streamline their workflow, achieve higher productivity levels, make their workday less chaotic and, more importantly, facilitate remote working.
An IT audit is a great way to start. That way, businesses can gain a better understanding of the platforms in use and only then can they work on minimizing how many of them are being used. The obvious and most convenient choice is to implement a digital workplace solution that acts as a digital hub incorporating the majority, if not all, the apps used in the workplace or externally with partners for example.
Through native built-in apps or the use of APIs to integrate third-party applications, digital workplace solutions can be considered the way forward for teams and businesses looking to overcome collaborative toos overload.
- Collaboration is not “a one size fits all” process
When it comes to collaboration, it’s possible to distinguish between multiple types depending on specific business needs. It can be either internal or external, involving teams, departments, partners and even customers.
The key is to find the right type for your business in order for the collaboration to bring forth results. The reality, however, is that many businesses often fail to determine the scope of collaboration needed and fall into the trap of mimicking other teams and businesses by assuming that it’s “a one size fits all” process.
This can obviously bring more harm than good. Not having a clear idea of where you are heading often leads you nowhere and in this case can be costly.
But how do we choose the right type?
There’s no straightforward answer to this question because the needs of businesses differ depending on multiple factors. However, we can break down the question into sub-questions to help us figure out the bigger picture, thus: (1) What are my business goals and objectives? (2) Why would collaboration help my teams achieve these goals? (3) How? and (4) Who would be involved in the collaboration process?
By answering these questions you will more or less have an idea about which type of collaboration, and which tools, to use.
- Conflicts between the parties involved that might be poorly managed
By its very nature, collaboration is about people. Regardless of the strategies and tools in place, the success of any collaborative project depends mainly on the ability of the different parties involved to get together, understand each other’s opinions and point of views and, especially, resolve conflicts when they occur (not just avoid them).
The latter – if managed poorly – can have severe consequences on the well-being of both businesses and employees.
According to a CPP report, 85% of US employees face conflicts in the workplace, the majority of whom spend up to 2.8 hours a week dealing with them. The main causes for conflicts include personality differences, egos, high stress levels and work overload.
That being said, though, conflicts in the workplace aren’t necessarily that bad. The fact of the matter is effective collaboration has to create some sort of healthy conflict that can push employees to come up with new ideas, be more open to opposed views and be able to draw the best out of each other.
But how can we create a workplace culture where conflicts are positive?
It all starts with recruitment. Hiring the right individuals in the right positions can prevent bad conflicts from occurring in the first place.
Team leaders and HR professionals nowadays pay more attention to the personality traits of job candidates and how they handle conflicts through role-based activities and interview questions such as, “When was the last time you disagreed with a colleague and how did you approach the situation?” We have all witnessed that one.
Next up is training. As part of a leadership development programme, employees are required to undergo conflict management training that will help them better identify problems, take out the positives from conflicts and then learn when to avoid them when necessary.
And last but not least, the organization as a whole – and specifically managers – are responsible for identifying and dealing with tensions in the workplace through regular interaction and one-on-one meetings. Additionally, managers can promote transparency by letting their teams’ voices be heard and by being open to listening and adopting new ideas.