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collaboration in the workplace

What Happens When Collaboration in the Workplace Doesn’t Work?

By Roz
Published on April 3, 2017

Your company was one of the first off the mark to embrace the philosophy of collaboration in the workplace.


They fostered the culture; they built the teams strategically.


A lot of talk happened. There were many, many meetings. Days and months passed. In the end, projects fell behind schedule and very little actual work gets done.


“That’s it,” the manager announces. “We tried collaboration and it doesn’t work. Now I have to go back to tell everyone what to do and they better do it.”


You are not alone facing this situation. Companies who jumped on the collaboration bandwagon a year or two ago are recording stories of brilliant successes, but also of abysmal failures.


What happens when collaboration chokes your workplace instead of nurtures and grows it? 


Chances are you are doing it wrong. It’s not that collaboration failed; it’s that the execution of it failed.


The way Morten Hansen, author of the book Collaboration explains it, bad collaboration is actually worse than none at all.


Acknowledging that collaborative efforts don’t always work and can drain a company of time, money and resources, Hansen reminds us that collaboration has to be a disciplined strategy, not just the gathering together of teams of good people.


Hansen, the found of the Center for Corporate Transformation Inc. and a professor of management at the University of California, Berkeley (School of Information), suggests that corporate leaders sabotage themselves when they promote more collaboration in their organization without steering the course between collaboration and results.


He points out that many leaders, in their eagerness to encourage their employees to tear-down silos and work collaboratively together in teams, forget that the goal of collaboration is to achieve better results, not just to collaborate.


The answer, Hansen suggests in his book, is to move more toward disciplined collaboration.


What are the strategies to achieve this state of results-oriented workplace collaboration?


Start with clear goals. There is no point in encouraging a team of employees to work together if non of them are clear on the end game.


They need to know the primary goal they are working for and that needs to be repeated each time the team gets together to work.


In other words, ask your team each day: “How do your actions today move us closer to our goal?”


Once goals are clear, focus on ensuring that while collaboration is the norm, there is a process in place to guide final decision making.


It would be unusual if your team agreed on everything. When they disagree on courses of action, they need to know that there is a clear process in place to settle these differences if they cannot be naturally resolved through conversation.


Find out what kind of process works best for their team. Do they have a team leader who makes the final decision? Do they bring their pros and cons to a senior manager and await for guidance from that person? Do they vote democratically on what to do?


The type of process in place is not as important as the fact that it is in place. It is a way to keep factions moving and avoid the bottleneck of indecision.


If the process involves taking the issue to top management, a timely and enlightened decision needs to be expected. If instead the issue just languished for lack of attention or ability to make a decision, everyone gets hurt.


The collaborative team becomes more distrusting and resistant.


Remember that the effectiveness of collaboration in the workplace is directly linked to the transparency of the process by which decisions are made.


Collaboration is good in your workplace, but accountability is what makes it great.



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