Collaboration has become the be-all and end-all at many organizations.
After all, numerous studies have linked
it to revenue growth and customer
But many company leaders encourage collaboration for collaboration’s
sake, without giving much thought to
how it should be done.
For example, they often don’t consider
how to keep their top people from burning out from too many joint projects, says
Kevin Oakes, chief executive officer at
business consultancy Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) in Seattle.
Effective collaboration occurs when
leaders work intentionally to create and
support a culture that facilitates teamwork, i4cp researchers have found. In
other words, it has to be done on purpose.
“Purposeful collaboration is a very
concerted effort by companies to focus
collaboration on business outcomes, to
train individuals and managers on how
to collaborate effectively, and to make it
safe to report collaboration overload,”
Oakes says. “We’re finding that high-
performing organizations are taking this
seriously and creating programs that
Researchers at i4cp studied the collab-
orative practices of more than 1,100 orga-
nizations in partnership with Rob Cross,
an associate professor of global leader-
ship at Babson College in Babson Park,
Mass., and co-author of a 2016 Harvard
Business Review article on collaboration
In the past two decades, the time
that employees spend collaborating
with others, via meetings, e-mails or
phone calls, has increased 50 percent
or more, Cross noted in that article. Yet
one-third of high-performing organiza-
tions and half of low-performing ones
report making no effort to identify if
or where employees are so overloaded
helping others that they can’t get their
individual work done, according to i4cp
research released in September. (To
identify “high-performing” organiza-
tions, the researchers used the compa-
nies’ multiyear reports of revenue, cus-
tomer satisfaction and other indicators.)
Leaders at all levels can play a key
role in building a culture based on trust,
which encourages productive teamwork and alleviates collaborative overload. But training is especially needed
for midlevel managers and first-line
supervisors, who might have more difficulty balancing collaborative tasks with
their individual work, i4cp researchers
They identified four ways leaders in
high-performing companies are ensuring more-productive collaboration at
their organizations. To encourage similar
results in your organization, you should:
Model collaborative behaviors.
Delegate. Reduce the number of layers
that employees must go through to get
a decision, and make it clear who the
decision-makers are. Run more-efficient
meetings with clearly stated goals. Create
an environment where people feel free to
express their ideas. Reward leaders who
model collaborative behaviors.
Build strong networks. Help
members of your team, particularly new
employees, connect with people in other
areas to enhance their skill sets. Teach
leaders and individual contributors how
to build effective networks. High-per-
forming organizations are three times
more likely to teach this in their devel-
opment programs, i4cp researchers
found. Be aware that the people with
the strongest networks aren’t always
high on the organizational chart.
Encourage collaboration across
the enterprise. Urge employees to col-
laborate on problem-solving. Establish
connections outside of your department
as well as with customers and suppliers.
Structure the work to avoid over-
load. Make sure employees aren’t bur-
dened with unproductive collaboration.
Is too much time being spent in meet-
ings or answering e-mails? Take note if
a usually reliable worker starts arriv-
ing late to meetings or becomes slow
to respond to requests. That could be a
clue that she has too many demands on
her time. Encourage people doing simi-
lar work in different units or locations
to share best practices with each other.
Most important, block out time for
reflection and strategic thinking. Step
back and recall why you are fostering collaboration in the first place. What are you
trying to achieve?
“It’s important to take time out to
examine it and not just let it happen—or
hope it’s happening well,” Oakes says.
“Hope is not a strategy.”
Dori Meinert is senior writer/editor of HR
Magazine. I L L
Collaboration or Distraction?
How leaders can promote effective teamwork.
By Dori Meinert