Avoid the most common mistakes of collaboration

Posted by Mitchell Communications Group on September 8, 2014

Collaboration. It’s one of those “right answer” words. Whatever your work challenge is, collaboration, it would seem, is never wrong.

Except when it is.

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One of the most common mistakes of collaboration is assuming that everyone must collaborate, all the time.

“In one of our recent leader team meetings,” shared one of our clients, “our entire senior group spent 45 minutes discussing how to format our new letterhead. Later, I added up the collective time we spent, and it was an expensive decision. We have this belief that everyone has to have a voice in every decision.”

She’s right. Collaboration is one of those wonderful attributes that, when exercised to an extreme, can become an expensive liability.

To collaborate effectively, then, teams must first discuss explicitly when they will collaborate… and (importantly) when they won’t.

We conduct a simple exercise with some of our teams to help them achieve clarity in their thinking about collaboration. Here’s how it works.

  • Working individually, have members of the team brainstorm the primary tasks, and write each task on a single sticky note.
  • Give team members an opportunity to review all of the tasks. Similar items can be combined or reworded.
  • Next, draw a line down the middle of a large whiteboard (or use flip charts) and label the two sides independent and interdependent.
  • Have team members discuss each of the tasks and agree for each: Can this be accomplished by one person? Does this task require the best thinking of everyone on the team (or a sub group of the team)? Place the stickies on the appropriate side of the whiteboard. Be ready for a robust conversation!
  • Next, discuss: Who truly needs to have primary responsibility for each of these tasks? This may be an individual, or a sub group. It may also be helpful to identify who has “final oversight” over the task – that is, ultimate responsibility without hands-on involvement.This discussion may require a little bit of ego-swallowing as some members of the team come to realize: “I’m not really needed for this decision!” But that sting is quickly alleviated by a much more liberating awareness: “Hey, we can improve the quality of our output… while moving a lot faster!”

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The process is simple, but the conversation is real work. You may be surprised that even long-functioning, senior teams have enormous lack of clarity around these fundamental issues.

Surprisingly, the outcome of this shared awareness is not less collaboration, but more, as members of the team recognize the tremendous gains in having the right people… collaborate on the right issues… at the right time.

What kinds of boundaries does your team practice in creating a space for collaboration? Share your experiences in the comments section below or tweet your thoughts to @ProfoundSkills.

Topics: ProFound Skills