The collaboration paradox
“No man is an island; entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent” – John Donne
This quote adorns our office walls to reinforce the need for collaboration. I read it somewhere in the vile space called the internet. It’s a top runner in the Ten Commandments for Success in the new world order. Effective Collaboration has become ‘the problem’ that a leader must solve, just after poverty and world peace.
But over a period of time, I have come to realize that all this is a pillow sham.
The idea behind collaboration and teamwork is to share important information so that everyone is on-board and speaking the same language. But now collaboration has become a way to seek quick answers.
And then, there is also the accountability chatter. It has become the scapegoat for decision making. If shit hits the wall you can elegantly chime in with a subtle shrug and say- “Hey, it was a collaborative decision, you know.”
We may have been trained to think that two heads are better than one. But often, the more heads are simply making noise spending hours deliberating over things that don’t amount to much.
Don’t get me wrong- I’ve no beef against collaboration. But we need to be mindful of the pitfalls that naturally arise while working in teams.
Here are my two cents on how you can avoid the collaboration overload-
Select the Group wisely
It is common practice to invite every person who is even remotely related to the task at hand. While this may appear to be crucial and business-as-usual, it is important to define boundaries.
Does every single decision, action, discussion need an input of every single person in the team? Or do you need only a few? Does it need a group discussion or can it be solved with just one person? Do you need to meet in-person or can it be done via email? Is each person of the group a stakeholder for the discussion or are there only some and they can speak on behalf of others? Does the person you are inviting takes responsibility or is a serial buck-passer?
It’s really about figuring out when, why and who you need to gather as a group and when you need to work independently.
Groupthink is the evil twin of collaboration which results in unchallenged decisions because people are not comfortable in sharing their honest opinions.
In groups, team members hesitate in sharing their suggestions and opinions and have a tendency to accept decisions made by those they consider superior- in knowledge, experience or responsibility. They feel dissent may jeopardize their impression or a stupid suggestion may invite ridicule and judgment.
I’m sure you don’t want this – unless you’re the Great Dictator or you enjoy being a HIPPO! Not saying that arriving at a consensus quickly is a bad thing, but arriving at a solution without giving it much thought is a problem. And if you see this happening frequently in your team, then Groupthink has masqueraded as a collaboration! It’s time you take a step back and find a solution.
Send the meeting agenda to people and ask them to email their suggestions before the meeting or bring them on yellow stickies. Encourage people to be devil’s advocate and express different perspectives. Make sure that their opinion is taken into consideration. This makes collaboration more egalitarian and less prone to lopsided decisions.
I feel, if you are able to address these challenges, then you can effectively eliminate the pitfalls of over-collaboration. After all, we can’t possibly work without collaborating.
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