Collaboration On the Job–Good or Bad?

I’ve always been a firm believer in collaboration (aka teamwork) in the workplace as well as elsewhere. In a job search, for example, collaboration with people who can help you achieve your objective is a key tool for a successful outcome. I felt it was an important piece of the job success equation on the job as well.

I still think it is; however, I’ve recently come across a reference to the “dark side” of collaboration on the job, and it’s making me re-think my view a bit.

Collaborate on Futuristic Abstract

How Can Collaboration on the Job be a Bad Thing?

An article in the January/February issue of Harvard Business Review, titled “Collaborative Overload,” suggests that there actually can be too much of a good thing. As the article puts it:

“According to data we have collected over the past two decades, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more…., when consumption of a valuable resource spikes that dramatically, it should also give us pause. Consider a typical week in your own organization. How much time do people spend in meetings, on the phone, and responding to e-mails? At many companies the proportion hovers around 80%, leaving employees little time for all the critical work they must complete on their own.”

That sounds a little scary! Have you ever experienced that in your organization? Are you facing it right now?

Disturbingly, the article’s study also revealed some other down-sides to the increasing emphasis on teamwork:

  • A very small percentage of people become known as top contributors and get increasingly asked to take on more work, while the “masses” escape that expectation and the associated increase in their workload.
  • The most helpful people eventually become so overloaded they can actually get in the way of progress and slow the work down.
  • Because of stereotypes applied to women, women as a group tend to get landed with the lion’s share of the collaborative participation and suffer a resulting decrease in their ability to perform well because of physical and mental exhaustion.

Make Collaboration a Positive Force in Your Job

Can you do that? For starters, are you in a position of influence that could help change this troublesome trend in your company? If not, you might not be able to exert much effort in that direction, which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for ways to help achieve it.

Depositphotos_13585880_m-2015One approach is to consider how important the need for collaboration is to the organization but, at the same time, whether the requested support is the wisest use of your time–and everyone else’s. For instance, the HBR article distinguishes between the different types of available resources:

  1. Informational resources: knowledge and skills—expertise that can be recorded and passed on
  2. Social resources: one’s awareness, access, and position in a network
  3. Personal resources: one’s own time and energy.

It then points out that types 1 and 2 can be shared without putting undue pressure on a few individuals, while type 3 can consume huge amounts of time and energy on the part of those key contributors. As an illustration, if you’re helping a fellow climber scale a high mountain, you’re a critical factor in the collaboration. The climber below you must do his/her part, of course, but also depends heavily on your support throughout the climb.

Whether you’re being asked to collaborate or asking others to collaborate on a business project, it’s important to consider the “why” and ask, “Is there a better way to accomplish this?”


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