Tuesday 24 November 2020

Can there be such a thing as "too much collaboration"?

Collaboration is one of those words that is often taken as being overwhelmingly positive, and something everyone should do. But is it?

With the exception of France, where a "collaborateur" is still a dirty word, the concept of collaboration is usually seen as a very good thing. When people cooperate and collaborate across borders and organisational divisions, we expect good things to happen.

But as with most generalisations, this is only partially correct.

I have already reported how Haas and Hansen, in a study of a large services firm, identified cases where collaboration helps, and other cases where collaboration hinders success. Not all collaboration is good - some of it is a waste of time or creator of unneeded confusion. As this blog suggests - we need enough collaboration - neither too much nor too little, and collaboration may have become a fad.

Certainly one of the issues is the proliferation of communication channels, many of them real-time. A study quoted in the Chanty blog article suggests that the average worker uses 4.5 different tools to collaborate on project work, and a third of people answered that "everyone uses different tools". One of the tasks of the knowledge management team is to simplify and streamline the collaboration toolset to the bare minimum of channels. 

In a very interesting HBR article on collaboration overload  the authorship team of Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant point out that requests for collaboration are seldom evenly distributed, and often the collaborative load falls on relatively few employees. They say, for example, that up to a third of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees, and that these employees often feel overloaded, disengaged and disaffected as a result, and can become bottlenecks rather than enablers.

Cross et al suggest ways in which this issue can be addressed; once the overloaded collaborators are identified, you can either give them ways to filter out, or shut off, requests for help, you can use redesigned office space and/or collaboration tools to make collaboration less of a burden, you can spread the load, and you can look for ways to reward collaboration in the reauired areas.

There is another way as well.

  • 3% of the staff are in huge demand as collaboration agents, and
  • their collaboration efforts are adding value to others, and 
  • this value outweighs the value of their own work (which it may well might, but you need to check)
then give specific collaboration roles to this 3%. 

Roles such as Community of Practice Leader, CoP Facilitator, Knowledge Owner, Knowledge Manager, Knowledge Librarian - all of these can be excellent roles for the ace collaborators, which will fit and recognise their own drive to collaborate, make them happier and more fulfilled, and add value to the organisation as part of a Knowledge Management Framework

We should not assume that collaboration is always over and above your day job - collaboration can *be* the day job, provided it is focused, streamlined and facilitated.

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