Collaboration in the workplace - main

Collaboration in the workplace is a key part of working efficiently and overcoming challenges. Without effective collaboration, progress is slower, frustration and stress levels are higher and sometimes work can grind to a halt.

Collaboration isn’t just something you need between individual people. It’s also what you need between teams. You may have a situation where team members are collaborating well within their team, but not collaborating at all with other teams.

Poor collaboration damages productivity, relationships and job satisfaction. So let’s dive deeper and start to address the issues.

What Causes Poor Collaboration in the Workplace?

There are several factors that can cause poor collaboration in the workplace. Of course, every organisation is different. If you are seeing collaboration issues in your workplace, then you’ll probably notice some of these factors.

Collaboration in the Workplace - Causes

1. Incompatible Goals

When two teams  or people are working at cross-purposes, collaboration often suffers. If one team wants to deliver a product at the lowest price, but another team is directed to deliver the product at the highest quality (more expensive), you may have a problem.

2. Lack of Information

Another source of collaboration problems can be a lack of required information. People often need input from others that help them do their own work.

When this information can’t be found or isn’t available, people tend to put the “blinders” on and charge ahead regardless.

This can cause conflict, duplicated effort and rework.

3. Misaligned Leadership

When managers of different teams aren’t aligned, you’re likely to see conflicting goals and mixed messages. They’ll want different things from their teams, and the pressure they exert will force the teams to keep working, even if they are going in opposite directions.

This issue can even occur within a single team, reporting to one manager. If the manager isn’t careful about the messages she’s giving to her team members, she may unwittingly have them working against each other, damaging collaboration.

How to Improve Collaboration in the Workplace

Ok, we’ve looked at some of the causes of poor collaboration in the workplace, so now let’s look at how we can do something about it.

1. Realise that Collaboration Saves Time

Collaboration in the workplace - time saverOne of the traps that I see people fall into is thinking that collaboration is a pain and takes too much time. While collaborating and aligning with others may seem to take more time in the beginning, it pays off later.

Failing to collaborate in an effort to move faster is a false economy. What you save in time at the start, you lose during the process because of rework, duplication and wasted effort.

Make time to collaborate, because collaboration is an investment that will pay dividends later. Push this message to your teams and colleagues, until it starts to sink in.

2. Make an Effort to Understand Goals and Challenges

In my experience, poor collaboration in the workplace often comes from a lack of effort to understand other people’s situations. If collaboration issues are bothering you, start taking the time to understand the other side of the story.

Meet your peers and speak about what they are trying to do. Listen to their challenges. Open up about your own challenges. Find the common ground between you. It’s rare that there will be none.

Leave your ego at the door and admit when you are struggling. This can do wonders for helping you seem more personable and open to collaboration.

3. Don’t Get Stuck In the Perfection & Documentation Trap

Another trap that some people fall into is believing that if we wrote everything down perfectly in a neat little system, people would follow it and work together better.

Wrong.

While I believe that a RACI matrix is good for documenting roles and responsibilities, it isn’t a silver bullet. Process maps describing how you work are nice, but they won’t solve the problem completely.

You know why? Because even the most perfect documentation is useless if nobody cares to read it.

Repeat after me…

Collaboration in the workplace - documentation communication

Don’t fall into the perfection trap. By all means, create documents describing how your team works and their roles and responsibilities. But don’t make it too detailed, because this isn’t the real problem.

If people aren’t collaborating, it’s not because your process map isn’t perfect.

It’s because you have a people problem, where people don’t understand each other. Remember that documentation cannot replace communication!

To read more about perfectionist leaders, go here: How Being a Perfectionist is Killing Your Leadership.

4. Become a Champion of Flexibility

When two people have a good relationship, understand each other and communicate well, there is a natural give and take. In complex work environments, there will always be situations that don’t fit neatly into your process map or responsibilities document.

As such, you need to be flexible to enable collaboration. Sometimes, you might help out with something that isn’t exactly your job. Other times, someone might help you.

Don’t be confined by strict role definitions or job descriptions, because if you have a collaboration problem, you need some flexibility.

Help others, so they start to help you.

5. Be the Bigger Person

Collaboration in the workplace - handshakeOK, I’ll let you in on a secret. If you’re on this website, reading this post, you probably have good intentions and a willingness to improve, for the sake of you and your team.

You are likely to be a more thoughtful leader than some others around you. It might just happen that you are trying to collaborate with people that are not like you.

You need to be the bigger person. Here are some things you can do:

  • Offer to help: People like people who help them.
  • Acknowledge that there’s a problem: You might need to be the first person to open up and put your cards on the table. Then others will follow. Set the example.
  • Take action: Organise a workshop to work through your problems together. Invite the “other” team to lunch or coffee.

It can be hard when you’ve been struggling with the problem. You might have developed a real dislike for the other person. Emotions are real and they affect collaboration.

But somebody has to put their weapons down and extend the hand of friendship. If you’ve read this far, then it might as well be you.

How have you fixed collaboration issues in your workplace? Leave a comment with your stories below!

Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help on this topic, you can send me a private message through my contact page.