Experts Say Less Workplace Collaboration is Often Best

February 05 12:44 2018

There’s a saying about “too many chefs…” for a reason, say experts.
Management experts warn that just because collaboration has contributed greatly to breaking down walls within organizations, does not mean it should be forced into every workplace situation.

When it comes to working within business teams or across departments, the conventional wisdom is that the more collaboration there is, the better the work product at the end of the project. Today, there are many experts who advise there are times when the opposite is true.

One of those advocating for the use of disciplined and process-driven collaboration is Cynthia Kay, president of CK & Company, a video production and communications consultancy. Kay works with clients of all sizes, though she says that much of her consulting on internal communications is done with larger organizations.

“I believe that companies over-collaborate at times. This makes decision making slow and painful, and doesn’t produce the best results,” says Kay.

Many experts and recent study data confirm that at times, less collaboration is actually more effective.

One of them is Morten T. Hansen is a management professor at University of California, Berkeley. He is also the author of the highly acclaimed management book, Collaboration.

Hansen says, “The idea of disciplined collaboration is to let organizational units work independently when that approach produces the best results,” says Hansen. “The solution is not to get people to collaborate more, but to get the right people to collaborate on the right projects.”

Kay has similar advice for clients who often have more trouble getting anything accomplished once the size of the group collaborating gets too big or it’s unclear where the decision-making is coming from.

She added, “I think the best approach is to visualize a funnel. Get lots of input and ideas at the beginning, then narrow the number of decision-makers, so that work can actually get done.”

Collaborative Overload

An article published in the Jan-Feb 2016 Issue of the Harvard Business Review called Collaborative Overload, was critical of the massive amount of time devoted to collaborative pursuits at large organizations, without objective evaluation of its effectiveness. (https://hbr.org/2016/01/collaborative-overload)

The HBR article opens with the statement, “Collaboration is taking over the workplace. As business becomes increasingly global and cross-functional, silos are breaking down, connectivity is increasing, and teamwork is seen as a key to organizational success. 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.

“Certainly, we find much to applaud in these developments. However, when consumption of a valuable resource spikes that dramatically, it should also give us pause.”

Cynthia Kay agrees with the authors. She also has advice for organizations when it comes to selecting the individuals to collaborate on internal communications projects.

“I think that executives should sometimes step aside and let the people with more detailed knowledge of the topic or experience in the project, communicate. I have been working with a number of companies on a program I call ‘My Company. My Story.’ Instead of having leadership just talk about company issues and initiative we let employees do the communication. This peer-to-peer communication can have a profound effect on the organization,” she said.

Cynthia says she also sees the pitfalls and benefits of collaboration on a regular basis in her advocacy work for small business owners. Kay serves as chair of the Board of Trustees for the National Small Business Association.

See: http://nsba.biz/about-us/board-of-trustees/

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