When Collaboration Kills Productivity

collaborationRead any article or book on decision making, employee engagement, or company culture, and you’ll hear all of the reasons why collaboration is the key to making better decisions and keeping your team members happy. Everyone feels involved, blind spots can be minimized, and mistakes can be caught early thanks to the additional brainpower a team brings to the table. But collaboration can come at a cost. While collaboration can help bring diverse ideas and perspectives to any project, it can also slow down momentum significantly. The more people you involve, the longer it takes to consider everyone’s ideas and come to a consensus. It’s important to identify at what point collaboration is more harmful than helpful.If the people you collaborate with are unable to devote significant attention and time to your project, you will find yourself losing days, if not weeks, waiting for contributors to weigh in. When a project drags on because a few people are unavailable, the engaged team members will also disengage either due to loss of interest or because they have to pick up the slack for the missing contributors. Picking the right team members for any project is both an art and a skill.

But before you even select a team, you must ask yourself why you’re seeking out collaboration. If you are simply avoiding making a decision or want to diffuse responsibility for potential consequences, you’re in dangerous territory. It’s time to re-evaluate your confidence and skills in the area of decision making. Working with a coach or mentor on effective techniques for decision making and problem solving can make a significant impact on the potential for success in current projects as well as future promotions.

Or, are you inviting collaboration because you just don’t have time to handle the problem on your own? While that sounds like a great way to alleviate some of the burden on your shoulders, you have to ask yourself if you will be able to pull your fair share of the workload on the team. If not, you’re not collaborating, you’re delegating. It’s possible that you will just have to say no to new projects or ideas.

Next, does the project justify borrowing resources from other initiatives? In other words, is your project worthy of taking time away from the projects your team members must accomplish? We all get excited about a shiny, new idea from time to time, but everything should always be evaluated in the context of what will produce the greatest gains in the most proportional amount of time. It’s hard to swallow, but sometimes your project isn’t worth everyone else’s time.

Collaboration can be a wonderful way to create buy-in, gather insights, and identify creative solutions, but it must be used in the right place, at the right time, and in the right way. Before you begin a collaborative project make sure you have a plan, have identified the right people, and have set clear, actionable goals for yourself and everyone involved.