How to Avoid Three Common Collaboration Traps






Striking the balance on JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT of collaboration for teams at work is never easy. You know it when you see it or experience it. But getting there can be a winding road. I have seen these three common traps play out.

Over Collaboration

In this scenario, you have too many people in meetings un-necessarily, wasting time. People cannot work efficiently. You have 15, 20 people or more who think they have veto power in decision making.

In some cultures, this is normal. If everyone is not included and aligned, then it’s not being done right.

The best way I’ve found to navigate these waters is working with a small team (5 or less) to pull together an approach or plan. Then bring it to the larger group for feedback. That way everyone gets a chance to weigh in. But you avoid creating every deliverable by committee.

Under Collaboration

In this scenario, you don’t have enough, or the right, people in meetings. Key stakeholders are missing or absent. Their lack of involvement becomes a problem when their organization is impacted by the issue / topic / project and they are not up to speed.

This often happens in organizations when people have too much on their plate. They have too many competing priorities. Some cultures are more comfortable with this approach than others. They see each situation as an experiment to learn from and an opportunity for their people to grow along the way. Others see these bumps in the road as more problematic.

The challenge, if you find yourself in one of these environments, is articulating the problem without coming across as if “the sky is falling”. It may take more time. But finding a way to incorporate the key parties (rescheduling or meeting with them separately) is often worth the extra effort when the risks merit it.

Artificial Harmony

In this last (and hardest to identify) scenario, you think you have the appropriate amount of collaboration. No one is complaining or pushing back. But you really do not have agreement because it’s artificial. For whatever reason, the participants are unwilling to publicly speak up and share their concerns or questions, as outlined in this article from Forbes.

I find this even more common when people are working together remotely. It is harder to identify when people disagree or are not supportive when you cannot see their body language (ex: a frown, a twitch, tapping their foot, and so on).

You may not discover until long after the meeting ended that your participants said one thing, then left and behaved otherwise. Some personalities speak more directly than others.

When artificial harmony happens, address it by facilitating meetings differently. Ask questions like:

  • What are we missing?
  • Who has concerns about this approach?
  • What could go wrong in this situation that we haven’t talked through today?

Or go round-robin and ask each person to weigh in. When that feedback is shared, ensure you welcome it to encourage it again in the future. (You can be certain that if it is shut down publicly, it won’t be offered again.)


Betsy Winkler is a partner at PeopleResults. She can be reached on Twitter @betsywinkler1