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May 12th, 2017

Being the happy, go-lucky kind of people we are, we took a can of worms, a can opener and half an hour’s downtime to do some research. The can in question was can collaborative ways of working be seen as negative? The can opener was the internet, the time neatly shaded off in diaries, off we set.

Guess what? Yes, well, you can find anything on the internet if you look hard enough, can’t you? Although, admittedly, we didn’t have to search much further than the Harvard Business Review and the Dark Web. They’re practically neighbours.

According to HBR there are people already suffering from collaborative overload (or reciprocal altruism as it’s sometimes called) and there’s not an ointment, unction or motivational reward in sight that can relieve it. It’s also impinging on personal productivity and you’ll know how painful that is, if you’ve ever had yours impinged, leading to churn. “Escalating citizenship” – the term for that minority of employees contributing value-added collaboration – is resulting in these collaborative titans exiting their companies: their dissatisfaction ironically resulting from other’s satisfaction.

So we have to ask: is altruism dead? Or has something gone wrong with the way we work together?

First and foremost the purpose of working collaboratively is to create accelerated solutions benefitting all involved. If it doesn’t, then what’s actually happening is cooperation we would argue, which only lasts as long as the goodwill.

Secondly, it shouldn’t become a specialised skill set limited to a minority of the workforce in any organisation that values innovation, creativity, productivity or survival. Collaboration has been, after all, a vital component of human survival since time immemorial. However, there are barriers to collaborative working that shouldn’t be underestimated. We’ve identified them as:

Mindset – “There’s not enough time.” There’s a misconception that collaboration slows things down, becoming a talking shop leading to middle ground solutions that please no one. But using a structured process, and working intentionally within time constraints, it’s possible to counteract this, ensuring participant’s buy-in to developed solutions, since people support the ideas they help create.

Method – “I don’t understand how to do it.” Colleagues are often expected to intuit the best way of working together, even though they’re likely to come from different functions and disciplines. Understandably this leads to frustration. Whilst collaboration encompasses cooperation and coordination, it also demands an objective, structured process that will help focus effort.

Momentum – “It’s just too difficult to sustain.” There’s a limiting belief that collaboration requires months of follow up. It doesn’t. Considering most work teams are increasingly mobile, collaboration can be split into two types: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous is the most powerful for accelerated solutions, with participants working face to face within a set time limit, whilst asynchronous – participants not having to be present in the same place or at the same time and utilising technology in order to connect – is best for mobile teams who need to share, evolve and store their ideas and solutions that can then be worked on at their convenience.

In the end, altruism may not be dead, but in some organisations it needs resuscitating…

The Collaboration Company