4 min read

Suffering from Post Collaboration Project Disorder?


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Picture this: You’re sitting in class, the teacher has finished the lesson, and you just have to get the details of your final assignment before you can walk out the door to freedom. The assignment will play a major role in your grade for the term. You’re a pretty strong student so you’re not too worried about whatever it may be. That is, until you hear the dreaded words “group project.” Group project? Why? It feels unfair. You want to be evaluated based on what YOU contribute - not based on the work of virtual strangers who you may never see again after the semester ends! Why do teachers insist on group projects?

Many people look back on “group projects” from their school days with a sense of dread. And understandably so. It’s hard to find inspiration or create success when individuals are grouped together based on little more than alphabetical order or academic achievement and given a vague instruction of, “work together!”

You’d like to think that the days of half-baked group projects are behind you when you enter the workforce, but unfortunately, that’s often not the case. While collaboration can be a critical tool for researching, designing, and launching large-scale, innovative ideas, too many organizations fail to complete their due diligence in setting collaborative efforts up for success. The bad news? It feels like a group project all over again. The good news? Your team has the potential to do better! Read on to find out what your organization may be doing wrong, and learn the better alternatives!


Competition vs. Cooperation

In today's business environment, every organization is focused on how to succeed in a highly competitive market. However, even when operating within a competitive market, an in-house culture of competition may do more harm than good. According to a study done by Accenture Research, 49% of professionals report that the constant competition between colleagues is one of the top two stressors at work.[1]  And sure, healthy competition can drive productivity and innovation, but overemphasizing individual accomplishments can push employees to work in silos and undermine their colleagues’ efforts en route to their own success. The result? Burnout, decreased morale and, ultimately, weakened team dynamics. Think about it- does your culture celebrate the Lone Wolf Lauras? The Toxic Trevors? It may not be intentional, but when people are rewarded for cutting others out of the loop to get things done faster, or for taking over what once was a collaborative effort, it can create a culture that lets employees know: individual achievements are more valuable than teamwork. When employees are incentivized to pursue their own goals, they may be less likely to work together to achieve common objectives. And, when team players’ efforts at collaboration have been undermined without consequence, they may be less likely to engage in future efforts with their team. 

The fix? Start rewarding cooperative dynamics and help build a culture of trust. If you want teams to work collaboratively, you have to create an environment that benefits all of them- not just Laura and Trevor.

Read about more tactical tips to encourage collaboration


Convenience vs. Strategy

The industry is changing fast. Your company is adapting fast. You’re moving fast to keep up. Today is no exception. You’re given an assignment with a short turnaround time. You’ve got to assemble a team - and fast. It’s 3:30 on a Friday before a holiday weekend. You look quickly to see who in your department is still online. Five people are still logged on. You need to get this project moving, so, this will have to be the right team for the job. You gather everyone together, give a quick download of the project scope, budget, and timelines, thank them for their hard work and dedication, and let them know that of course you’ll be available to offer support or answer questions as needed. You know these employees. They’re high performers - motivated to succeed and interested in the subject of this project. It’s got to work - right?

Maybe. But more likely not. Just like a winning sports team isn’t made up entirely of high-performing goalies who were brought on board for the love of the game, or based on being close to the stadium at game time, work groups that are organized out of convenience might struggle to identify and fill their specific role on the team. After all, if you’ve got five goalies, there’s a good chance no one will score on you. But there’s an equally good chance you’re not going to score either.

What’s the alternative? While the fast pace of things may demand quick decisions in less than ideal conditions, creating a truly high-performing team involves more than just assembling a group of high-performers. It involves strategy and intention to create the best team for each job.

Read about more tactical tips about the strategies behind functional teams


One Way vs. Endless Ways

A Google Image search of the word collaboration brings up hundreds of results. People sitting around a conference table. A collection of hands shaking over a conference table. A group of individuals assembling puzzle pieces together on a conference table. A group of individuals looking at charts full of riveting data spread across the conference table. And of course, a group of individuals high-fiving. . . over a conference table. 

If you didn’t know any better, you might think that the only way collaboration can happen is while sitting at a conference table. And it’s not just Google Images that might lead you to that conclusion. Common practice in many organizations across industries is to assume that collaboration only happens at the same time, in the same place - and of course that place likely has a conference table. 

Can collaboration happen that way? Of course! Is it a great format for some collaborative work? Absolutely? So where’s the problem? Assuming that it is the only way to collaborate. The reality is, same-time, same-place (also known as “together-together”) collaboration is one of many modes of collaboration. And this mode isn’t always the best one for every job. So what can you do?

Start by considering all of the different tools or formats your organization uses for collaboration. Meetings? Emails? Teams? Mural? Intranet? Others? In today’s workplace where teams are gathered in-person, around the world, and in a variety of settings, the possibilities and tools for collaboration truly are endless. Establishing guidelines for how to use those tools can make those endless possibilities exponentially more effective! And, making suggestions for non-traditional collaboration methods demonstrates to your team that you're not just okay with it - you encourage it. By exploring different approaches and encouraging each member of the same to do the same can open the door for greater participation - and by extension - greater outcomes. 

Read for a more detailed examination of different ways of working together


Try out these approaches and who knows, maybe the next time your team has a “group project” you can be instrumental in replacing that ingrained sense of dread with a new sense of excitement!

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