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Why Your Team Isn’t Collaborating

You’ve read the books, attended the seminars, acquired the technology but your team is still not successfully collaborating. Why? Well, before you pull out all your hair in frustration, breathe, take a step back and analyze what’s going on. Odds are that people are not making a conscious decision to avoid collaboration.  It’s easy to forget that collaboration is difficult and sometimes foreign to employees. It takes time and effort to create. In a recent Forbes article, author Ron Ashkenas, points out several “text book” scenarios where collaboration should occur but doesn’t. So try and keep an eye out for these, because if you can help your team overcome them you will certainly be one step closer to achieving true team collaboration.

Compliance

Ashkenas defines compliance as being when “each team member independently responds to [a] challenge by taking action in her own area. In other words, everyone on the team complies with the need to do something, but avoids working together.” This happens more often than you would think. There’s a need set forth by management and, with minimal discussion, the tasks are divided among a team. Each member then goes out and does their respective part. In compliance, there is really no further team communication outside the initial planning meeting. This may work out well for getting things done, however it fails to establish that collective bond between your team.

Cooperation

Unlike compliance, where everyone works independently, teams that decide to “cooperate” end up having a higher level interaction with one another. However, according to Ashkenas in cooperation the focus still remains on individual actions rather than a collective strategy. The main difference between the two is that in cooperation, “each person develops and implements his own plan,” then shares what they are doing with the group. Ashkenas points out that while some joint discussion does exist, it is not occurring at a level where it can be deemed true, beneficial to the team.

What’s interesting to note, is that in both of these scenarios neither team makes a conscience decision to avoid collaboration. Instead, as Ashkeanas points out, “they [do] what [came] naturally, which is to work either completely or partially on their own.” Why? Well it’s because collaboration is difficult and time consuming. There are times when compliance or cooperation are faster and easier alternatives. Additionally, true collaboration “requires subordinating individual goals to collective achievement; it means engaging in tough, emotional give-and-take decisions with colleagues about strategies and ideas; and it often leads to working in new ways that may not be comfortable or easy,” says Ashkenas. However grim this might sound, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Teams don’t always have to take the easy way out. If they can successfully address their challenges through true collaboration, it’s possible to have outstanding results. It all comes down to that initial meeting. To successfully collaborate, teams have to “to make a conscious – and collective – decision to go beyond compliance and cooperation.”

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