Authentic Collaboration — Avoiding Collaboration Overload

 

collaboration_Jennifer-Leonard

Photo Credit: collaboration, by Jennifer Leonard, Flickr

I’m a fan of teamwork. Team leadership was an area of focus for me in my Ph.D. dissertation research entitled Servant Leadership and Team Effectiveness. See some of my positive affirmations of teams in the following posts:

While teams have many benefits, there are challenges associated with teams as well. See a previous post in which I highlight and discuss the following 6 Challenges of Teams (subtitle…Removing the “I’s” from Your Team):

  • Ingrown
  • Indecision
  • Inaction
  • Inefficiency
  • Inequity
  • Inconsideration

Collaborative Overload

In a recent HBR article, Cross, Rebele, and Grant take up another important challenge in an article entitled “Collaborative Overload: Too Much Teamwork Exhausts Employees and Saps Productivity.”

In their article they provide several important cautions surrounding team member exhaustion, and in so doing remind us to not overload on a good thing. The core of the identified problem in the article is expressed in the following manner:

Although the benefits of collaboration are well documented, the costs often go unrecognized. When demands for collaboration run too high or aren’t spread evenly through the organization, workflow bottlenecks and employee burnout result.”

Cross, Rebele, and Grant go on to recommend solutions to this problem that are focused on better managing collaboration through efficient organizational and team practices. This is good advice.

Authentic Collaboration

As I engaged their work, I also began to think of another solution that I’ll label “Authentic Collaboration.”

From my experience with teams, groups, and committees, the problem is not too much collaboration, but rather too much of the wrong type of collaboration.  Let me explain.

When participants in a collaborative process are playing a role on the team, group, or committee that is authentic and meaningful, this type of collaboration tends to be energizing. When participation is inauthentic and merely procedural, this type of collaboration tends to be energy draining and feel like wasted time.

Meaningful Participation

Often from positive motivations, leaders and administrators tend to draw people into a collaborative experience because these leaders and administrators need a representative from diverse divisions or interests in their organizations.

When this practice is about wanting to authentically hear voices from these unique perspectives, this can lead to meaningful and authentic collaboration. However, when this practice is simply about wanting to placate an organizational perspective or voice, and the voice at the table is not authentically desired by leadership, this can lead to unproductive and inauthentic collaboration.

Again, I would argue collaboration is not the problem, but rather the wrong type of collaboration. When people are invited to the table of collaboration, the invitation needs to be authentic. Help people to be good stewards of their time by facilitating meaningful participation for all involved on the team, group, or committee.

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What has been your experience with collaboration? What problems and challenges have you faced? How have you engaged these problems and found meaningful solutions? Take a moment to share your experience below.

Fostering Collaboration (Leadership Practice 3)

Lomography Collaboration, enshahdi, Flickr

Lomography Collaboration, enshahdi, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Servant Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.

The past two weeks I highlighted the first two practices—Modeling what Matters and Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation. This week, we turn to the third practice—Fostering Collaboration.

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Dwight D. Eisenhower is attributed with saying “It is better to have one person working with you than three people working for you.” Such logic is at the heart of collaboration, and effective leaders prioritize fostering collaboration in their teams and organizations. In contrast to overly competitive leadership agendas, this leadership behavior—Fostering Collaboration—highlights the importance of leaders encouraging followers to work together over competing against one another in the organizational environment.

Collaboration and Complexity

Noting the importance of fostering collaboration, one research participant argues that, “solutions to complex problems today often require a collaborative engagement with others, the collective of which will generate the best solution.” Another participant acknowledges that no one person can meet the demands placed on leadership, and thus “collaboration allows a leader to expand the leadership resources brought into the leadership process.”

The Priority of Authentic Collaboration

Providing a key argument for viewing this practice as part of beginning with authentic leaders, one participant in my study noted the danger of collaborative gestures coming across as token invitations for follower participation. When a leader “just wants to appear like he/she is collaborating, but doesn’t really care about input from others,” such inauthentic collaborative gestures become toxic for leader-follower relationships and the broader organizational culture. However, when genuine respect for followers is blended with a listening posture, a suspension of leader predispositions, and a willingness to give credit to others and embrace solutions that come from others, there is great power in leaders working with followers on genuinely collaborative agendas.

Going Far Together

There is an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Those who want to go far in leadership enterprises recognize the priority of a collaborative environment.

How are you doing at fostering collaboration in your sphere of influence? Do you recognize the priority of working together in order to go far? Take the next step in fostering collaboration in your work as a leader!

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Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

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Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

4 Benefits of Teams

"A group of people with hands joined", by DG EMPL, Flicker

“A group of people with hands joined”, by DG EMPL, Flicker

Teamwork does not come without challenges. I addressed some of these challenges in a recent post (Removing the “I’s” from Your Team).

Teamwork also comes with significant benefits. Here is a quick overview of some of the core benefits I’ve observed in team practice and research.

1. Better Ideas and Increased Insight

You’ve likely heard the proverb, “two minds are better than one.” Such proverbial wisdom points to a key benefit of working in teams. Teams provide a context for idea generation. Teams provide a context for increased insight regarding complex problem solving. Teams provide a place for multiple perspectives to emerge. Teams provide a context for increased creativity as members bounce ideas off of one another. And teams provide a context for more ideas to be generated, which generally leads to better ideas being generated so long as group think is proactively addressed.

2. Increased Courage to Face Challenges

Being alone can be a challenge for some in times of calm, but it can be a major challenge when problems hit. Teams provide a context for facing problems together. Teams provide a context for esprit de corps and feeling that we are in this together. Teams provide a context for the collective group to take bigger risks than individuals. When we are in it together, there is a courage that is infused into the group that many individuals do not experience in isolation. Together, teams are able to face challenges that feel too big for any one individual.

3. The Presence of Peer Support

Because teamwork is done with others, it provides the opportunity for increased peer support. Teams provide a context for improved morale. Teams provide a context for mutual encouragement. Teams provide a context for mutual accountability. Teams provide a context for support, both personal and professional. Teams provide a context for collaboration in working toward task-accomplishment.

4. A Context for Mentoring and Training

Finally, though not exhaustively, teams provide an unique opportunity for organizations to develop younger or newer talent. Teams provide an organic context for leadership development. Teams provide a natural context for modeling preferred organizational behavior. Teams provide a context for either formal or informal mentoring. Rather than providing leadership development and mentoring as a side program, teams provide a natural environment in which emerging team members and leaders can observe and interact with tenured team member and leaders. Teams provide a context for members to be valued, developed, and and released as contributors.

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The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us of the value of laboring with others.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor….
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

– Ecclesiastes 4:9, 12

Though not exhaustive, both Ecclesiastes and the four benefits noted above point us to the benefits that teams provide. What additional benefits have you found in your work with teams?

6 Challenges of Teams — Removing the “I’s” from Your Team

Join Our Team, by Craig Taylor, Flickr

Join Our Team, by Craig Taylor, Flickr

The use of teams and team-based structures in organizations continues to grow. Teams are associated with many benefits. One of my discussions on the benefits of teams is here (Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?).

In addition to benefits, the use of teams also has challenges associated with it. We are told there is no “I” in team. Beyond individuals bringing a commitment to the team over themselves, I’d like to also share my short lists of “I’s” to remove from teams.

Ingrown: The first “I” to remove is the challenge of groups becoming ingrown. This is just another way to talk about the reality of “group think” that teams face.  When individual members of teams are not willing to speak up and make their perspectives known, this passive posture of team participation can work against innovation and creativity. In contrast to the dynamic of group think, team members need to be willing to challenge one another’s ideas and pursue new insights, new discoveries, and new innovations as they seek to pursue the team mission.

Indecision: The second “I” to remove is the challenge of indecision. In contrast to the point above, sometimes groups are characterized by sharing many new perspectives and ideas, but the open-ended process of idea generation never translates into decision. This can translate into a form of creative paralysis for teams—always generating new ideas and perspectives, but not making decisions on the questions the team is facing.

Inaction: The third “I” to remove is the challenge of inaction. This “I” of inaction can be a result of several factors. Inaction can be a result of the indecision noted above. But at times inaction is not about indecision but rather lack of fortitude or conviction in moving from decisions to action as a team. Inaction can also be due to lack of role clarity. When assumptions are made and people do not bring clarity and commitment to their role in moving toward actions, these assumptions can also result in inaction. Teams must gather a broad range of perspectives as they resist group think, and then they must land on decisions, clarify team member roles in light of these decisions, and then be willing to act on these decisions as they work toward the teams mission together.

Inefficiency: The fourth “I” to remove is the challenge of inefficiency. As identified in a previous post (Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?), team process often can take longer than working as an individual or in a group process that simply brings together individual work. However, teams benefit from limiting this dimension of inefficiency. Although teams can take longer, it is important to maximize efficiency as the team pursues quality in its common work.

Inequity: The fifth “I” to remove is the challenge of inequity. If you’ve ever participated in a group project over the course of your schooling process, it is common for there to either be an uneven workload distribution or an uneven effort given to the workload of the team. This is an issue of equitable workload. Teams want to have team members that are full participants—team members that fully show up and engage the team process. Removing the “I” of inequity requires that team members are willing to hold one another accountable and call underperforming members to step up in their commitment to the team’s common work.

Inconsideration: The sixth “I” to remove is the challenge of inconsideration. When people come together in group and team processes, there is significant opportunity for conflict and dissention to emerge. Some of this conflict is substantive in nature—team members disagreeing over their ideas and perspectives. Other conflict is relational in nature—team members disagreeing over personal matters related to the interpersonal dynamics. Whether substantive or relational, a key solution to such conflict is consideration among the team members. Rather than engaging with inconsideration, effective teams care for one another. They care for the ideas of other members of the team. They care about the health of relationships on the team. They understand that erosion of team cohesion due to either substantive or interpersonal conflict is a threat to the health of the team and the team’s capacity to care out their mission.

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We are told “there is no I in Team.” This is a helpful reminder that team members need to primarily be about the needs of the team rather than their own self-interest. However, there are many other “I’s” that need to be removed as well. Teams need to face and remove the “I’s” on their teams—they need to remove the dynamics of tending toward the I behaviors of Ingrown, Indecision, Inaction, Inefficiency, Inequity, and Inconsideration.

How is your team doing? Are there any lingering “I’s” to remove in your team?

A Joyful Heart is Good Medicine … it also increases productivity!

Joy, by Alice Popkorn, Flickr

Photo Credit: Joy, by Alice Popkorn, Flickr

“A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

– Proverbs 17:22

In a recent edition of Harvard Business Review, the title of a sidebar mini-article caught my attention … “Start Your Next Meeting with a Joke.”

In the highlighted research, teams with at least one person in a good mood were more than twice as likely to solve a puzzle as teams whose members were all in neutral moods. The article explains, “people in good moods are more likely to share knowledge and seek information from others, which cues the rest of the group to follow suit.”

As noted above, Proverbs 17:22 reads:

“A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Not only is a joyful heart good medicine at the individual level, joy is also contagious. And, according to researcher Kyle Emich, this positive spirit also leads to greater productivity in teams. In other words, joy is not only pleasant, it is also productive.

What are you bringing to your team today? Are you bringing a negative or neutral mood, or are you bringing joy and positivity?

Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?

Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, Scott Maxwell, Flickr

Photo Credit: Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, by Scott Maxwell, Flickr

“A group becomes a team when each member is sure enough of himself
and his contribution to praise the skills of the others.”
– Norman Shidle

Most people participate in some form of a team or group on a regular basis. This happens through recreation in the realm of sports and clubs. This happens on the job as people come together to get things done within organizations.

Although you likely have been part of both groups and teams in the past, do you understand the difference? What are the key distinctions between a group and a team?

Defining Teams

Larson and LaFasto describe three basic characteristics of teams.

  1. Two or more people
  2. Specific performance objective or recognizable goal to be attained
  3. Coordination of activity among the members of the team is required for attainment of the team goal or objective

Independent or Coordinated Effort

Larson and LaFasto’s third point is the key to answering our question.

  • Groups organize around individuals bringing together independent work in light of individual goals.
  • Teams organize around individuals bringing together coordinated work in light of collective goals.

Contrasting Groups and Teams

Groups

Teams

Independent Work

Individual Goals

Individual Accountability

Individual Evaluation

Coordinated Work

Collective Goals

Mutual Accountability

Collective Evaluation

Valuing Both

I highly value teaming done well. However, there is a time and place for both groups and teams.

Groups are generally more helpful for quickly and efficiently getting things done in the context of a temporary working relationship. When individual and independent work can be brought together to advance the individual goals of multiple parties, then a group is an efficient way to work together. Many of the group projects and assignments I’ve completed over the years of my schooling fit into this group model.

Teams are generally more helpful for taking on bigger projects over a longer period of time. When the outcome requires coordinated work being brought together to advance collective goals that will be collectively evaluated, then a team is the most effective way to work together. Although teaming done well tends to take more time than working as a group, this extra time investment pays off in the quality of the team’s performance.

Speed or Quality

  • Groups are best when the stakes are lower and speed is the key.
  • Teams are best when the stakes are high and quality is more important than speed.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

– African proverb

This African proverb sums it up well. Though most of us want to go fast AND far, usually we have to prioritize one over the other. Groups help us go fast. Teams help us go far.

Enjoy the journey of working with others. I’d love to hear your experience of working with groups and teams!

C.S. Lewis on Empowerment — Exploring Leadership Development

C. S. Lewis, Sigurdur Jonsson, Flickr

Photo Credit: C. S. Lewis, Sigurdur Jonsson, Flickr

Empowerment is vital for effective leadership. It is core to most of our relationships…from teaching, to parenting, to leading.

Leading People to Not Need Us

In discussing love and giving, C.S. Lewis implicitly engages the practice of empowerment. Lewis writes:

The proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift. We feed children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching.”

Celebrating Growth toward Independence

This principle is not only essential for effective parenting or teaching, it is also essential for effective leading. It raises a heart-searching question for us as leaders: Are we leading our people to dependency on our leadership, or are we leading them to a place of independence and interdependence?

Recognizing Leader Struggles Along the Way

Organizational leaders who hunger for power and position will have difficulty leading followers to a place of independence. Organizational leaders who struggle with personal insecurity will struggle to free followers to this place as well.

Secure and follower-focused leaders recognize that it is a win for both their followers and their organizations to create pathways where leaders may be both developed and empowered for service.

Finding the Reward of Empowerment

Lewis continues to press his argument:

Thus a heavy task is laid upon the Gift-love. It must work towards its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous. The hour when we can say ‘They need me no longer’ should be our reward.”

All too often, our saying “they need me no longer” is viewed as a threat rather than a reward. But true love—love that holds the importance of others and their goals alongside our own goals—will lead in such a way that both leader and follower values, goals, aspirations, and dreams may be pursued.

Developing and Deploying Emerging Leaders

In reality, leaders who get the concept of developing and deploying their people do not work themselves out of a job, for such leaders are constantly creating new opportunities for new developing leaders. Great leaders create space for others to flourish. Great leaders identify potential, develop this potential, and release this potential into new roles and opportunities.

Leadership development does not need to be a zero sum game. Thriving organizations and entrepreneurial communities benefit from a regular flow of developed and empowered leaders released into new opportunities.

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How are you wired as a leader around these themes? Do you tend to hold onto authority over others, or are you wired to identify, develop, and release talent in the cause of your organization’s mission? Great leaders empower their people!