Authentic Collaboration — Avoiding Collaboration Overload



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.


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.

Understanding Relational Skills (Leadership Practice 6)

by Chuck Patch, Flickr

by Chuck Patch, 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 second grouping of servant leadership practices presented in the model emphasizes the importance of understanding the priority of people. In this second cluster of servant leadership practices, leadership behaviors associated with effective teams include: (1) valuing and appreciating, (2) creating a place for individuality, and (3) understanding relational skills. This week we take on Leadership Practice 6 — Understanding Relational Skills.

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

This second cluster, which is focused on understanding the priority of people, ends with the servant leadership practice of Understanding Relational Skills. Knowing how to get along with people is basic to quality relationships, and it is the basis of quality leadership practice as well. Although this may seem simplistic, understanding relational skills is key for leading well in the team context.

Relational Skills and Emotional Intelligence

In recent decades, leadership researchers have identified the importance of emotional intelligence for leadership practice. At the core of emotional intelligence are skills that support intrapersonal and interpersonal engagement. In his discussion of emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman emphasized factors such as empathy and social skills, premised on self-awareness. These factors provide a basis for effective relational skills. Self-awareness leading to an awareness of and responsiveness to the needs of others provides a platform on which effective leaders may appropriately humanize the leader-follower relational engagement.

Self-Awareness, Empathy, and Authentic Listening

The themes of self-awareness, empathy, and authentic listening were also highlighted by the research participants in my study on the topic, noting these as important characteristics of effective relational skills. One participant noted that empathetic communication, personal connection, selective vulnerability, and attention to what motivates followers are all critical relational skills. Other participants emphasized items such as:

  • The importance of authentic listening,
  • A commitment to fairness and equality,
  • The ability to tolerate and accept appropriate differences,
  • The importance of knowing oneself well in order to relate authentically with others,
  • The embodiment of confidence blended with the ability to see future possibilities and communicate the most appropriate path to get there
  • Creating a sense of safety and support for followers,
  • Demonstrating care and kindness,
  • Reinforcing a commitment to the working relationship, and
  • Maintaining an open and approachable posture toward followers.

All of these themes comprise key relational skills that help foster positive leader-follower relationships.

Although leaders at times may like to work in the background simply dealing with systems and structures, engaging organizational members, team members, and direct reports with relational intelligence is vital. How are you nurturing your relational skills? How are you engaging followers with wisdom and a spirit of understanding?


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


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