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.”

9 Effective Leadership Practices

Number Nine, by Mario Klingemann, Flickr

Number Nine, by Mario Klingemann, Flickr

Servant leadership is a good idea. The core of servant leadership is about leaders placing follower needs at the highest priority level. Most would agree this is a good idea. The question many do raise, however, is whether or not this good idea is also effective?

Thankfully social science research methods can help us. One of the benefits of social science research is its capacity to confirm the utility or effectiveness of practices that are inherently valid philosophically or biblically.

Good Ideas that Work

For instance we do not need research to inform us that humility is important for individuals and leaders; this is an argument that may be made practically, philosophically and biblically. The validity and importance of humility may be argued apart from research. However, research can come alongside logic and experience to confirm the utility or effectiveness of an idea like humility. This is what was found by Jim Collins in his research on Level Five Leaders. Not only is leader humility ethically-good and biblically-consistent as an idea—an argument that may be made biblically, philosophically, and practically—Jim Collins found through research that leader humility is also effective.

Servant Leadership: An Good Idea Whose Time Has Come

A similar argument may be made for understanding servant leadership. The importance and validity of servant-oriented leadership practices can be argued ethically, morally, philosophically, practically, and biblically apart from questions of its utility and effectiveness. However, it is powerful when leadership practices that are ethically-good and biblically-consistent are also found to be effective.

While servant leadership is a good and values-based model of leadership practice—and this alone is enough for leaders to utilize servant leadership practices—it is also helpful to know that servant leadership is effective. And indeed it is. Servant leadership is not only a good idea. It works.

9 Effective Leadership Practices

So what characterizes servant leadership? What leader behaviors are consistent with servant leadership practice?

Here are 9 core leadership practices that I’ve identified as not only good ideas, but also as effective.

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

In the coming weeks, I’ll unpack each of these practices and provide reflections both on why they are important and how leaders may use them to effectively guide their followers.

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

Collaboration: The Benefits, Bottom Line, & Basics

Collaboration, by AJC1, Flickr

Collaboration, by AJC1, Flickr

In a previous post I focused on the importance of removing the “I’s” from teams. Certainly there are important barriers to effective teamwork that need to be addressed, but pressing through such barriers is worth the effort. Here is a quick overview of the benefits, bottom line, and basics of collaboration.

The Benefits of Collaboration

Engaging a related topic to teamwork—collaboration—a recent article in the Harvard Business Review highlights benefits to collaboration in the professional service sector. In this article, Heidi Gardner identifies collaborative work across expertise boundaries as a key path for addressing complex issues and increasing overall profitability. In this study, collaborative models were associated with increased margins, increased client loyalty, and increased competitive edge.

The Bottom Line of Collaboration

Emphasizing this point, Gardner writes: “For a firm, the financial benefits of multidisciplinary collaboration are unambiguous. Simply put, the more disciplines that are involved in a client engagement, the greater the annual average revenue the client generates.” Although there is a learning curve in moving toward collaborative practices, Gardner reminds readers that on this front “perseverance pays off.”

Although I see great value in the use of teams on multiple level, it is helpful to note that the collaborative edge of team practice also proves to be effective from an economic perspective.

The Basics of Collaboration

Gardner provides a few specific recommendations for those seeking to increase their use of collaboration.

  • Don’t squeeze your team members “…be fair to the partners you invite onto your team.”
  • Deliver what you committed to on time, without reminders.
  • Communicate openly.

While there are many factors that contribute to effective collaboration, these are helpful reminders. I appreciate the affirmation of collaborative practice in this piece by Gardner.

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How are you tapping in to the benefits, bottom line, and basics of collaboration in your work with others?

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?

You Are Not Alone — Interdependence and Dependence in Leadership

Steering Wheel from a Vessel, Wilderness Kev, Flickr

Photo Credit: Steering Wheel from a Vessel, by Wilderness Kev, Flickr

How do you begin your day as a leader? I recently heard a friend share his leadership challenge of “waking up with the steering wheel in his hands.” Perhaps you can identify with this metaphor.

As leaders, it is all too easy to mentally and emotionally dive into our daily to-do list the moment we wake up. This level of all-in leadership engagement often continues throughout the workday and beyond. While understandable, such engagement can adversely effect us on multiple levels — our personal well-being, our interpersonal availability, and our team/organizational productivity.

In light of this challenge, we need to be intentional in finding time for pause, perspective, and refreshment in our day-to-day leadership responsibilities. I plan to write on several pathways for this intentionality in future posts, but I begin with this point — Remember You are Not Alone

Awareness of Our Finitude

Leaders are often wired toward independence … toward going it alone in the task of leadership. Thankfully, the practical nature of human limitation reminds us that we cannot do it all on our own. Leaders are reminded daily that there are only 24 hours with which to work. Leaders are reminded daily that our bodies need food to eat and the rest of sleep. Our finitude reminds us that going it alone is neither practical nor beneficial within the context of leadership.

You Are Not Able to Do it Alone”

Moses faced such limitations multiple times in his life and leadership. At one point, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro stepped in and challenged Moses’ independent approach to leading: “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone” (Exodus 18:17-18).

Thousands of years later, leaders are still battling this reality Moses faced. So how can we work against this tendency? A quick answer to this is we need to remember that we are not alone.

Interdependence and Dependence

First, as with Moses, we have other people within our communities with whom we are able to partner in meeting the goals that matter to our organizations. As with Moses, we need to learn healthy interdependency in our leadership. We rise to greet the day with a community of people who are likely much more willing to partner with us than we think. We rise to family, friends, and associates with whom we may link arms and work toward the goals that matter most to our organizations.

For some communities, cultivating this interdependency means that leaders need to equip and empower volunteers. For other communities, this means equipping and empowering staff and coworkers with whom we serve on a common mission. As with Moses, we need to resist our tendency to go it alone. We must look for authentic partners with whom we may work and serve.

Second, as with Moses, we may rise to greet the day with a heavenly father who is ready to lead and guide us. As with Moses, we may learn our healthy dependency on God in life and leadership. Although leaders have a tendency to “wake up with the steering wheel in their hands,” leaders who are mindful of God’s presence recognize that they are not alone even when no one else is around.

On this point of remembering God’s presence, I appreciate a prayer of St. Patrick. Here are some excerpts from this prayer:

I arise today through the strength of heaven….

I arise today through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me….

Christ shield me today against wounding.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me….

I arise today
through the mighty strength of the Lord of creation”

Though sometimes drawn toward independence, leaders need to remind themselves early in the day that they are not alone.

  • I arise and awake to a God who is ready to “pilot me,” “uphold me,” and “guide me” through the demands of my day.
  • I arise to a day where there are opportunities to partner with others in work that matters.
  • I arise, and I remember that I am not alone in my leadership journey.