The Catastrophe That Is Bad Collaboration
The following is a fictional story based on real world examples. If it hits a little too close to home, you should ping us ASAP!
Max didn’t realize just how poorly his team was collaborating until he hired Steph.
Steph was a writer, a stereotypical creative if there ever was one. Totally right-brained, perfection over viability, odd hours and all-nighters, and an energy that could make even the most buttoned-up quants feel creative just by working near her.
If you were to judge Steph solely on the basis of her finished work, with no insight into all the frustration she left in her wake, you’d see what Max had seen originally: a creative genius who would surely increase the energy of the team. Max had actually been warned by her previous manager: she’ll let you down, or burn herself out trying not to. He was convinced that there was something about their management that brought out the worst in her, and that things would be different on his team.
It didn’t take long before the first deadline was missed. Max chalked it up to her needing time to adjust to the rhythm of his team. But a month in, Steph was missing more deadlines than she was hitting. Everyone else on the team told him the same story: they were unable to move forward with their projects because Steph had not met her obligations on time. But there was no denying that their work was slipping in other ways, too, and Steph was becoming a convenient scapegoat.
Max’s team’s collaboration structure was failing, whatever the cause. He didn’t yet know how to fix it, but the costs were mounting and becoming clearer every day. The idea of creating a high-performance culture was miles from his mind as he struggled just to keep us above water. Every day it felt like there was too much to do, and his team had come to need greater and greater oversight just to get by.
The mounting costs
Poor collaboration costs us at every level: personal, team, company and even societal.
As a result of his team’s lackluster performance, Max had started under-promising what his team would deliver, and he was beginning to lose credibility with his peers.
The team was waiting too long to tell him about bottlenecks. They were taking on side projects that diverted them from more important priorities. They were playing the blame game and it was becoming less and less clear who was actually doing what As a result, Max would regularly outsource work or just do it himself if he wanted it done correctly. He wasted hours every day repeating himself, refereeing disputes and micro-managing every task to keep the ship afloat.
His challenges aren’t unique.
In the US, $50B to $150B in losses per year are attributed to project failure, and that’s just in the IT industry.
The average worker wastes 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings. Three out of five projects aren’t aligned to corporate strategy. Employees think they’re unproductive 17 hours out of a 45-hour workweek. Only one in five employees were “certain they knew what was expected of them at work each day.”
Max soon realized that Steph wasn’t only a cause of poor collaboration; she was also the consequence.
Her behavior was not an accident. In fact, it was the embodiment of the dysfunctional system that he had allowed to develop. The team was nowhere near the productive, fair and efficient system that was needed.
Steph was the key to unlocking what was ultimately wrong with the way Max’s team was working. Adding her to his team was like performing a stress test to see where things would break. As it turns out, he learned that things had been broken long before he hired her; he just hadn’t realized it.
He found out that commitments were going unmet because they were neither well designed nor implemented properly. People were often unclear about what was needed, or who was responsible, so everyone worked extra hours to make up for their confusion and lack of alignment. Max had been handing out assignments like homework, with too little room for input. He wasn’t transferring true ownership of the work, handing over the keys. He had turned into the worst kind of back seat driver.
His team wasn’t taking time to get clear about the key elements of the project. Assumptions weren’t being poked and questioned to determine whether they were realistic. Honest, critical feedback was being withheld in order to avoid conflict. He was praising exceptional but incomplete work, while the people that balanced their workload to deliver acceptable work against all of their assignments received no such recognition.
As a team, they implemented a “measure twice, cut once” approach. Work didn’t start until clarity was established between stakeholders. They asked tougher questions of one another. Max sought input before demanding results, and gave his team the autonomy to get things done their way. That input and the back-and-forth provided the consent that transformed assignments into commitments. Max led by example, communicating about his progress just as much as he was inquiring about theirs. He reserved the highest recognition for those who most reliably delivered quality results on time, and rigorously measured output against their team objectives.
Steph responded just as positively to the changes as everyone else. Everyone felt better about themselves and became more engaged in their work. There was no more finger pointing, and there weren’t as many late nights scrambling to meet deadlines.
The solution created mutual accountability by improving transparency and establishing a different set of expectations about how the team was to work together. When they held themselves and their teammates accountable to their commitments, the work improved. When everyone could see what everyone else was doing, they felt less fear and uncertainty. They began to trust each other again and enjoy working with each other more. They increased their ability to contribute to the company. They recovered more quickly after mistakes and miscommunications. They socialized more outside of work and celebrated their victories as a team.
Though she was the source of a lot of stress and disharmony, Steph’s arrival was just what Max’s team needed to see how things really were. He only wished he had uncovered the truth earlier.
Contact Alynd today to learn how we can help you create a high-performance collaborative environment.