Toxic Collaboration

Toxic Collaboration

Category : 2018

If you feel like most of your day is invested in email, meetings, and phone calls-you’re right. Those near-constant collaborative engagements consume 85% of the day for most people, according to research by Connected Commons, cited in the July-August Harvard Business Review.

Are those 51 hours of your 60-hour week (or near 80 hours of your 90-hour week) driving results or driving you crazy?

That is a question worth asking. A parallel article in the same HBR issue looks at how CEOs use their time. The research concludes, “It is vital for CEOs to block off meaningful amounts of uninterrupted time alone to give themselves space to think, reflect, and prepare,” (HBR, p. 50). Meaningful reflection and endless collaboration are mutually exclusive options.

Collaboration isn’t on-site baristas, free snacks, office areas that look like Starbucks, ping-pong in the COO’s office, first Friday neck massages in the lobby, or a really great document management system. Collaboration is “the action of working with someone to produce or create something.” While that is the intended goal of hours invested in hard-to-understand conference calls (“Can you hear me now?”) and easily-misinterpreted email (“That’s not what I meant.”), evidence indicates that for some leaders, collaboration is as destructive as it is productive.

The need to be needed, a well-intended desire to be seen as helpful (aka team player), and a lack of self-management are powerful accelerants for the all-consuming fire of collaboration. The factor that separates this all-consuming beast from its more productive cousin is value.

People that maximize these points of connection have learned when and how to recognize they are no longer bringing value and excuse themselves when they aren’t. Being a team player doesn’t require being on the field every minute of every game. One executive was quoted by HBR saying, “I have come to the realization that if people really need me they will find me. I am probably skipping 30% of my meetings now, and work seems to be getting done just fine.”

The leader that wants to engage with a team, while taking back some of that 85%, will eliminate hours in meetings and the emails that follow them by simply requiring that anyone wanting the leader’s time, clarify what value they think the leader brings to the issue, problem, or topic. If that question can’t be answered, the leader will be wise to reconsider his/her participation. When copied on another email chain, a leader would benefit from remembering that everything that arrives in an in-box does not demand a response.

Collaboration is here to stay. Whether it is leveraged productively is the leader’s choice.