3 Signs Members of Your Team Do Not Know How to Collaborate

Editor’s note: The following post was written by Anonymous. Ted merely facilitated the means to get the story out so that we all can learn from the person’s experience. You can see another article written by this same author HERE.

Collaboration is a great idea. In a collaborative environment good ideas and projects have the opportunity to become great ideas and projects. Working collaboratively people often come up with ideas that they wouldn’t have working alone – even with feedback from peers.

Unfortunately sometimes organizations talk about it but don’t support it, don’t hire people who can collaborate. Sometimes people who don’t know (or can’t) collaborate use “collaboration” to mask their inability or to just push their own agendas.  These are not simply collaboration styles. They may look like they are collaborating, but these colleagues or team members use the cover of collaboration to Do Things Their Way.

  1. Sitting in wait – this is the colleague who waits until you have done the bulk of work before contributing her criticisms.  This person makes you feel like you are sitting duck for criticism. Who wants to be the first to contribute when this colleague is waiting in the reeds? Not me.
  2. My Way – this colleague doesn’t work with you so much as dictate to you. Her way or no way style of collaborating kills any desire to work with her. Which is just what she wants: to take over the project.  This collaborator will toss endless spears of criticism that appear to be “contributing” but are really just designed to wear you out. So that you will relent and replace all of your work with hers. That’s a collaboration she can live with.
  3. Last Minute – You’ve done a lot of work on a project, made progress, dealt with colleagues sitting in wait, compromised and came up with new ideas that could not have emerged had you worked alone. Despite the challenges of collaborating, the project is on target to make its deadline. Until this collaborator shows or speaks up. At the last minute, this colleague brings up an idea, suggestion, or other contribution that is relevant, important, and interesting. But it is late in the game. Incorporating this piece requires the team to rework the entire project or deliverable. As a result, your team will not deliver on time. Every team member’s reputation and jobs is on the line.  Instead of focusing on improving the collaboration, the team is focused on the “quality vs “on-time”” debate.

Oddly enough, the traits that make a good leader also make a good collaborator: someone who listens to others, considerate, willing to do behind the scenes grunt work necessary to get a job done and polish someone else’s work so that everyone on the team shines. You may not force your ideas on everyone else but you know how to facilitate an environment in which good ideas become better and everyone contributes fairly without putting others on the team down.

The traits that make a good leader also make a good collaborator

  1. Define your terms. What does collaboration mean on your team or project?  What does this mean for evaluations and reviews? When you spell it out, you give less room to team members such as those described above who have trouble collaborating.
  2. Good fences make good collaboration. Sorry Robert Frost for hijacking your poem in the interests of business, but it endures well.  Fences in this case are boundaries – what are the deadlines for each phase of the project. Set recurring meeting times designated for working through ideas and suggestions. The sooner you collaborate within these boundaries, the less likely faux collaborators will be to disrupt the team and project.
  3. Designate times for disruptive ideas/thinking/work – Boundaries again, but in a way that uses fences to capture those really good ideas that may come from colleagues or staff who have trouble collaborating. These designated disruptive times gives them a place to stand in the spotlight.

Finally, as someone who wants to do things differently, who has the skills to collaborate, you must beware of these faux collaborators. That your company enables these faux collaborators to continue is often a red flag that the company talks about collaboration but really isn’t interested in rewarding it. It’s a red flag that you might be in a place that doesn’t value you.

Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • TedCoine

    Anonymous, you’re on a sinking ship! Get outta there, and bring your considerable talents somewhere that deserves you.

    To the rest of our community: this person is, indeed, about to jump ship for a vessel more deserving, as have maaaaaany of his/her most talented colleagues already. Are you running an organization that is driving away its top talent? Beware. You’ll be stuck with the leftovers. That will only hasten your company’s decline.

    Final note: I think leaders who have problems like this don’t read ExchangeGain. I’m wagging my finger at an empty room, I know ;) LOL. For the leaders who do love this humble corner of the Web… well, there’s tremendous opportunity in recruiting unappreciated or dissatisfied talent from your competitors. Happy hunting, my friends!

  • Alan Kay

    Ted, to quote my solution focus brief therapy teacher, Jim Duval, ‘Everybody is trying to collaborate … just not each other’s way’. Your contributor might want to try to reframe her/his understanding of the politics in their organization. That said, moving on to be even more successful somewhere else makes a lot of sense.

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  • CheryGegelman

    Ted – Thank you for sharing this post! This quote says it all, “That your company enables these faux collaborators to continue is often a red flag that the company talks about collaboration but really isn’t interested in rewarding it. It’s a red flag that you might be in a place that doesn’t value you.”

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