Stop Condoning Over-Collaboration

One of the top three causes of burnout today is over-collaboration. Our organizational cultures have become so highly consensual that everyone has to be invited to the meeting, everyone’s input has to be included, everyone has to be cc’d on the message. HBR Collaboration Overload

In the last 20 years, time spent in collaborative work has grown by 50%. This sounds positive – face it, we’ve been hammering away at those impervious silo walls for decades. So what’s the problem? Uneven distribution. 30% of the value-added collaborations in organizations are now shouldered by 5% of the employees. HBR Collaboration Overload

Who are the 5%? The collaboration ninjas. The extra-milers. The star performers. Why them? They know more, they’re more helpful, they’re more capable – and over-collaboration is burning them out.

One more critical fact: this integrative superstar is likely to be a female. Check this out in our article Stop Burning Out Your Female Superstars on Zoom.

The solution: help people shift from collaborating to partnering

The scale below is a continuum, depicting what working relationships can be like in organizations. In an un-evolved culture, a fellow worker can be dangerous – out to sabotage your career. Thankfully, most cultures have evolved from that dog-eat-dog end of the spectrum. Many have evolved from club-wielding self-protection to giving obliging help. Some have transcended that and are focused on collaborating, but in today’s environment collaboration is not enough.

Collaboration (literally labor together) - is sufficient for getting work done, but insufficient for co-creation. For that, partnering is required. Partnering is proactively holding out for each other’s good – it’s the skin in the game required to meet each other’s driving needs. It’s holding one another accountable for our impact on relationships and results.

Partnering is the only relationship that’s robust enough to handle what we need most today: co-creation. Our complex systems require solutions of a higher order than we’re used to providing – solutions that are grounded in human-centered design. We often confine our concept of co-creation to external customers, but co-creation is vital with any customer, external or internal. When we step into chaos, sit with the tension of competing needs, hold space for each other and stay with the question long enough - a co-creative solution can emerge.

Although co-creation transcends integrative thinking, it is fueled by it. According to Roger Martin in his book The Opposable Mind, integrative thinking is:

The ability to engage in the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.

Without partnering, we do the opposite. We encounter competing needs, feel the tension, go binary and race to an early decision – one that spawns unintelligent tradeoffs and unsavoury compromises.

Partnering supplies the seeds of charitable interpretation that allow us to stay with each other in the chaos long enough to see a co-creative solution emerge. Partnering invites possibilities that are bigger than the synthesis of our two opposing points of view – possibilities that can differentiate our offerings and energize our work.

For employee energy to be sustainable, we need to co-create the way we do work. Irrelevant meetings, dreaded performance appraisals, undoable priorities and useless emails are all opportunities waiting to be transformed.

The Manager’s Role: make partnering normative behaviour

For more on partnering, see our Partnering Series. It will illustrate how managers can shift from parenting to partnering and how that unlocks performance. A manager who models partnering at all levels (with employees, fellow managers and leaders) displays a way of being that employees can then picture themselves inside. This makes the abstract concrete and possibility is ignited for the employee, “maybe I could do that too.”

The partnering mindset is the perfect course-correction for over-collaboration. Partnering is two people holding out for each other’s highest good. It means you hold each other accountable for your impact on people and productivity, on relationships and results. This nudges highly consensual conversations toward gritty debate, prompting people to ask, “Do I need to be at that meeting? Who could be representing me here?” and challenging the assumption that everyone’s input needs to be heard.

Modeling is vital, but it’s insufficient for partnering to take hold. If you’re a manager, stop condoning mere collaboration, make it clear that partnering is your expectation, coach your employees on how to engage in it and reward them for this behavior. That’s how partnering becomes normative behavior. That’s how you evolve from a culture of over-collaboration.

Let's chat more about partnering.

We’d love to explore how we can help you partner with your employees.

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