As businesses globalize and rapidly evolve, collaborative working is increasingly seen as the key to organizational success. According to the Harvard Business Review time spent working collaboratively has increased by more than 50% in the past 20 years with as much as 80% of employee time taken up by collaborative activities in some companies.
Digging a little deeper into the figures reveals an interesting picture too: namely that fewer than 3 to 5% of employees undertake 20 to 35% of the value-added collaborations. Additionally those who go the extra mile are quickly identified as such by their colleagues, and drawn into other projects with expectations on them snowballing.
The organizational rewards of collaborative working are well known but there is less awareness amongst managers and leaders of the associated costs. Different types of collaboration have been identified and where those requiring the time and energy of the collaborator exceed 25% of the total number of requests things can quickly become problematical. Two of the key problems are workflow bottlenecks where projects cannot move forward without input from key collaborators; and employee burnout where expectations on them are just too high.
So how can leaders balance the rewards and risks for greatest collaborative efficiency? The starting point should be to identify those collaborators most at risk of overload and from there spend time mapping the existing supply and demand of collaborative activity within the organisation. Using this information it is possible to support collaborators in changing the way they work, as well as to eliminate or redistribute workloads. Centralising information sources within the organisation can be also be effective as can re-organising workspaces or creating a specific role of ‘buffer’ person which frees up considerable collaborator time. Lastly it’s important to incentivize people to engage in collaborative behaviour, as well as individual achievement.
Better collaboration rather than more collaboration is the way to retain happy staff and reap the rewards of collaborative working.