The Problem with Collaboration

Why would anyone think that collaboration is a problem? After all, aren’t we all supposed to be playing nice in the sandbox? Maybe; but what most people don’t realize is that overuse of collaboration (“over-consultation”) can lead to underperformance and low productivity.

Studies show that extraverts especially tend to over-consult because they draw their energy from others—unlike introverts who draw their energy from within. Extraverts want to talk through their thoughts with whoever will listen; whereas, introverts need some alone time to work on that next big innovation.

Jake Breeden, author of Tipping Sacred Cows: Kick the Bad Work Habits that Masquerade as Virtues, says that “extraverts can become workplace vampires who suck the productivity out of their coworkers.” Having a team comprised mostly of extraverts is a danger signal for low productivity. Now imagine having an extravert for a boss (or bosses).

While collaboration can be good in some instances where consensus on decisions truly is valuable, it can also lead to decisions taking much longer because of the need for everyone to “weigh in,” even if they have nothing to contribute. In fact, people who prefer to work in isolation see collaboration as totally non-productive—participating in a collaborative exercise can be physically uncomfortable and devalues their time.

According to author Susan Cain, this “New Groupthink” called collaboration is permeating organizations. She says that offices are now comprised of people who work in teams, there are no walls in offices, and managers prize people skills above all. She says that “Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.”

But the problem of collaboration, besides its contribution to lowered productivity, is its role in stifling creativity.

Those lone geniuses that are about to discover the newest innovation can be continuously shutdown by those that need to discuss everything.

How does one undertake collaboration productively? Breeden suggests the following:

  • Collaborate only with intention, clear boundaries, and expectations
  • Understand individual responsibilities
  • Leave plenty of time for unplugged, independent thought

Following the above guidelines, collaborators will inspire each other to be creative and, ultimately, more productive. And that is the desired effect.