The Elephant In The Room: Collaborative Overload

Collaboration has become a buzzword. And for a good reason.

December 16th, 2016   |    By: Vesela Bodurova    |    Tags: Culture, Management, Remote Work, Virtual Assistants, Collaboration, Staff, Advisors, Mentorship & Coaching

Collaboration has become a buzzword. And for a good reason.
Geoff Colvin argues that “in a world of exponentially increasing complexity, no one person or firm can do it all, so those that can work well with others have a distinct advantage.”

Collaboration is definitely non negotiable and here to stay.

Here comes the question:

Why is collaboration in the workplace on the rise?

Among others, there have been two main reasons for that:

1. Digital disruption, the change that occurs when new digital technologies and business models affect the value proposition of existing goods and services.” Yes, change sounds scary to many. Technology is transforming industries and more than ever existing structures within enterprises need to embrace change. Teams can work together from any location and realtime collaboration has become a reality.

2. Millennials are becoming the dominant generation in the workforce.

For example, in the U.S, Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation in 2016. Digital disruption is nothing scary to Millennials, on the contrary, it is considered a normality. As David Scully explains: “Younger workers think collaboratively, use cross-functional approaches and are relaxed around new technology. They expect to do rewarding work, be engaged and operate in an inclusive environment with a focus on communication.”

Younger workers think collaboratively, use cross-functional approaches and are relaxed around new technology.

So, here is the deal: Enterprises need to adopt collaboration practices and everything will be OK.

Actually, it has not worked out so well for many out there… And there is a name for that:

Collaborative Overload

Professor Rob Cross defines collaborative overload as “the point at which someone is so overwhelmed with collaborative responsibilities that she effectively becomes a bottleneck, unintentionally slowing down or inhibiting the flow of work within an organization.

He illustrates collaborative overload as the”emails and text messages that arrive 24 hours a day, the barrage of emails addressing issues and projects that may or may not actually require your input, the invitations to meetings on subjects that aren’t really relevant to you, or the requests for information that someone else could handle.”

Although we all agree that collaboration is beneficial, here are some of the challenges:

Uneven distribution of collaborative work

According to a study of collaborative interactions at more than 300 organizations published on Harvard Business Review, it turns out that “20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees.”

This leads to uneven distribution of responsibilities among employees and most of the time top collaborators feel overwhelmed and exhausted. The result is clear: burnout and loss of productivity. The whole organization suffers because resources and talents are wasted.

Too many tools & Too many time zones

The problem with collaboration tools is actually their number. So many tools, so many choices… Requests are sent via hundreds of tools and people get confused what to use and where to respond. Distraction is getting in the way of meaningful work. Being busy and getting work done are two different things.

Technology also makes it possible to be constantly available – both a blessing and a curse. Working in virtual teams has become commonplace in many enterprises. Remote working has its benefits in terms of flexibility but also creates time zone scheduling problems. Another roadblock for teams working together.

The Verdict

The good news is – there is a cure for collaborative overload.

  1. Schedule time for deep work, especially for your top collaborators
  2. Find the most convenient time slots for your virtual teams
  3. Rethink the amount of time spent in meetings
  4. Limit the number of tools and focus on the most effective ones in your specific case

It might be hard at times but do not forget “Alone we are smart. Together we are brilliant.” -S.Anderson


This article was originally shared on the SmashDocs blog. 


About the Author

Vesela Bodurova

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