When Collaboration Backfires

At a senior, offsite retreat – the sort of high visibility moment that can make and break careers – his boss, the CFO, asked Bill for a “quick and dirty” analysis of the accounting implications of a new business model the company was considering. Bill ran his accounting department with a steadfast belief in the value of collaboration. No matter how trivial the task, Bill wanted a second opinion on each and every project.

The CFO handed Bill a white board marker and asked him to “help us think big picture, real time.” Bill stared back at the CFO, blankly.

Finally, Bill spoke: “I’ll need to do a proper analysis and couldn’t begin to consider all of the variables without checking with my team.” The other department heads looked at each other with the same unspoken thought – Bill’s career had just plateaued. The culprit: collaboration.

Collaboration backfires when it creates a culture of learned helplessness. Workgroups grow too big and lose their focus, and roles and responsibilities morph into ambiguity. “Underlap” creeps into projects as team members assume someone else will get the task done. When no one feels the pressure to perform, collaboration has backfired. Instead, sometimes it’s important to check out and work on your own, hold yourself accountable to individual goals and resist the siren song of groupthink.

In my forthcoming business book, I'll describe the three-step action plan to put out the collaboration backfire at work.

  1. Give Yourself Credit. How to make sure your team collaboration doesn’t take up so much time that it prevents you from earning a reputation as a high achiever at work.

  2. Be Radical, Sometimes. How and when to be the devil’s advocate to ensure collaboration doesn’t lead to mindless groupthink.

  3. Hold Yourself Accountable. How to ensure that you make, communicate and keep your own individual commitments even when working as part of a team.

My new book will reveal the unintended consequences of collaboration and eight more sacred cows at work. Ultimately, the book provides a hopeful message and specific solution steps that show readers how to benefit from the best of their good intentions without getting burned by the backfire.