What’s stopping you from collaborating with others? What’s stopping your team? According to the Leadership Research Institute, people are willing to collaborate when there’s a personal connection, common interest, or an otherwise compelling reason to so.
To move beyond excuses and arrive at solutions, start by asking each of your teams what prevents them from making collaboration part of their workday? Then list their responses on a whiteboard or flip chart. Common examples of barriers might include “other teams are in opposite time zones” or “there’s no real incentive to do it” or “collaboration slows down our progress.”
Resist the instinct to defend or interrogate; just encourage people to keep sharing and write everything down. Once you’ve captured all the barriers, ask people to make a case for the ones that are the most problematic.
Crushing the barriers to collaboration at work
Discussing why something is a barrier can help you discover the root problems for low engagement around collaboration. For example, if a problematic barrier involves “opposite time zones,” people might mention the long lag time for feedback and answers to critical questions. Or, you might hear that collaboration isn’t among the performance review criteria, so why dedicate energy to it?
Around the issue of slowness, you could hear might hear complaints about how long it takes a group to make decisions. Or different goals for different teams means the group often isn’t aligned on the deliverable. Capture all their feedback in a whiteboard because it will help you generate solutions for the three main barriers.
Start off by asking if people have ideas for how to remove any of the three barriers? If the room is silent, start spit-balling out loud. For example:
- “What if, for the two hours a day when our time zone and theirs overlap — by the way, use WorldTimeBuddy.com to find those golden hours — both teams agreed that approvals and feedback for the other a top priority?”
- “If a category on your performance review was ‘demonstrates collaborative behavior,’ would you then make it a priority?”
- “What if we split collaborative meetings into two distinct phases: info-sharing and decision-making? Would everyone be willing to pilot this for six weeks?”
Keep working on solutions to the three barriers until the majority of the room is in agreement with the changes. Then, either implement them or get buy-in from someone who can.
This exercise gives you a formula for addressing obstacles and making real change. It’s designed to open up dialogue about why people aren’t collaborating so you can identify the source of their resistance — and address it.
Use it when there’s a major expansion; measurable drop in collaborative activity; or when you’re establishing a culture change. Taking time to understand people’s barriers and remove them shows employees that you hear them — all while reaffirming collaboration as a top business priority.