Not everyone wants to collaborate

Not everyone wants to collaborate


Workplaces are centred around different departments [teams] in order to deliver.   Arguably, if these teams didn’t exist the organisation would not be able to perform.

The underlying assumption in most workplaces is that team work yields results; get a bunch of randoms together and magic will happen.  The practical reality is that yes: teamwork leads to results, however this is a broad spectrum and the what is often achieved may not be the desired result.

Collaboration is an essential, if not the most essential aspect of teamwork. It is the dynamic combination of ideas and efforts to produce a unique result; one which would not have been otherwise possible on an individual level.

Management tools, including;

  • Brainstorming;
  • Mind Mapping; and,
  • Cause and Effect

all rely upon the combination of ideas to yield optimal results.

So why don’t we all chip in and collaborate?

Well we don’t always play nice, or want to play nice with others, sometimes we prefer to work alone.   Maybe we’ve had bad experiences in the past, growing up, sharing, people taking credit for our work, those assignments where you’ve kind of done everything and the team as a whole has benefited. We as managers we must understand; not everyone wants to collaborate!

For some collaboration is a seemingly pointless task for which they are in attendance simply in body, and for the odd sarcastic remark.  These people (you know if you’re one) tend to bring down the ‘vibe’ and criticised for not being a ‘team player’.

As Ishikawa would say “let’s get to the cause”.

It’s assumed that the issue lies with the person not contributing to the team.  However, I can almost guarantee they have a different perspective on things.  Correct me if I’m wrong but in many cases, they are sitting there thinking things along the lines of:

  • I would do this so much better, faster on my own
  • Dam, these people are slowing me down
  • Seriously, does it take 10 people to solve a simple problem?
  • Hope this finishes soon so I can get some actual work done.

You see for some collaboration doesn’t come intuitively and since no one explains how to collaborate, or ironically asks input into how the process should be undertaken, they feel lost.  They feel isolated, they may even start to feel a little silly as everyone else seems to be following this invisible playbook.

So what happens when you feel like this?

You get defensive; in order to protect yourself you internally attack the process, the others by having thoughts such as “this is pointless”; effectively making it so.

I have witnessed this from many perspectives, I was often the one dreading any group-based activity or team-work, having the thoughts that they were useless applications of my time.  However, the more I understood the real point of collaboration, the more it made sense and the more I wanted to be involved.

It’s no secret that the world is changing at an exponential rate, technologies, views and norms are being displaced to make way for new models.  Keeping abreast of these changes is impossible; no one can be an expert in everything.  We each have unique experiences, issues, problems and have each found ways to deal with problems across different contexts.  We have crafted great solutions and had some pretty epic failures, highlighting what not to do again.  In consideration of Edison’s famous quote “I found 1000 ways not to make a lightbulb” if we combined all of our failures we could easily find something that will work.  In short none of us are smarter than all of us.

The key to successful collaboration is to ensure everyone understands the value of contribution.  It isn’t to find the person with the right idea, it’s the combination of ideas to generate the best one.  Which often is the one which wouldn’t have been made possible without that ‘silly’ person making that ‘silly’ remark; collaboration is about bending your thoughts and being free to explore options.

So as a manager, how do you ‘sell’ collaboration?

Show them the benefits, show them it works, show them it’s not a waste of time.  I’ve used the following, always with great results.

Take a look and play along.  Follow the instructions and come back when you are done.


Now this works well in a team environment, first individuals try to consider all possible uses; I’ve found even in two minutes most struggle to get more than 10.  Now under the same conditions I repeat the exercise; the group shares their ideas and I write on the board, as ideas are exchanged each person’s list grows as a suggestion triggers a thought in their minds.  What started as 5-7 individual ideas has quickly grown to 50 to 70, sometimes with some pretty creative solutions.

You can achieve this in 5 minutes and the effects are usually sufficient in converting those anti-collaborators.

Now they can understand the purpose; the why, understand that everyone is different and design a process (the how) to suit.

Collaboration does not need to be simultaneous, we don’t all need to be in a room thinking of ideas and sharing, I know it sounds a bit like a useless loop, but collaborate on the process for collaboration- top points if you understood that.  Ask people what works well for them, knowing your team consider their personalities and what situations they feel the most comfortable in.  For me I’ve found that something as simple as the time of the day or having food can make a massive difference.

So next time you are a victim of collaboration, or a manager seeking input, start with the notion that collaboration isn’t always an intuitive process and for some it may start of seeming idiotic and pointless; as we’ve learned if we don’t change those attitudes and manage the process, collaboration will be just that; idiotic, pointless and well, painful.

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