No matter the size of the organisation, collaboration is absolutely necessary. For smaller organisations, collaboration often comes easy, but for larger organisations with bigger, perhaps distributed teams, getting everyone to work together can be more of a challenge. In many cases, people understand teamwork is necessary for accomplishing organisational goals. The bigger challenge is developing effective collaboration in a high performance organisation.
All too often, collaboration means more meetings, more emails, and more responsibility — but for a small group of top performers within an organisation. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, up to 35 percent of high value collaborations fall on the shoulders of just five percent of employees.
Cross, Rebel and Grant wrote:
“As people become known for being both capable and willing to help, they are drawn into projects and roles of growing importance. Their giving mindset and desire to help others quickly enhances their performance and reputation.”
While most appreciate being recognised by their peers for their knowledge and contributions, it can be frustrating to feel pulled in too many directions. The result of becoming the in-demand collaborative partner is “collaboration overload,” which can result in resentment, disengagement, and ultimately, a decline in both performance and productivity.
Here are three ways high-performance organisations cultivate collaboration without overloading and draining the productivity of top performers:
- Encourage a “search first” mentality. One of the underlying causes of collaboration overload is when one person becomes the source for knowledge-based requests. The solution is to develop a knowledge database of standard operating procedures and frequently asked questions, train everyone in the organisation to search the database for answers before they ask someone else for hands-on support. Of course, the knowledge database will need to be maintained and updated regularly to ensure continual use as the organisation grows and evolves. However, making information readily available and easy to access is an important first step in eliminating unnecessary collaboration requests.
- Empower employees to say “no.” It can be hard to say “no” when someone asks for help on a project. But the hard truth is that if you’re one of the top performers, asked to join in on multiple projects, sometimes you have to consider your priorities and respectfully decline some collaboration invitations. Not only is it important for individual contributors to understand this, leaders must understand and encourage employees to say “no” when a project doesn’t fit within his or her own organisational priorities. A good way to offer support without being actively involved is to recommend other potential collaborators, using the power of peer recommendation to help distribute collaboration responsibilities throughout organisation.
- Reward and recognise “assists.” Too often, rewards and recognition programmes focus on the project lead. Sometimes collaborators are rewarded with peer prestige, which feeds into the overload; others contribute and aren’t recognised in any meaningful way. To facilitate more distributed collaboration, encourage peer-to-peer recognition that doesn’t include being asked to join in on another project, for assists of all sizes. An assist could be anything from making information available in the knowledge database, helping set up for a corporate event, or simply making suggestions that were implemented and worked well. In addition to spreading collaborative responsibilities throughout the organisation, rewarding assists no matter how big or small will help fuel more collaboration and higher engagement overall.
Remember, the ultimate goal of collaboration is to maximise performance and achieve organisational goals together. But when a small percentage of the organisation is overloaded, performance can suffer. Use the three tips above to avoid the overload pitfall with more distributed collaboration that encourages high performance throughout the organisation.