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Team Productivity

Your "Team Collaboration" is Actually a Waste of Time. Here's How to Change That.

Daniel Threlfall
March 27, 2017
Effective team collaboration

In one of my prior project management roles, I experienced team collaboration that truly made a difference.

Across several countries and multiple time zones, I saw what could happen when a team focused in on a goal, charted a path to success, and executed with passion.

Both individuals and business can’t function without team collaboration. It’s what empowers organizations to build useful tools and make the world a better place.

What is ont often addressed, however, are the disadvantages of team collaboration. Unfortunately, much of what we call “collaboration” is actually a waste of time.

Is your team collaboration a waste of time?

Under the guise of “collaboration,” teams lose hundreds of work hours and thousands of dollars.

In other articles on the TeamGantt blog, we’ve pointed out the major risk of wasting time in meetings. But we can’t blame meetings alone for siphoning away our precious work hours.

One Gallup article makes the case that low trust among team members can lead to meaningless collaboration. If team members don’t trust themselves, how can it be worthwhile to have productive interaction on a project?

We tend to think that if we have a team that is “large, virtual, diverse, and composed of highly educated specialists,” then collaboration happens naturally. In reality, as a Harvard Business Review discussion points out, “those same four characteristics make it hard for teams to get anything done.” points out five of the most common “dysfunctions of team collaboration,” discussed by leadership and business author Patrick Lencioni:

Clearly, collaboration can eviscerate a team’s effectiveness and produce dysfunction. The solution isn’t to eradicate collaboration, but rather to enhance it so that it works the way it should — bringing people together, focusing on goals, and achieving greater good.

Here are the three biggest ways in which team collaboration wastes time and goes off the rails. In addition to pointing out these pitfalls, I’ll provide a few suggestions for avoiding them.

Sidenote: I will not address the dynamics of team psychology, but the more tactical and technological issues of collaboration.

Collaboration is always “on.” As a result, individual contribution suffers.

Most of the technologies that support collaboration are constantly turned on.

For example, I recently chased down an aggressive deadline for a looming project on a Tuesday morning. I carved out one hour (a nail biting time frame) to finalize the project and deliver it to my client.

As I settled in to polish off the project, a Slack notification popped up on my phone...and then on my computer. Ding! Ding!

Enter Objectivius Shinium Syndromus. (Shiny Object Syndrome)

Like the wisp of steam rising from my freshly brewed coffee, all the concentration powers that I had summoned forth to work on The Looming Project vanished.

Slack had my attention. Or at least the person on the other end of the Slack discussion had my attention (all because I had not disabled my Slack notifications).

Oftentimes, our desire for collaboration is actually a distraction.

When teams insist on always being in collaboration mode — responding to emails, IMs, slack notifications, or chats — it can destroy individual contribution.

If you’ve ever been frustrated because you can’t seem to work on your “own stuff” (i.e., work stuff that requires your input), or if you feel guilty for not responding to an IM or email right away, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Always-on “collaboration” is a massive waste of time because it robs team members of the time needed to work individually.

Here are some suggestions to fix this problem:

Collaboration can devolve into just “hanging out”

Some collaboration tools are nothing more than another place to hang out online.

It makes sense, of course, to have a “place to hang out online,” especially for remote teams. But there is a propensity to let our hair down too far, and use team collaboration time as shoot-the-breeze-and-hang-out-ha-ha-that-was-funny time.

Thus, because the collaboration tools is misused as a place to hang out online, many collaboration sessions run the risk of becoming a waste of time.

For example, I was on a Skype call with a teammate in England. For some reason, he wanted to chill rather than talk about the project we were supposed to focus on. (I think it must have been the end of the workday in his time zone.)

Eventually, the Skype call turned into an all-out meme fest. (I cannot deny that I shared a few memes myself.)


(Memes have been blacked out to avoid wasting your time.)

A few memes might be okay. Maybe. But fifteen memes on a business call? A bit much.

Human nature sometimes defies all efforts to get stuff done. When there is an important task to be accomplished, a topic to be discussed, or a problem to be solved, we sometimes tend to do anything but address it.

There are methods, other than sheer force and iron-minded willpower, that may help:

Rely on the agenda. Yes, it sounds so restrictive, but meetings need agendas. Even IM chats need agendas. Sticking to an agenda prevents plenty of wasted time.

Collaboration can become highly complex

When the tools or processes used for collaboration are hard to figure out, it can lead to loss of collaboration. Team members spend so much time trying to figure out how to collaborate that they fail to collaborate at all, or do so in an ineffective way.

At my previous job, I clearly remember the day our CEO introduced a new project management software and collaboration tool.

It was shiny. It was new. It was slick.

It was extremely complicated.

No brand names shall be mentioned, but this thing flat-out confused everyone on the team.

Maybe the rollout of the tool was ill-timed. Maybe the adoption by the team was less than eager. Perhaps we were all just too comfortable with our existing project management software.

Whatever the case, we got rid of the new software as how we’d throw off our necktie at the end of a workday.

When “collaboration” becomes too complicated, it stops being collaboration. Instead, it wastes everyone’s time.

Team members spend more time trying to learn to collaborate than actually collaborating. The tool becomes a liability, not an enhancement.

Here are ways to solve this problem:

Most teams want to save time and improve productivity. Since team collaboration is a crucial part of this effort, it makes total sense to improve collaboration as much as possible.

As you do so, look for these pitfalls:

In short, collaboration is only as good as the technology and tools that support it. Choose wisely, collaborate strategically, and you’ll achieve your goals.

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