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Five ways to combat excessive collaboration and boost your productivity

Kisoo Kwon

Detect the root cause of all those time-consuming meetings and messages and let your teams get down to the real work.

The old adage that two heads are always better than one has been taken to extremes in many modern businesses, and statistics show that an overdose of multiple collaborations is ultimately uneconomical.

If you’re promoting a culture where collaboration takes up so much of the working day that your employees stay late to do their actual jobs, there’s something fundamentally unhealthy about your company’s organisation, writes Michael Mankin in Harvard Business Review.

This situation doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s worth working out what is at the bottom of the problem before trying to fix it. Mankin names the two most common causes as “organisational complexity” and a climate of “collaboration for collaboration’s sake”.

The bigger a company grows, the more complex its structure can become. The need for communication between different departments can give rise to an overflow of email and meetings.

When scheduled meetings become the way all decisions are made, the individual employee is powerless to fulfil their job unless they attend. In the name of inclusion, whole teams can be tied up for hours in the meeting room, rather than being briefed on important points by their section leaders later.

Mankin cites research by Bain and Company that identified how the world’s most productive companies lose 50 per cent less time to pointless collaboration. With that in mind, he prescribes five key steps to tackle the growing epidemic by remedying fundamental ailments:

1) Make it simple

Operating models can evolve into monsters of management, with multiple layers to wade through before effective connection is made. Flatten your structure so the people who really need to collaborate communicate with each other directly and any problem-solving is achieved in real time.

2) Line things up

Even when company structure is well-defined, areas can slip out of alignment with each other to confuse, complicate and slow things down.

Mankin says: “In technology, for example, sales can be highly complex, involving generalist sales makers, product specialists, technicians and the like. If each of these groups is organised differently, then the number of interactions required to make a sale can balloon.”

3) Put a cap on meetings

Total up the time your organisation sets aside for meetings and make that the upper limit available. If an executive wants to schedule a new meeting, then they must remove an existing one of similar length.

4) Limit new initiatives

Insist on concrete business cases for any new projects that will require valuable executive time and more meetings with no clear benefits.

5) Use feedback technology

Analytic applications can encourage leaders to police themselves. Cutting down on collective emails sent and shortening meeting lengths can save a lot of your employees’ time.

Some collaboration is, of course, essential but when it’s getting out of hand it’s time to take a long hard look at how your whole organisation functions.