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Why does collaboration create so much frustration at work?

  • Consider what an organization really is. Essentially, it is a group of individuals getting together to accomplish something. The ability to create effective collaborations is therefore crucial to the success of organizations. Research conducted by Influence together with Stockholm School of Economics shows that the things that separate high performing teams from all others can be boiled down to four key lessons. Read about these lessons in this insight.

We spend a great deal of our working time in collaboration with others, mixing and combining our skills, knowledge and capabilities to achieve something more or better than we would achieve on our own. How can we make sure that the time we spend in collaboration with others is well-spent - what makes us excel together? For some reason, we rarely think about the factors that drive success when working in teams instead of individually.

The four factors distinguishing great teams from teams that are bad or just good.
Common understanding (1)
  • In bad teams, we typically have different interpretations of the team's purpose, task and ambition. This means that work performed by one team member is rarely right in the eyes of the others.
  • In good teams, we typically articulate our task, goals and responsibilities at the beginning of our assignment. This creates a common initial understanding, but this understanding is rarely specific enough and it tends to diverge as time goes by.
  • In great teams, we continuously strive for a detailed common understanding of our situation, goals, assumptions, methods, challenges, etc. This makes it easier to work as a coordinated unit even under changing circumstances.

Psychological safety (2)
  • In bad teams, we typically have a stressed team member who controls the communication and makes sure that his or her own simplified ideas define the outcome. This makes the rest insecure about expressing deviant and potentially superior ideas.
  • In good teams, we typically have a member who shows the way forward by clearly and with an atmosphere of finality presenting ideas, even if he or she would be open for discussion if deviant thoughts would arise.
  • In great teams, we maintain an open social climate where everyone is comfortable to be themselves and directly express deviant thoughts. This means that everyone’s ideas can compete on equal terms at every stage in the process.

Integrated efforts (3)
  • In bad teams, we typically blame lacking performance on other team members, external circumstances and other factors beyond our direct control, which typically leads to stagnation.
  • In good teams, we typically have a few members who are strongly committed to the result and thus become crucial for progress and adaptation to change. Despite this, we tend to lower our ambitions as soon as we encounter a few impediments.
  • In great teams, we explicitly strive to be and do what it takes to achieve our goals under the conditions that prevail. This means that everybody tries to make the team work, complement each other's strengths and compensate for obstacles and shortcomings.

Reflection (4)
  • In bad teams, we have things that cannot be questioned and typically we do not discuss why things turn out the way they do. This means that, even if we succeed in focusing on execution, we tend to repeat mistakes, move towards the wrong goal or work inefficiently.
  • In good teams, we typically discuss the challenges we face and thereby gradually adapt our work to prevailing circumstances, but since we do not pay attention to the actual purpose of our collaboration, solutions are rarely tailored to the real problem.
  • In great teams, we repeatedly and proactively reflect on the specific purpose and goal of our collaboration to identify increasingly effective solutions and measures to improve efficiency.

Our advice

Teams do not become high-performing overnight, but the fact is that both our and others' research has shown that it is possible to make a real difference with relatively simple means. Our advice to you and your team is to start discussing the issue and come up with things you want to try to do differently. Perhaps a session already this week to discuss the four lessons above?