Why collaboration often fails

Okay, gather around because we’re going to talk about the big “C.” No, not cloud. Collaboration

There’s no end of collaboration software being thrown at IT departments these days: Suites that help teams text each other, instant message each other, audio conference each other, video call each other and share slides. On-premise, cloud, mobile, and coming soon, wearable.

But technology alone can’t make effective collaboration. I was reminded of this by an article from on by Ron Friedman, author of a book on creating the best places to work.

His piece isn’t aimed at IT departments, but it has a theme managers should think about: Collaboration could be a killer if it isn’t fostered right. Academic literature that has studied the issue has made the following conclusions, he writes:

  • Collaborations breed false confidence. A study found that when we work with others to reach a decision, we become overly confident in the accuracy of our collective thinking. The confidence boost we gain from working in teams can feel exhilarating in the short term. But it also clouds our judgment. We become dismissive of outside information which prevents us from making the best choices.
  • Collaborations introduce pressures to conform. Within many team collaborations, we face an impossible decision: choosing between the quality of our work and the quality of our workplace relationships. Studies show that group members tend to conform toward the majority view, even in cases when they know the majority view is wrong.
  • Collaborations promote laziness. Ever been to a meeting where you’re the only one prepared? Then you’ve probably experienced social loafing—people’s tendency to invest less effort when they’re part of a team. When others are present, it’s easy for everyone to assume someone else will take the lead.

“Collaborations seem more productive than they are, in part, because of the way our minds experience them,” he adds. “It’s easy to feel productive when we’re part of a group, listening to other’s ideas and contributing our feedback. Especially when compared to the alternative: sitting at our desks, staring down a blank screen. It’s too bad the progress is often illusory.”

So what will make your server/network/security/apps team meetings succeed? Friedman makes three suggestions:

–Find teammates who do something you can’t. Collaborations are most effective when teammates complement rather than replicate one another’s abilities. Skill duplication leads to power struggles;

–Differentiate between roles. Delineating responsibilities at the start of a project gives everyone at the table direction and a sense of ownership.

–Insist on homework. Use meeting time to exchange ideas, not generate them.

“It would be foolish to suggest that collaborations are always a detriment,” he concludes. “Without them, we wouldn’t have Apple, Google or Microsoft, not to mention airplanes or the discovery of DNA. They’re just not the panacea we’ve been led to believe.”

So next time you want to have collaboration, remember there are pitfalls to avoid that software can’t patch.






Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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