To Collaborate or Not to Collaborate. That is the Question.

There’s always been a lot of buzz about the benefits of collaboration. But before you assume collaboration is the best strategy for executing organizational goals and objectives, consider this: there’s a right way to collaborate and a wrong way to collaborate. And sometimes, collaboration is the wrong strategy altogether.

Successful collaboration requires a combination of the appropriate situation, a well-developed skill set, and an open mind. So how can you determine with confidence when—and if—to choose this approach as a means to achieving your goals? Let’s start with the need for collaboration.

The Need for Collaboration

Do more with less. It’s the mantra of many organizations in today’s global environment. It’s also one of the main reasons for collaboration. When done properly, working collaboratively can result in more efficient outcomes, especially when individuals can harness the diversity of resources—whether they’re across town or across the globe. And on a human level, collaboration allows people to feel their contributions are meaningful and valued.

Benefits to the Organization

Creative thinking. Effective problem solving. Increased productivity and improved efficiency. This list of organizational benefits is significant. Collaboration enables organizations to draw upon specialized skill sets, achieve common goals, and establish a shared purpose.

Benefits to the Individual

The benefits of collaboration are not limited to the organization. There are advantages for the individual too. According to a recent study published by the Journal of Applied Psychology, “Frequent interaction with others, office friendships, and emotional support were strong predictors of job satisfaction.” And According to the 2012 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, “Employees rated their relationship with their immediate supervisor as more important to their job satisfaction than benefits.” Collaboration increases an individual’s network of “go-to” colleagues and it creates the foundation for high-trust relationships.

Challenges of Collaboration

While collaboration can offer many benefits, there can be drawbacks. In fact, some studies show that bad collaboration can actually do more harm than no collaboration at all. From unclear objectives, problems with coordination and motivation to time constraints and growing pains, attempting to collaborate with others can derail groups from achieving a common goal. The key is to be aware of these pitfalls at the start and then make a deliberate effort to avoid them.

When to Collaborate—and When Not to Collaborate

When collaboration is the right approach:

To determine whether or not collaboration might be beneficial, it’s helpful to first consider questions such as:

  1. Do I need to work with others to achieve the desired outcome?
  2. Will collaboration increase the likelihood of solving complex problems or issues?
  3. Will collaboration help to reduce costs or improve efficiency?
  4. If I collaborate with others, will the project or issue gain valuable visibility?

If the answer is “yes” to one or more of these questions, collaboration is an approach that may help you to successfully achieve common goals.

When collaboration is the wrong approach:

Before initiating a collaborative effort, it’s also important to consider the following questions:

  1. Can an individual approach achieve the desired results?
  2. Am I unable to invest the extra time required for successful collaboration?
  3. Are the specific objectives unclear?
  4. Is the organizational culture unsupportive of collaboration?

If you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, you may want to consider moving forward independently rather than with a group. And if your organization is not supportive of collaboration, you can still collaborate but it’s likely you will encounter more obstacles.

As you can see, there is far more to collaboration than simply working together. The true goal is to produce synergistic results or outcomes that could not be achieved otherwise. But before you engage in the next project, process improvement, or product development, first examine whether or not collaboration is the approach that will get you to the finish line successfully.

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