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Balancing Collaboration With Individual Performance

March 02, 2022 Collaboration and Productivity
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Collaboration among colleagues is a key trait of successful teams. Making time to answer questions and support teammates toward a common goal remains a much-needed attribute in today's digital workplace. But in a remote work environment, many are finding themselves bombarded with requests they may not be able to fulfill.

With too many distractions, collaboration can have a negative effect on individual performance. That's not to say companies should aim to reduce collaboration. Rather, understanding the pressures employees have and aiming to strike a balance between collaboration and individual output are essential to maintaining engagement, productivity and a healthy work environment.

The Problem With Collaboration

There are great business benefits to collaboration so it's no surprise companies place emphasis on its importance to growth. Because of that, however, many employees feel compelled to collaborate with peers to the point of overload. Collaboration overload occurs when collaborative efforts create a bottleneck that negatively affects employee productivity and wellbeing. 

"Collaboration is wonderful for alignment and integrating different perspectives into projects and decisions," said Emily Connery, vice president of people and talent at New York City-based ChartHop. “[But] if one must continuously receive group edits and buy-in on a work stream through the end, it may ultimately take too long and cost too much time."

Collaboration can also stifle innovation and creativity. “If you have a flexible remote or hybrid team, it can be difficult to collaborate without sticking to strict deadlines and workflows,” said Lisa Odenweller, founder and CEO of Del Mar, Calif.-based Kroma Wellness.

Depending on the task, some employees may find it easier to adopt their own processes to get the task done faster, rather than rely on a peer-dependent workflow. Companies that don't allow that degree of flexibility can experience a decline in efficiency and autonomy in their employees.

Related Article: Collaboration Overload Is Crushing Innovation at Your Company

4 Ways to Balance Collaboration and Productivity

There are four simple ways to minimize the impact of collaboration overload on individual performance:

1. Set Clear Goals

With so much change happening so quickly in the way organizations conduct work, leaders may want to revisit the organization’s goals and vision to make sure it is clearly articulated in a manner that suits today's workplace. Then, managers can use those guidelines to refresh the goals for their departments.

“If employee goals are clearly defined with set deadlines, it’s much easier to navigate when to collaborate and when to shift to solo work to meet deadlines,” said Connery.

2. Outline Expectations

In addition to setting goals, managers need to outline expectations for each project. For example, in the case of a mission-critical project, enforcing a four or six-eyes rule for reviewing the output may be justified. With clear expectations and explanations in place, employees can have a better understanding of the importance of collaboration on certain projects as opposed to others. 

Related Article: A Step-By-Step Guide to Asynchronous Collaboration

3. Keep the Dialogue Open

Remote, hybrid or in-person, everyone has preferences in how they complete a task. Some employees thrive working independently, whereas others excel as part of a team. Managers may want to make clear to team members that they are open to discussing situations that may not work for them to ensure peak performance.

“If you feel that your creativity is being stifled in a team environment, you must talk to your manager and let them know your concerns,” said Ayelen Osorio, content manager for Canadian crypto company Netcoins. The best approach is to talk it through to come to an arrangement that suits every working style — and the overall company vision. 

Related Article: Internal Communications: Email vs. Chat vs. Discussion vs. Meetings

4. Adjust Workflows

An environment where employees experience collaboration overload provides an opportunity for companies to adjust their work practices, starting with established workflows. In many cases, these workflows have been in use for some time, but productivity benefits may have diminished over time. “It may be better for that employee to contribute a portion of the work and then remain more hands-off while the rest is completed,” Odenweller said. 

In the end, it's important for leaders and managers to understand that individual performance can sometimes suffer when too much collaboration is requested. In turn, it can seem counterintuitive for employees to argue against collaboration in a digital workplace, so keeping the lines of communication open, clearly outlining expectations and having a willingness to change can help employees and their teams.


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