As traditional office department structures are dismantled to make better use of employees as individuals with unique experiences and abilities, it comes as no surprise that collaborative culture has boomed across the world. What may be surprising, however, is just how big that boom has proved to be.
Over the last 20 years, studies have found that collaboration within the workplace has risen an astounding 50%.
It sounds like a momentous achievement, and it is. At the same time, however, the increase has given researchers pause. In their minds, it sounds too good to be true.
And that means it probably is.
In 2016, Harvard Business Review published Collaborative Overload, a definitive report on how teamwork has evolved in offices over the last two decades.
What it found is that many organisations have become overzealous when it comes to involving employees in every opportunity. In total, more than half of this increase is attributable to a rise in meetings, phone calls, and e-mail chains. It is collaboration, yes, but by definition alone.
These basic daily tasks were found to consume an average 80% of an employee’s work day, and as a result, greatly reduced the time they had to spend on far more important tasks.
Often, it’s the most skilled members of an organisation that suffer the worst. In high demand due to their knowledge and reputation, the burden leaves them incapable of delivering to their full potential, and subsequently scared of the repercussions.
At best, they quit. At worst, they burn out, and their colleagues, seeing the price they paid for overachieving, avoid having to collaborate as much as possible.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right mindset and strategy, organisational leaders can avoid such scenarios, all while reaping the benefit of successful collaboration. Here’s how:
Redistribution of the Work Load
When it comes to increasing the efficiency of a company’s collaborative output, leaders must understand the supply and demand of their company.
Vital data regarding the type, volume, origin, and destination of requests can be provided via the usage of internal systems that provide feedback, employee surveys, CRM programs and electronic communications tracking systems.
These systems provide valuable insight regarding how much time is involved spent on minor tasks versus major work. This enables leaders to identify those who are the most vulnerable of suffering from collaborative overload and adjust their responsibilities accordingly.
Changes in Behaviour
Once the data above is available to them, leaders can turn their attention to providing encouragement, support, and opportunity to employees.
Leaders must empower overloaded collaborators to filter requests and to be able to prioritise them. In other words, they must be allowed to say “no”, decide how much time they can dedicate to a project, or recommend colleagues who can work with them/take over time-intensive components.
In Collaborative Overload, the authors detail a situation in which employees at an unnamed Fortune 500 technology company were asked how much time they wished to spend on collaborative programs. 60% argued for less, while 40% requested more. Shifts were made on both sides, resulting in lower stress levels and higher engagement across the company.
Changes in Structure
One way to gain back some time is to limit unnecessary meetings and to remove much of the bureaucracy that require permission to make decisions. Let employees make decisions based on their own skills, knowledge and trustworthiness. This make them more proactive, more productive and more self-assured in their work.
Look at your company. Are there not people who can make immediate calls regarding expenditure, travel, or other day-to-day other issues without the need for pointless bureaucracy?
You might also consider employing a ‘buffer’ – someone whose responsibilities are flexible enough that they can inject themselves into projects whenever an extra head or set of hands are necessary. It may seem unconventional, even a little extravagant, but such buffers prevent overload and help ensure team members can work at their best.
Ultimately, employees need to be recognised, valued and rewarded. That is the bottom line. Successful companies understand that and design systems not just to enable them, but to support them. By doing so they optimise collaborative potential, which fuels innovation and creativity, and makes for a stronger company.
Keep this in mind the next time you’re delegating for a major project, or calling yet another meeting. Collaboration is an important tool for any business, but like all good things, it is best in moderation.