The Moderation of Collaboration is Key to Avoiding Overload in Your Organisation

As globalisation brings people closer together, and allows businesses to expand like never before, it should be no surprise that the value of teamwork has escalated. What may be surprising, however, is just how much it has escalated.

Over the last 20 years, collaboration within the workplace has risen an astounding 50%.

That would be worth celebrating, if it was the kind of collaboration that saw great and unique minds coming together to overcome a challenge by drawing on their varied strengths and experiences. But that is not the case.

Most of this 50% increase takes the form of meetings, phone calls, and the time it takes to respond to the daily flood of emails. It is collaboration by definition alone.

In all, these basic daily tasks consume an average 80% of an employee’s work day, thus greatly reducing the time they have to spend on their main responsibilities.

The result? Workers are growing increasingly apathetic as they face booming workloads.

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 stay and spread their apathy amongst colleagues.

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

Upon the completion of gathering this imperative information, the leaders then need to focus on providing encouragement for the implementation of changes in behaviour.

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.

According to Collaborative Overloada report published by Harvard Business Review last year, 60% of employees at an unnamed Fortune 500 technology company stated that they desired to invest less time dealing with collaboration requests. However, 40% desired to invest more time in training and coaching. Once the shift was made to allow them to participate more strongly in these types of activities, they had less stress and were more highly engaged in the work that they performed.

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. This is good for a company as a whole.

Look at your company. Are there not people who can make approvals regarding expenditure, travel, and other issues instead of wasting time trudging through all the unnecessary bureaucratic hierarchy?

If you feel the need for a delegated employee to make all such decisions, hire a ‘buffer’. This person can respond to collaboration requests and designate them across wide variety of people instead of a select few collaborators being overloaded. Or, they can indicate if the demand is unnecessary or cannot be completed. This will prevent work overload and will keep team members working at their best.

Ultimately, employees need to be recognised, valued and rewarded. That is the bottom line. That is how human nature works. Successful companies understand that and design systems to support, and therefore optimise, valuable collaborators. This will promote the cycle of yet more collaboration, which adds to the success of the company.

Keep this in mind the next time you’re delegating for a major project, or calling the third meeting this week. Collaboration is an important tool for any business, but like all good things, it is best in moderation.


Harvard Business Review (2018). “Collaborative Overload”

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