Why Most Teams Waste Time While Collaborating

The X Biggest Sources of Time Loss in Professional Collaboration

Why Most Teams Waste Time While Collaborating
(Photo : Pixabay) Why Most Teams Waste Time While Collaborating

Collaboration can be a great way for people to exchange ideas, complement each other's strengths and weaknesses, and get more done together. It's a staple for most organizations - especially those with complex projects that require the input of multiple different types of people.

However, almost all forms of collaboration end up wasting time in one way or another. If you want to perfect the art of collaboration, and supercharge your productivity, it's important to acknowledge and address those issues.

Tool and Technical Issues

In the modern era, collaboration practically demands the employment of high-tech tools for communication and cooperation. Your team may be operating remotely; even if it isn't, there will be times when your employees need to exchange ideas without being in the same room together. The right platforms make that possible.

However, there are many ways this can go wrong, such as:

  • Insufficient or nonexistent tools. What happens if one of your employees needs to quickly send a large file to another, but they don't have a convenient tool accessible to make it happen? What if your project management platform doesn't allow employees to work together on a single task, or discuss it in an intelligent comment thread? If your employees don't have the tools they need to collaborate effectively, they're going to waste time troubleshooting and coming up with novel solutions. Identify your collaboration needs and make sure you have all the tools necessary to address them.
  • Mismatched platforms or workflows.It's also possible for your internal collaborators to suffer from mismatched platforms or workflows. For example, let's say one employee wants to keep all discussion contained in task-based comment threads in a project management platform, while the other prefers to communicate exclusively through email threads. How do you reconcile this difference? How do you identify that this difference exists before a miscommunication occurs? Proactive communication and willingness to compromise are keys.
  • Outages and incapacitation.If you have team members operating remotely, and fully dependent on cloud-based systems to remain productive and in communication, all it takes is a single outage to completely disrupt the collaboration. That's why it's important to establish redundancy and have multiple backup systems in place.

Culture and Direction Issues

Your collaborative partnerships can also suffer from high-level culture issues and direction issues. In other words, if your team members aren't aligned in terms of goal, vision, and approach, you're going to waste time.

This can be caused by a cavalcade of interrelated factors, including:

  • Lack of leadership.Who's in charge of this collaboration? Even if your team members are peers, it pays to designate someone as the authority - that way, they can break ties, resolve conflicts, and keep the group moving forward.
  • Lack of direction.What exactly is this group supposed to accomplish? If different team members have different goals, they're going to pull the team in different directions. That's why it's important to make the central objectives of the collaborative effort clear from the beginning - and recognize differences in opinion before they do any real damage.
  • Personality and working style conflicts.One member of the team is direct, proactive, and ambitious, while another is more passive and easygoing. Sooner or later, they're going to clash. Learning to recognize and avoid potential conflicts early is critical if you want to avoid wasting time.
  • Lack of trust.How can you be certain your collaborator won't steal your idea and take the credit? If there's not enough trust between group members, it's going to cause conflicts and stymie your progress. It's hard to force trust onto people who don't feel it naturally, but teambuilding events and more bonding opportunities can certainly help.
  • Lack of accountability.Who's responsible if this collaboration fails? What are the consequences? If it seems like nobody's watching or like nobody cares, your collaborators could end up getting away with doing nothing.
  • Low employee engagement. Most successful professionals know that one of the biggest secrets to an employee's productivity is their level of engagement. Every member of your collaborative team should feel engaged with the work they're doing; they should be actively interested in it, and it should be an appropriate level of challenge for them. Otherwise, they're never going to have the potential to do their best work. This requires team leaders to make smart assignments and truly understand their team members.

Core Communication Issues

Collaboration always depends on communication for success, so it stands to reason that even a small communication issue can quickly snowball to ruin a project - or get two people mad at each other.

For example:

  • Undercommunicating.Undercommunicating can lead to confusion and duplicated effort. If you don't tell your partner you're working on something and they start working on it at the same time, you could end up wasting a full day (or more). If you don't provide criticism or feedback when necessary, it can allow other issues to escalate and become project-threatening. Similarly, a lack of communication can also make it harder for team members to bond with each other.
  • Overcommunicating. It's also possible for teams to overcommunicate - especially with regard to holding meetings. Meetings have the potential to be productive and helpful, but they also have the potential to waste time for everyone involved; a 1-hour, ineffective meeting with 5 team members functionally wastes 5 hours of time. Keep the meetings to a minimum and keep your messages concise to remedy this potential problem.
  • Missed messages and unclear standards.Let's say one team member sends an important email update to another, but that team member never sees it because they check their inbox infrequently. This could cause anything from a small inconvenience to a major disaster. That's why it's important to proactively establish expectations for availability, response time, and other standards in communication within the group.
  • Poor articulation.Most people aren't great at expressing their thoughts in words that other people can understand. It takes time and effort to craft a message that conveys meaning, yet is concise enough to be efficiently processed by others. It's hard to teach people how to be more articulate communicators, but you can encourage them to think through their words carefully - and edit messages when possible.
  • Excessive trust without verification.It's important to "trust, but verify" that other team members are accomplishing their tasks and meeting their goals. Even simple messages like "are we still on track to hit this deadline?" can help team members proactively identify a problem before it's too late to recover.

Key Tips for Success

In addition to recognizing and addressing the critical obstacles for effective collaboration listed above, it's important to follow these general tips when creating an environment for collaborative success:

  • Pair employees intelligently. If you're in charge of deciding who's collaborating with whom, think carefully about your decision. Some of your employees will naturally work together more efficiently, potentially because they share a similar personality and working style, or potentially because they've simply had more time to bond. You might also pair employees together based on their complementary strengths and weaknesses. In any case, if you pair your employees together without thinking through your decision, it's likely going to backfire.
  • Create a culture of open communication. Your entire organizational culture needs to be built on a foundation of open communication; in other words, you need to make it clear to your employees that they're expected to voice their true opinions and feelings, and feel free to share what they're thinking. To do that, you have to respond to employee comments and criticisms with grace and understanding - and do your best to remain as transparent as possible, as well. When your employees are more open communicators, they'll be able to collaborate more effectively (and speak up if things aren't going as planned).
  • Collect feedback regularly.Next, make sure you're collecting regular feedback from all your collaborating employees. Does everyone on the team feel like the team is as productive as it could be? Do they have specific challenges or obstacles that could be resolved? Do they have suggestions for how to improve in the future? Your ground-level collaborators will often have a keener sense of how to improve than you can get from your position as a leader.
  • Be willing to adapt.Finally, be willing to adapt. Collaboration may come naturally to some, but even they aren't going to be perfect from the outset. The most effective collaborative partnerships are ones that are continuously refining their approach. Be willing to experiment with new strategies and approaches - and don't rest on your laurels just because you had a good meeting or a single measurably good outcome.

Good collaboration has the power to fundamentally reshape your organization for the better, allowing you to build team bonds, increase productivity, and innovate with creative problem solving all at the same time. But it can also be a pitfall if you're not proactively working to avoid critical failure points. Remain aware of the biggest sources of time waste - and don't rest until you've addressed or eliminated them.

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