Many of the leaders I support are working hard to increase their intentional focus on supporting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility (DEIA) efforts in their organizations. They are personally dedicated to making their own workplaces more inclusive. This is a wonderful goal! However, as it relates to collaboration at work, many leaders tell me they now err on the side of reaching out to more people, inviting more input, and ensuring broader stakeholder engagement. And…their managers are inviting them to more meetings and discussions, too. There is a point at which this level of collaboration is “too much.” Our inboxes are pinging, and our calendars are screaming!
Author and researcher Rob Cross has looked closely at trends in collaboration at work and he tells us that, over the past decade or so, the time we spend on email/chat and in meetings has increased by roughly 50 percent. In his book Beyond Collaboration Overload, he makes the case that all this increased collaboration with colleagues is not necessarily adding value. And it’s causing overwhelm! (For more on the book, check out the discussion notes from the July CliffsNotes Book Club.)
So, how do we get a handle on collaboration while also being inclusive?
Examining the Polarity: Inclusive vs. Focused
When considering the “best way” to do collaboration, it’s helpful to consider the polarities, or seemingly opposing forces, at play. On the one hand, you wish to be inclusive, on the other, focused. After all, you do not want to overwhelm your colleagues or engage so many people that you’re hogging resources unnecessarily. In thinking about collaborating with colleagues to get input on your work, you may want to both include a diverse group of perspectives and engage those who have the closest expertise or most stakeholder interest. There are upsides and downsides to both sides of the polarity, and ideally you will find a way to maximize both. Take a look at the polarity map, and consider the dynamic...
Three Tips for Effective Collaboration
Here are some tips to keep in mind as it relates to effective collaboration:
Plan your list of attendees. This may seem obvious, but at the moment of hitting “send” on a meeting invite, you may wish to quickly complete the task and be done with it. It’s important to pause and reflect before issuing an invite, especially if you have more than three attendees listed. Take a moment to think about the purpose for your collaboration, and who will help you get to the desired outcome. Write two lists.
Make the invitation an option, not an obligation. I recently saw a meme that said, “It’s okay to say ‘no’ even if you are not already booked.” In the workplace, it can be especially hard to say “no,” and many workplaces have the practice of sending delegates to meetings. While this practice can be hard-wired into the culture of the organization, as a leader you can set the tone for allowing people to opt out. Taking the extra step to reach out and ask people personally how they will engage on a topic, sharing a RASCI if you have one (i.e., “Do these roles look right?”), and laying out the plan for communicating any decisions, etc., will help all “invited” attendees decide how best to collaborate.
Protect your “go to” people. Every good leader has a team of people who you are quick to reach to. You work well with them, they “get” you, and you know they will deliver. When considering who you regularly collaborate with, take care to protect them and ensure you are not burning them out. Everyone wants to feel appreciated and needed, but over-collaboration is a real risk.
What tips would you add?