Despite what you may have heard, great minds don’t always think alike — and that’s a good thing. Working in teams is an excellent way to problem-solve and innovate important projects by coming at them with a variety of perspectives. But this doesn’t always go smoothly: There’s bound to be a little friction when so many unique ideas are colliding.
It’s natural for hiccups to arise during collaboration. But when team members can’t overcome their differences, or can’t disagree and commit, the result can be stubborn bottlenecks that slow down projects.
When these collaboration problems happen, it’s time for us to intervene. Read on to learn about common roadblocks to workplace collaboration and solutions to address them.
What do workplace collaboration challenges look like?
There’s so much value to be derived from collaboration, but in order to run an effective and successful group project, we need to know how to navigate challenges. Even “work friends” might not see eye to eye.
As leaders, we must be able to notice when a collaborative project is going awry. Are there unexpected delays in deliverables? Are team communications falling off? Do staff members seem frustrated? Keep your eyes peeled for these telltale signs that something’s amiss.
Conflict can stem from personality differences, a lack of clear communication, inadequate training, and more. If we create a team that combines a type-A list-maker with someone inclined to organize workflow on the fly, their clashing professional personalities may be a recipe for disagreements. And if we haven’t trained our staff on group problem-solving tactics, we can’t expect them to handle every conflict productively.
While we want to create an environment where our employees feel comfortable coming to us with concerns, pride or stubbornness may prevent staff from speaking up, meaning we need to recognize friction and take action.
Collaboration problem examples and solutions
What is a lack of collaboration, and how does it manifest in the workplace? More importantly, what can we do to address it?
1. Communication problems
If our team members aren’t on the same page, their work suffers. A lack of communication leads to misunderstandings — essential work falls through the cracks, tasks are completed twice, and people don’t know who to ask for help. Teammates need to talk, and sometimes they need our help to get the ball rolling.
As leaders and coaches, we can encourage communication between team members with hands-on management. Try moderating meetings, asking questions to encourage discussion, and creating space for quieter employees to share their ideas. Model strong communication skills for your staff and help them develop their own. Having frequent one-on-one meetings might also inspire your employees to express any frustrations you have the ability to address.
2. Imbalanced distribution of work
One of the challenges of working in a group is divvying up the workload. When certain team members shoulder more of the work than others — perhaps those who aren’t performing as well — tensions can run high. We also run the risk of burning out team members who have too much on their plates and disincentivizing workers who may feel less valued.
Instead of overloading certain staff, track tasks and responsibilities to ensure everyone contributes fairly to each project. When assigning work, play to peoples’ strengths without leaving anyone out.
3. Too many cooks
If multiple team members are handling the same responsibilities, it defeats the efficiency of group work. It can also create tension if coworkers feel their collaborators are stepping on their toes. This problem usually arises when there are simply too many people handling work that we could better delegate among a smaller team.
Fortunately, this collaboration problem is easy to solve — simply move extra resources to another project. Our staffers will understand when their focus is best shifted elsewhere, and they’ll know we value their time enough not to waste it on redundant work.
To prevent a similar mix-up from happening in the future, we can assign tasks to a single owner or directly responsible individual (DRI). For example, many online workflow platforms have the option to add a single assignee to each task so everyone on the project knows who’s accountable for what.
4. Not enough alone time
Everything is running smoothly and the team is collaborating well. So why are its members missing deadlines, delaying deliverables, and feeling overworked? The answer may be too much collaboration. If a group’s workday is dominated by unnecessary meetings and brainstorming sessions, they may not have enough time to buckle down and get their work done.
To solve this problem, we must make sure individual team members have enough time in their daily schedules to complete the tasks assigned to them. Streamline meetings and schedule them to leave large blocks of time for staff to focus on their tasks and wrap them up successfully.
How collaborative work can benefit your team
We’ve talked about the problems that can arise during collaboration, but what are the benefits? Some upsides to group work include:
- Aligning unique talents and skill sets toward a common goal. When employees with different strengths and weaknesses work together, they can leverage their skills more efficiently and support each other through challenges. Think of your staff’s talents as tools you need to tackle a tough project; it’s better to have a full toolkit than just a hammer.
- Improving accountability between team members. Working alone in a cubicle, we might struggle to understand how our work impacts the rest of our company. When team members encounter roadblocks, they understand it’s not just one person’s problem — it might hold up the entire group’s ability to move forward with the project.
Collaboration also means more people are invested in a project's success. More staff are leveraging their competencies and know-how to fulfill their own desire to see the project succeed and to support their coworkers.
- Elevating workflow. Technology has made communication incredibly quick and easy. Instant messaging and video calls allow team members from different locations to participate in meetings and use their problem-solving skills in real time. Our employees have the tools to work together across departments, offices, and even time zones. And with a well-rounded team and the proper delegation of work, groups are bound to wrap up projects faster than one employee could.
- Preventing burnout. Large-scale projects can be daunting for individuals, but working in teams allows everyone to lean on each other for support. We can coach our employees to take advantage of this benefit of collaboration to improve their professional well-being and prevent the burnout that’s all too common in workplace settings.
Collaboration is worth the extra care
Yes, collaborative projects in the workplace can cause a few headaches. But like any other professional skill, teamwork is a muscle that grows stronger each time we use it. With practice and guidance, our teams can become superstars of collaborative work — and they’ll be all the better for it.
When we encounter signs of the challenges of collaboration in our workplace, our first step should be to identify the root of the problem. Once we understand what’s causing the stress, we can prescribe an appropriate solution.
At Practice, we understand the importance of teamwork in running a business smoothly. Let’s work together: our all-in-one client management system can help you get your staff on the same page and create some extra time for you to spend developing collaborative skills in your team.