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Romek Jansen, 07 Jan '16

Collaboration Tools - Do They Drive Productivity, or Create Noise?

Without prioritization and alignment of goals, collaborative business environments can drain resources and lead to your weekends going to waste.

Do you regularly have to work weekends? Just to finalize a proposal or presentation for the upcoming week? If you do, keep reading.

You have probably spent all week in meetings and phone calls. You were CC-ed on an e-mail conversation, but had to step in because the conversation was drifting off course. Via Salesforce Chatter you helped a colleague prepare a demo and via Skype chat you pointed a content marketer to an earlier whitepaper that could be the basis for an infographic. Etc., Etc.

And now it is weekend already. The office is closed, your colleagues are off and it’s time “to do your own work.” In a way you feel proud of your commitment to the company. Right?

Wrong!

Your willingness to always help colleagues might drive you towards a burn out and is probably not creating value for the company in the long run either.

With the growing amount of collaboration tools and channels available comes a bigger chance of losing focus.

“Escalating Citizenship”

If you are an experienced and knowledgeable colleague, you will find yourself being dragged into collaborative situations ever more often. All goes well until you start to neglect your own responsibilities and deliverables and miss deadlines. Mark Bolino, professor at the University of Oklahoma calls it “escalating citizenship”, the willingness or even eagerness to always collaborate and help colleagues, until it takes an unreasonable amount of your time.

The problems arising are described in the Harvard Business Review article Collaborative Overload

“[…] helpful employees become institutional bottlenecks: Work doesn’t progress until they’ve weighed in. Worse, they are so overtaxed that they’re no longer personally effective.”

“Many helpers underperform because they’re overwhelmed.”

If collaboration is not well managed, your most experienced and knowledgeable people will start to underperform. The people who should be building the future, are only fixing the present.

Unaligned collaboration leads to unproductivity

Not being effective or drifting off towards a burn out is obviously a bad thing for you and the company, but there is another danger.

“In our quest to reap the rewards of collaboration, we have inadvertently created open markets for it without recognizing the costs.”

Collaborating for the sake of helping out, without looking at resources used vs. urgency and importance (value), is a recipe for waste.

The whole “unmanaged collaboration” problem reminds me of a Bill Gates quote:

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.

Bill Gates

Let’s tweak this quote a bit to make it fit the collaboration overload problem:

The first rule of collaboration tools used in a business is that collaboration applied to an aligned company will magnify its productivity. The second is that collaboration applied to an unaligned company will magnify its unproductivity.

Romek Jansen (thanks to Mr. B. Gates)

Important and Urgent

Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said it already, to manage your time effectively and efficiently you need to check both the urgency and importance of a topic.

  • Important activities have an outcome that leads to us achieving our goals.
  • Urgent activities demand immediate attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.

The natural tendency to focus on the urgent keeps us away from focusing on the important in the long run. Only when looking at both axes we can make conscious decisions on which topic should have our attention.

The “Eisenhower Principle” looks like this:

Eisenhower-Principle-Matrix-Collaboration-Tools

Without being aligned on goals, if you do not know what is important, the “urgent” topics will consume your agenda. In practice this means you will spend time on “Box 3 – Avoid” without having time left for “Box 2 – Focus” or even to properly do “Box 1 – Manage”. Time for “critical thinking” on your deliverables is swapped for “not your emergency” topics.

With business becoming more collaborative every day, it’s more important than ever to align on goals. You need to agree on importance and prioritize before you collaborate, or resources and weekends will get wasted.

Without focus, a problem shared is a problem doubled.

Do you and your team have a clear agreement on what the focus should be?