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Hasse Jansen, 29 Jun '16

Is a Problem Shared a Problem Doubled?

Over-collaboration lurks when you don't prioritize goals and tasks. Don't just share more, share more precisely. Let your most knowledgeable team members be productive again.

These days, it seems that collaboration is key to success. But is collaboration always a good thing? What about those times when the sharing of ideas and problems via email, phone calls, meetings and other tools becomes so extensive that it becomes hard for you to focus on your own critical work? In these moments when collaboration starts to feel more like distracting noise than anything else, sharing isn’t caring. If anything, it’s a doubling of problems that can leave you in an over-collaboration trap.

Don’t get caught in a rut where you’re constantly busy, but never productive! Here are a few key tips to help you prioritize your work so collaboration doesn’t drag you down.

Look at the overall picture

Take a minute to consider the collaboration tools you use on a day-to-day basis. At the bare minimum, your company probably uses Microsoft Office tools or Google Docs. You probably also use a project management tool like Trello or Asana. Your company may even use communication tools like Slack or Salesforce Chat to foster communication between employees.

All these tools make it easy to ask questions to your colleagues. But chances are, you don’t spread out the load when you need ideas or additional insights. You probably go to your most experienced colleague for help as often as you can. Worst-case scenario is that you yourself are that most experienced person that everyone else comes to for tips or ideas.

As the Harvard Business Review notes, this often creates situations where “up to a third of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees.” While this collaboration with experienced individuals may initially improve performance, over time this can become a major detriment to the company.

“What starts as a virtuous cycle soon turns vicious. 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.” With all the collaboration tools available today, now is the worst time in history to be knowledgeable, if not managed properly.

Push for prioritization

As these insights reveal, without prioritization, collaboration can quickly become the problem itself, trapping employees in a time-wasting cycle of work that isn’t essential. As such, it is vital that you and others in your organization prioritize before you collaborate to avoid overloading key employees.

The need for prioritization applies equally to the individuals asking for collaborative assistance and those who are frequently called upon to help. As someone who asks for help, understand that sharing more isn’t always going to help you achieve effective results. It is far better to share more precisely—in other words, to ask for collaboration only when absolutely necessary and to only share information needed for a successful collaboration. Don’t overwhelm other employees with requests for email collaborations or to participate in meetings that lie outside their primary responsibilities.

Individuals who are frequently asked to collaborate should be given the ability to say no to requests that they don’t have time for or don’t align with their most important goals. By mapping which topics are important to company-wide success and creating a backlog of priorities, it becomes easier to determine which requests should be dealt with right away and which can be set on the back burner or passed on to someone else.

Remember, just because something seems important to an individual doesn’t mean it is important for company success. While tasks that pop up and fit the prioritized goals should be dealt with as soon as possible, non-prioritized tasks should be set aside to avoid burnout and bottlenecking. Stick with important tasks that contribute to your prioritized goals. This allows employees to focus on key strategies and manage pressing problems while avoiding interruptions and wasteful tasks.

By setting clear boundaries regarding collaboration and prioritizing effectively, you can achieve much better results. Now go and spread the word to everyone you know. Knowing one’s priorities is everyone’s top priority.