Why Is Collaboration So Difficult?

Collaboration is an important element in inclusive leadership. The collective effort of the group working together, where every member has a voice, is greater than the sum of individual contributions. However, effective collaboration is dependent on an effective leader.  

Defining Collaboration

In simple terms, collaboration is the act of individuals working together with a common purpose to achieve a goal. In a business context, it is a sophisticated process, and it requires leadership.


Why Is It Important?

You can’t compete externally until you can collaborate internally” – Jim Tamm, former law professor and senior administrative law judge for the state of California.

Collaboration is a critical component in maximising productivity, innovation and effectiveness. For a business to achieve its potential and to be successful it needs to establish an environment whereby employees can work together openly, honestly and become more aligned as a team. While collaboration is similar to cooperation and coordination, it goes well beyond these two factors. Collaboration seeks to establish long-term relationships and meaningful solutions for difficult problems. Most of us will understand the importance of achieving a collaborative working environment; however, that does not mean it is always easy to achieve.


What is Holding Us Back When Collaborating?

What exactly is stopping us from achieving optimal collaboration? Why do so many companies struggle with this? There are a lot of obstacles that make it challenging to collaborate, and here we will explore 3 of them.

  1.   Defensiveness

One of the biggest obstacles to collaboration is defensiveness during problem-solving conversations. Sometimes difficult conversations can make us feel vulnerable, which in turn ignites an unconscious defensive response. When we start to feel this way, our thinking becomes rigid, and our IQ can drop by roughly 20 points. Consequently, we become terrible problem solvers. Having an awareness of our own defensiveness and acting to reduce it will increase the ability to collaborate and problem-solve together.

  1.   Not Understanding/ Knowing Your Colleagues Well Enough

Another common obstacle to collaboration is when teams do not have the opportunity to get to know each other well enough. This restricts communication and effective collaboration as colleagues are not aware of each other’s strengths and expertise. As a group, teams can fail to recognize the value of an individual’s contribution. This tends to lead to a lack of ownership, clarity and accountability.

  1.   Resistance to Change

Resistance to change can lead to several issues in the workplace and collaboration is not exempt from this. Some people do not like to collaborate with others or hold biases (unconscious and conscious) towards fellow employees and so, when made to work with them, their psychological defences go up. As a result, meaningful collaboration can become impossible.

Overall then, there is a strong case for collaboration, at the same time as it being challenging to enact. We believe that inclusive leadership can make a significant contribution to better collaboration. Bringing people together, being curious about their perspectives and creating the psychological safety to challenge and develop ideas collectively – central tenants of inclusive leadership – is key.