The Dangers of Pushing Collaboration Too Far

Michael Sampson is a collaboration specialist based in New Zealand who helps organisations collaborate successfully. He has authored various books on strategies for making collaboration work and will be speaking at Interaction 2012 next Wednesday, October 3rd 2012.

“Someone drives a car too fast and crashes, writing off the car and breaking their leg in the process. Is the car to blame or the driver?

Another person guzzles too much water before breakfast, resulting in a severe bout of choking. The water or the drinker?

And yet another person runs too far too quickly in training for a marathon, resulting in shin splints and sore knees. The act of running, or the way the runner is approaching it?

In each of the above cases – driving, drinking water, and training for a marathon – there’s an ideal range of activity. Staying within that ideal range of activity – not too slow/little, and not too fast/much – and the activity works fine. Exceed the range and you either miss the real opportunity or overshoot where you should have been at often high cost.

The same principle applies with collaboration at work, and it’s the dangers of too little or too much that I’m going to talk about at the upcoming Interaction 2012 conference in London on October 3. I’m not all against collaboration – my entire business is advising organisations around the world on being effective with collaboration. I’ve written five books on various aspects of the collaboration challenge at work. I run workshops on collaboration strategy and user adoption, among other collaboration topics. I’m sold on the concept!

But I am cautious of pushing it too far, or of organisations that embrace a particular idea in the collaboration world for the wrong reasons, or approach it in the wrong way. When it doesn’t work out, the concept of collaboration gets unfairly blamed, where in reality it was how the organisation approached the concept that was the problem.

For example, consider the current emphasis on using the intranet to find experts. It’s a great collaboration scenario, and there are situations where it makes a tremendous positive difference. But it could also signal poor job design – that current staff are under-trained, or you have hired the wrong people, or your knowledge management system is broken. The concept is fine, but the organisational reality into which it is being introduced is broken – and that’s a problem. There are similar examples, and I’ll be talking about these at the conference.

For a more in-depth look at the dangers of pushing collaboration too far, I look forward to speaking with you at 3.40pm on October 3. If you can’t make the conference (and even if you can!), check out my book Collaboration Roadmap; Appendix 1 on Collaboration Theory talks through nine downsides of collaboration, although the Appendix covers a range of other topics too.”

See Michael at Interaction 2012 next Wednesday, October 3rd. Book your ticket today>>