Collaboration Overload, this is the headline of a recent article on Harvard Business Review. And the authors describe the challenge:

Consider a typical week in your own organization. How much time do people spend in meetings, on the phone, and responding to e-mails? At many companies the proportion hovers around 80%, leaving employees little time for all the critical work they must complete on their own.

Source: Collaborative Overload

But … is this really collaboration? How many meetings, telephone conferences and emails are more or less unproductive, the exact opposite of collaboration, of working together and innovating?

And who is really adding value in collaborating?

In most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees.

Source: Collaborative Overload

Well, asking my colleagues quite often for input, for ideation, for voting, for innovation or discussion, I get frustrated quite often. How big is the engagement rate? How many people are actively contributing? How many employees are or feel to be buried in their daily routine tasks or are unmotivated, frustrated, because they feel, they don’t have impact anyway? Yes, we need out-performers and Wild Ducks, but we need a much higher level of engagement in an organization, too: Without too much bureaucracy and useless approval processes.

And yes, there is a lot of truth in this statement:

Instead of asking for specific informational or social resources—or better yet, searching in existing repositories such as reports or knowledge libraries—people ask for hands-on assistance they may not even need. An exchange that might have taken five minutes or less turns into a 30-minute calendar invite …

Source: Collaborative Overload

People quite often just send an email asking for help, calling or scheduling a call, instead of first searching the knowledge base. This seems to be in their DNA. And yes, those recognized as EXPERTS are quite often bombarded with requests for help. This is, how people are and were used to work. This is human. Very human. But I would wish and I hope we are able to change this behavior. First search, look for the information and if you don’t find it, then ask the expert.

And additionally I hope we get much better assistance from IT systems through intelligent digital assistants powered by cognitive technology. We urgently need to get those intelligent digital assistants to free the knowledge and collaboration stakeholders from routine work and inquiries. Let IT systems do, what they should do, and let creative people focus on the things they should focus on: Driving innovation and real business value.

On top we have a general challenge in today’s business environment:

… many helpers underperform because they’re overwhelmed; that’s why managers should aim to redistribute work. But we also find that roughly 20% of organizational “stars” don’t help; they hit their numbers (and earn kudos for it) but don’t amplify the success of their colleagues. ..

Consider professional basketball, hockey, and soccer teams. They don’t just measure goals; they also track assists. Organizations should do the same, …

Source: Collaborative Overload

Very true. In a quarterly results driven culture helpers or experts are never – or very rarely – going to be the stars. Assists don’t really count. Neither in sports, nor in business. Yet …

To summarize the Harvard Business Review article:

  • A lot – perhaps most of our daily isn’t really about collaboration: useless meetings, endless email trails …
  • Only a minor percentage of employees do really collaborate and add value.
  • Experts are bombarded and overloaded by inquiries, but they don’t get the recognition they deserve.

What are possible conclusions?

  • Instead of fearing the new digital assistants we urgently need them to help the normal employees and to take workload away from the experts and collaborators.
  • Experts assisting in reaching the business goals need to be recognized.
  • Not new, but still valid: Focus on a better way to work. Have an agenda and an owner of meetings. Document and communicate the outcome. Make it easy to share knowledge. These little steps ion changing collaborative behavior …

I don’t think we need a Chief Collaboration Officer like mentioned at the end of the article. We need cultural change driven top down – and then more helpful, easy to use IT systems.

Veröffentlicht von StefanP.

Stefan Pfeiffer ist seit 2007 bei der IBM in verschiedenen Marketingpositionen tätig. Als gelernter Journalist hat er natürlich eine Leidenschaft für das Schreiben, die er hier im CIO Kurator, aber auch in seinem persönlichen Blog DigitalNaiv auslebt. Seine inhaltliche Leidenschaft im IT-Umfeld gilt dem digitalen Arbeitsplatz, dem Digital Workplace. Auf Twitter ist er als @DigitalNaiv „erreichbar“.

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