Getting a group of people together to solve a problem or work toward a mutual goal can be powerful; when well-managed, a group can come up with stronger solutions and carry out better work than one person working on his or her own. But collaboration also comes with challenges; if the process isn’t managed thoughtfully and deliberately, it can became chaotic or unproductive.
Whether you’re part of a group that’s collaborating on a project or a manager who wants to make sure that your team is collaborating effectively across the board, here are four big collaboration pitfalls to watch out for.
Not defining clear roles. Often when projects involve multiple people, it’s not clear who should be playing what role, which can result in work languishing for lack of a clear owner or driver. If you set up clear roles from the outset, people will be clear on who’s responsible for what, work is less likely to be duplicated, and – as long as someone is clearly deputized to ensure that work keeps moving forward – the project is less likely to stagnate for lack of anyone pushing it onward.
Not giving the group enough space to decide on their own course of action. While having clear roles is important, it turns out that it’s better to leave some ambiguity when it comes to the question of what path the team should take to accomplish its goals. “We’ve found that team members are more likely to want to collaborate if the path to achieving the team’s goal is left somewhat ambiguous,” writes researcher Tammy Erickson in a piece on collaboration in the Harvard Business Review. “If a team perceives the task as one that requires creativity, where the approach is not yet well known or predefined, its members are more likely to invest more time and energy in collaboration.”
Not clearly defining outcomes. Ever been in a meeting where no one really seemed to know what the point of the meeting was? Or where one person seemed determined to draw up clear action steps, while someone else saw it as a more free-form brainstorming session? Without clearly defining your desired outcomes, it’s easier to have group members be on different pages or even working at cross-purposes. Kick off every project and every meeting by getting every one aligned on your desired outcomes – whether it’s “we’ll leave this meeting with three clear ideas to test out over the next month” or “at this stage, we’re kicking around initial thoughts and won’t be making any concrete decisions yet.”
Implementing team collaboration tools like project management software without getting buy-in or doing enough training. There are loads of great collaboration tools out there that can help you manage projects, gather input, and annotate work – but if you don’t show people how a tool will make their lives easier, chances of them actually adapting that tool and using it regularly (or at all) plummet. Most people like technology as long as they understand how to use it and how it will make their jobs easier. If you just impose, say, a new project management program on your group without taking the time to ensure that everyone sees its value and knows how to use it, you’ll only get a fraction of the potential value from even the best of tools.