The Benefits and Challenges of Collaboration

“To collaborate or not to collaborate?” Seems to be the new question at hand. The immediate thought is, “Hey, why not?! T-E-A-M teamwork YAY,” but it’s not as easy as that. As much as we want to believe and wholeheartedly trust that everyone will play along well in the creative collaboration sandbox, with it all comes pros and cons. For instance, some of the benefits of collaborating include:

  •    Division of labor
  •    Creative contributions
  •    Problem solving
  •    Feelings of appreciation

On the flipside, challenges associated with teamwork involve:

  •    Egos and conflict
  •    Groupthink takeover
  •    Costly contributions
  •    Poor use of time

As we explore these benefits and challenges of collaboration more in-depth, I’ll be asking you a few questions throughout this article for you to ask yourself and keep in mind if you’re contemplating bringing a collaboration component into your team or if you’re considering whether or not to continue with a potentially failing fellowship.

The Benefits

A Distribution of Work & Responsibilities: One of the biggest benefits of collaboration is that everyone gets a piece of the labor pie. The task at hand isn’t solely resting on the shoulders of an individual. A separation of duties allows the project to be completed in a more timely fashion.

Do you have reoccurring tasks on your plate that are eating up large chunks of your time?

Would collaboration with others help get more projects completed and knock out all those items on the never-ending “To Do” list?

Streamlines Decision Making: When I’m faced with a big project, I can sometimes (on a regular basis but I’m working on it!) go down a rabbit hole of ideas and what if’s and it’s a common feeling many of you often experience. Collaboration helps overcome that “trapped in your own mind” and second-guess struggle. It also makes for a speedy process when a group decision needs to be made.

Do you often get presented questions and situations that require a group decision?

Would it be helpful to you to get various sides of input and feedback on the state of affairs?

Angles & Offerings: Collaboration brings forth an increased level of various contributions to the project. In addition to the ever-so-important creative component where people bring their inventive and artistic mind and talents, pragmatic, analytical and commonsensical mindsets are added to the task at hand via teamwork. Incorporating all of these collectively allows for various viewpoints, submissions, and slants. This is where your individual strengths can help countermand weaknesses and where individual limitations can improve over time.

Do you feel like you could use a different viewpoint or perspective when working on a project?

Does the idea of having others assisting on areas of a project you find difficult to handle yourself sound inviting and provide a sense of relief?

Employees Feel Valued: Fast Company, one of my go-to resources, shared the following statistic in an article titled How To Make Staff Feel Appreciated: According to a global poll of nearly 2,000 participants from Monster, nearly half of American workers (48%) never feel appreciated at work, while another 41.9% say they only feel appreciated occasionally.

That’s a pretty startling number and realization. But there’s a way to fix that and that’s through collaboration. One of the interesting things I learned from Stevie Smith and Michael Davis, Co-Owners of Smith & David Salon in Chicago, Illinois, a salon that prides themselves of effective employee collaboration, is that they have a low turnover rate and the overall “mood” amongst their staff is collectively relaxed, supportive and thankful. On a regular basis, Stevie and Michael summon the troops and those who want to participate join in. Maybe it’s because these collab sessions are never mandatory or maybe it’s because even the salon apprentice is given the opportunity to project lead a photo shoot if his/her heart desires to do so. Whatever the case may be, this method of collaboration has created a connected positivity-centric culture in their space.

Would you (or the other members of the team) feel more appreciated and valued if your opinions and strengths were utilized in a positive and productive fashion?

Have you ever felt like you have big ideas going to waste and often say, “If only I had someone else or other people to work on this with,” on a routine basis?

If you’ve answered yes to a majority of these questions, then collaborating with others would be beneficial to you, the team and to the business.

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The Challenges

Battle of the Egos: Adrianna Lombardo, Salon Manager for Smith & Davis summed it up best when we asked her the question, “What character trait or quality should a salon team member possess?” “You should be someone who is able to go with the flow and able to check his or her ego for a moment.” A-to-the-Men, Adrianna! The purpose of collaborating with others is to work as…a team. Yes, a project manager is usually assigned to keep everything on its course, but when you get some big personalities, especially several Type A’s in a room with each other all battling for control, that’s when things can get ugly, real fast. Before anything, and I mean ANYTHING happens, it is exceptionally important to have a very transparent conversation of what everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are and be a bit democratic and vote on who is the best person in the group to project lead and manage the team. If everyone can’t play along nicely in that creative sandbox, then grab your pail and shovel and get out. Now, it may not be that simple and some conflict resolution strategies may need to be implemented sooner rather than later, but if everyone goes into this discussion by checking their egos at the door and having an understanding as to why it is happening, then things can very well be much easier and free of conflict.

Do you have a hard time taking orders and direction from someone else?

Are you a bit of a control freak or have a hard time trusting in others to get the task at hand accomplished?

Quick Conflicts: Everyone has a different working, learning, and communication style. If you don’t all discuss what those are, then conflicts will arise instantaneously. And more importantly, collaboration isn’t about being the best of chums. It’s not about friendship; it’s about the development and completion of a project or an idea. Everyone involved should go into that undertaking with the exact frame of mind. I’m not saying you CAN’T be friends with everyone because let’s face it, if you are friends prior to collaborating then you probably already know the other person(s) hang-ups and quirks. Sometimes you have to put friendships and non-professional relationships off to the side.

This is also where the importance of communication comes into play and clearly defining roles and responsibilities. It’s also having the insight and tools on how to handle conflict and what conflict resolution strategy to use and how to remain calm through the process.

Do you feel like you’re hard to work with (or for)?

Does the idea of working with others immediately make you feel anxious and agitated?

Everything Goes Groupthink: So what is groupthink? Sounds like a hipsterish community think tank that embraces big ideas and fair trade coffee. Wrong. It’s quite the opposite. According to Psychology Today, “Groupthink occurs when a group values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It causes individual members of the group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and it strongly discourages any disagreement with the consensus.”

So basically, what it all boils down to is everyone says, “Okay,” puts their tails between their legs and become Sheeples (hipster term for people who becomes docile and are easily led and prefers to follow “a herd”). The in-group pressures disturb the decision-making processes and before you know it, the “I” in the word “Team*” rears its ugly head.

Are you someone who is quick to default to what everyone wants in a group setting and is prone to giving into peer pressure?

Is “going with the flow” and running the risk of having your ideas quashed or feelings trampled easier than standing up for yourself, your thoughts and your stance on a particular topic?

A Costly Time Suck: Sure, let’s get everyone in a room and discuss the project at hand. It won’t take long and before we know it, the project is done and everyone is sitting at Pizza Hut having a kumbaya moment over a Veggie Lovers Supreme. Yeah, that doesn’t really happen all that often or easy. It’s largely due to the fact that obstacles like the ones we’ve mentioned above (egos, conflicts, groupthink, etc.) and a bad case of group indecisiveness can turn a quick project into a time suck undertaking. And when more hours are invested into the project, the more money is spent on paying those who are collaborating in an inefficient fashion. Another thing that could very well occur is…the dreaded “scope creep.” What this means is one person’s idea will spark several more in the group and before you know it a simple direct mailer project has turned into a full on re-branding. Scope creep is the end-all-be-all time suck succubus of collaboration, but it can be controlled and prevented (thankfully).

Watered Down: One of the last challenges of collaboration to touch on is the likelihood of an original concept or expected end goal getting “watered down” during the whole process. It’s like the idea starts out as a simple glass of Hendrick’s Gin served in a rocks glass, neat (meaning no ice). You can see it in it’s purest form; you can smell the rose-infused notes and the taste the essence of cucumber that’s been added during the distilling process. It’s undisturbed and all is quiet. But then along comes some collaborators and as they add their ideas to the project, in this case, their “ice,” to the perfectly still and pure glass of gin, these ice cubes start to chill and alter the gin’s complexity and form. So, if you are an idea purist, someone who likes to keep ice cubes out of their glass of gin, and you’re unwilling to see your “vision” through a new lens and are resistant to change and/or suggestions, repeat after me: I will not collaborate!

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then collaborating with others may be a bit of a challenge for you.

But alas, there is hope for the overcoming these challenges. By establishing short and long-term goals for the team, training a team to effectively and efficiently collaborate, instituting benchmarks for project managers and having an understanding of personality types and group roles, the challenges will diminish and the benefits will shine.  

Benefits & Challenges Quick Takeaways:

Collaboration…

  •    Creates a separation of labor, duties, and responsibilities.
  •    Streamlines the decision-making processes at hand.
  •    Let’s various strengths and talents to shine.
  •    Makes others feel appreciated and valued.
  •    Can be a breeding ground for egos.
  •    Can potentially create conflict and groupthink.
  •    Can be potentially a poor utilization of time and money.

*For the record I know there is no “I” in the spelling of the word “team.” 🙂