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How to avoid collaboration overload

Sharon Florentine | March 10, 2016
Collaboration can do wonders for your organization's productivity, but there's a dark side. With an increase in collaboration comes an increase in burnout and attrition. The good news: Technology can help.

Are you feeling the effects of collaboration overload?

If you are, you’re not alone. As collaboration becomes a strategic initiative for businesses looking to increase productivity and cross-functional capability within the workforce, there's a much greater risk that your best employees are going to burn out.

According to a recent Harvard Business Review report that gauged responses from more than 300 organizations, many times the proportion of time workers spend in meetings, responding to requests for help and working in various collaboration and team-focused applications hovers around 80 percent. That leaves little time for all the critical work employees must complete on their own. In fact, according to the report, "performance suffers as they are buried under an avalanche of requests for input or advice, access to resources or attendance at a meeting. They take assignments home, and soon, according to a large body of evidence on stress, burnout and turnover become real risks," according to the research.

HBR's report shows that, in most cases, the distribution of collaborative work is often lopsided, with 20 percent to 35 percent of value-added collaboration coming from only 3 percent to 5 percent of your employees. "As people become known for being both capable and willing to help, they are drawn into projects and roles of growing importance. Their giving mindset and desire to help others quickly enhances their performance and reputation," but it can also degrade their individual performance, increase stress and lead to disengagement, frustration, burnout and, finally, turnover, according to the report.

Willing and able

"The more willing the employee, the more they are asked to add to their plate. This used to be high-value for employers, but it's leading to major dissatisfaction for employees long-term. From our own data, too, we see that women are even more prone to be supporting and taking part in these cross-functional collaboration roles, while data shows men are less so. It's fascinating and sobering to see the data here, and the trend of workers overextended and burning themselves out," says Kris Duggan, CEO of enterprise goal-setting and collaboration software solutions company BetterWorks.

How your business take advantage of collaboration without pushing your most valuable employees straight into a burn-and-churn cycle? The answer is data, says Duggan. Being able to track projects, collaborative efforts and interpersonal dependencies is key to making sure no one is taking on too much, and that workloads are distributed evenly so that bottlenecks don't occur, he says.

Duggan says that the number-1 barrier to operational efficiency is accurate tracking of interdepartmental dependencies. In the past, CIOs and managers would direct their teams to focus solely on their own projects and the result was a very siloed organization; over the past decade collaboration has become the norm and so the emphasis must change to understand the rewards versus the risks in that new mindset, Duggan says.


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