3 Fears Preventing People from Working Collaboratively

 In Collaboration, Designing Solutions, Leadership, Teamwork

What are the three fears preventing your people from working collaboratively? We’d all love to manage low maintenance teams that come together effortlessly and outperform, however the reality is that it’s hard work. You may have occasional breakthroughs, only to be frustrated when people drift back to their old habits.

Analysing the common fears about working collaboratively provides insight into building strong teams and avoiding dysfunction.

Why is collaboration important?

A survey of 2,000 employers by Manpower found that they rate collaboration as a top four skill sought when hiring graduates, so it’s becoming more and more important in the modern workforce. Plus, the DDI Global Leadership Forecast found that CEOs regard the ability to work across organisational boundaries as a premium capability.

There are challenges that your people can tackle on their own and those that require joint effort. Collaboration is often portrayed as being about working together in pursuit of a common goal. It only tells half the story. We often overlook the fact that each person has their own individual motivations in addition to the common goal. Getting the balance right between these competing interests can be difficult, but if you work at it and succeed you’ll stand to achieve great things.

During my corporate career, I worked for companies with contrasting cultures. One had hidden agendas, powerful cliques and frequent backstabbing. Another was uplifting because everyone was keen and looking out for each other. Working collaboratively was easy in the latter workplace and non-existent in the former.

Drawing on Patrick Lencioni’s work on team dysfunction and my own experiences, there are three types of ‘fears’ holding people back.

1) Self-leadership – Am I comfortable with this?

When asked to collaborate, your people may be asking themselves: How do I prioritise my contributions? Do I function well in team situations or only when I am in control? Am I comfortable working with new people in new ways?

If they can’t answer with a positive response, they’ll struggle to be effective collaborators.

Self-leadership is how we influence ourselves to achieve our objectives. Factors include self-awareness of our own traits, leveraging our strengths and possessing resilience. It’s worthwhile gathering your team and defining what self-leadership looks like in day-to-day behaviours and actions.

2) Safety – Is this a positive and psychologically safe working environment?

People contribute more to group work when they feel safe in doing so. Working relationships suffer when people fear their ideas may be ridiculed, their input is not valued or they’re afraid of hidden motives and agendas.

Dr Jeff Polzer examined the impact of social interactions on group dynamics and found that vulnerability builds trust, not the other way around. Your task is to express vulnerability as a leader, displaying that it’s okay to be fallible and you may need help from time to time.

Your people will bring their best if they feel that they’re in a trusting, psychologically safe environment.

3) Connection – Is the purpose of this work clear?

Does your team know why they are collaborating? Do they feel engaged? If the purpose is unclear, perceived as irrelevant or individuals don’t see how it fits in with their role, they won’t be highly motivated. You can help them connect the purpose of the collaborative task with the work they are performing and even reflect it in their KPIs, and there are some handy mapping tools available to assist the process.

Addressing these three fears creates strong foundations for working collaboratively and helps your people do what they do best.

Phil Preston is a collaboration speaker and facilitator. You can stay in touch by following him on Linked Incontacting him directly or using the form below to opt in to occasional emails.

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