The five biggest collaboration blockers

Get people working together and sharing ideas, and innovation will follow. So what's holding them back?

by MT staff
Last Updated: 22 May 2018
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Down to business

‘No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team,’ said Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn.

So why are businesses still struggling to get their teams to work together and collaborate? Here are the five biggest blockers:

Different generations, different styles

Veterans. Baby boomers. Generation X. Millennials. Generation Z. Today’s workforce is a real mix. You’ll find everyone from digital-first teenagers to company-loyal workers in their 70s. And getting all these people working together isn’t always easy. ‘Baby boomers tend to work by themselves; they’re quite siloed and want to keep their heads down and get the job done,’ says Kerri Hollis, product marketing manager for Intelligent Communications, Microsoft UK. ‘Generation Z, on the other hand, are really collaborative. They’ll move around to seek and share information. The big challenge is how you empower all these different generations to work together.’ Microsoft Teams, the hub for teamwork in Microsoft 365, cuts across organisational and generational boundaries by allowing private chats or group conversations take place from anywhere and across mobile, desktop or browsers. The work that traditionally required an in-person meeting happens right in the hub – through chat, calls, smaller group video conferences, and shared files – faster than before and from virtually anywhere.

The wrong environment

An office full of cubicles doesn’t lend itself to dynamic teamwork. But you can’t force teamwork simply by knocking down walls. For starters, open spaces get noisy, which kills productivity; research has shown that the number of people who couldn’t focus at their desk rose by 16% between 2008 and 2014.* You need to design your spaces with a purpose in mind to create a productive, collaborative environment.

Dispersed teams

72% of workers will be working remotely by 2020. When you can’t bring the right people together at the right time, teamwork suffers. ‘Our employees are spread across different countries and they’re on the road a lot,’ says John Oswald, global principle, advisory team, Futurice. ‘So we make sure we have regular check-ins. Plus there’s a big emphasis on trust in our organisation. We don’t have policies, we have a mindset, which is: "Do the right thing by your customers, your people and the numbers now and in the future." That covers things like expenses right through to major project decisions.’

Rigid hierarchies

The bigger a company gets, the more divisions and layers of management stand in the way of collaboration. ‘Sometimes people don’t look beyond their specific job roles or departments,’ says Pauliina Jamsa, global senior online marketing manager at Siemens. ‘That doesn’t work anymore. You need to look at the big picture – at how everything works together.’ Breaking down hierarchies might seem daunting but it is possible. Take Gore, for example. Although it has nearly 10,000 employees, it only has three management levels,* describing itself as ‘a team of dedicated people collaborating to push our best ideas forward.’

There’s no time

Unfortunately, routine usually trumps collaboration. We’re too stretched doing our job to collaborate properly and we’re already overburdened by information. A typical phone user touches his or her phone 2,617 times every day, according to a study by research firm Dscout. ‘Extreme’ users touch their phones more than 5,400 times daily. Adding collaboration tools to the mix can seem too complicated, too difficult. ‘You need to embed new behaviours and new habits – but that’s a challenge when people are busy with their day jobs,’ says Julie Dodd, director of digital transformation and communication at Parkinson’s UK. ‘For us, it’s all about small steps; doing things in little, quick ways with people who are keen to try things out, then using them to socialise the ideas.’

*Unite Your Workforce eBook, Microsoft

At MT and Microsoft’s Collaboration: Make it Work event, we asked a panel of experts on the biggest challenges to collaboration. Here’s what they had to say:

Image: Shutterstock

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