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Leaders: Why Won't Your Team Collaborate?

Ask anyone. Are you collaborative? Chances are they'll answer, yes! But collaboration is (at least) a tango. That is to say, it takes two: you and the other(s). And since we are good at collaborating, when things go wrong, the problem must belong to... you guessed it. The other.

This logic inevitably fails us. As long as we cling to this worldview, we’ll continue to experience what we’re experiencing. Deadlock. That’s what makes collaboration so elusive.

If we genuinely want to improve collaboration at work, at home, or in our communities, we must keep the following in mind:

  • People have different (and often implicit) definitions of what it means to collaborate effectively. Without a common understanding of what works, we can continue to see ourselves as good collaborators and, at the same time, collaborate poorly.

  • Most of us have no difficulty working with some people, and great difficulty working with others. As a result, it’s all too easy to continue believing that others are the problem. After all, if there’s somebody with whom I collaborate well, then how can I be the problem?

  • Collaboration is not a thing, or any specific set of things, that can be optimized once and forever. It is a process and a mindset. The specific form that it takes is ultimately unique to each set of individuals operating in any given culture. It must be defined and refined again and again in order for it to work and keep working.

  • Most importantly, collaboration requires us to be willing to look in the mirror. Collaboration is effective only when we’re all willing to see ourselves as part of “the problem” and part of “the solution.”

If you’re waiting for others finally to wake up, see the light, and spontaneously to evolve into good collaborators, you’re likely to be waiting a very long time.

What do you think?


Mark Voorsanger is a consultant, speaker and executive coach with extensive experience leading and managing teams. Mark works with leaders and teams to enhance their collaborative leadership skills.

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