‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ .
McKinsey & Company
Share this email LinkedIn Twitter Facebook
Leading Off
Click to get this newsletter weekly
Collaborative work has become all consuming. The time that most people spend on meetings, emails, messaging, and phone calls accounts for 85 percent or more of their workweeks, and since the COVID-19 pandemic began, collaboration demands have only increased. Collaboration—whether it is between individuals or among teams or business units—can take an organization from good to great, but when done without care, it can derail projects and exhaust the participants. This week, let’s explore ways to collaborate better, as well as some habits of collaboration that may undermine performance.
Photo of people walking on a venn diagram shaped design
Be strategic and intentional in identifying collaborators
“Why am I in this meeting?” We’ve all asked ourselves this question when we’ve felt that we had little or nothing to contribute to a meeting’s agenda. Diverse perspectives are indeed valuable, but you should resist the temptation to corral every available expert to staff your next project. Be selective when picking collaborators, looking for complementary skills and depth of knowledge that can be applied directly to the problem at hand. “This intentionality helps ensure that inefficient collaboration does not stymie innovation and productivity,” says McKinsey’s Stephanie Spangler. “Being intentional about when to collaborate and what projects you say ‘yes’ to also could help avoid the strain of collaboration overload.” To make the most of your collaborators’ expertise, provide immediate feedback on their contributions rather than waiting until the end of the project to debrief the team.
That’s the percentage of extra time it takes to complete tasks if you’re doing them in parallel—and for heavy multitaskers, it may take even longer than that. Switching back and forth among tasks damages productivity: our brains are wired to work best when focusing on one thing at a time. The same principle applies to collaborating with people. Research shows that individuals are most creative when focusing on one activity most of the day and collaborating with just one other person. Fragmented and frantic days packed with activities, meetings, and group discussions can hamper creativity. It may not be possible to eliminate these distractions entirely, but consider redesigning working norms to assign and manage collaborative work more thoughtfully.
“It is possible to have too much of a good thing.”
That’s the ancient Greek storyteller Aesop warning us of the dangers of too much sunshine in his fable “The marriage of the sun.” In our own era, the dangers of too much collaboration are all too apparent. Virtual-interaction technology gives us the ability to connect constantly, but, ironically, the onslaught of meetings, emails, and texts often doesn’t lead to productive collaboration. To achieve high-quality, focused interactions, leaders can focus on three broad categories of collaboration: decision making, creative solutions and coordination, and information sharing. Getting these right will require corrective action, such as clarifying who makes decisions (ideally, just one person), empowering employees to come up with innovative solutions, and—you guessed it—reducing the number of meetings and their attendees. Treat meeting time as a precious commodity and take it as seriously as you would financial capital.
A photo of Babson College professor Rob Cross
If you suffer from collaboration overload, take heart: it is possible to collaborate effectively. So much more effectively, in fact, that you can claw back 18 to 24 percent of your time, says Rob Cross, Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Leadership at Babson College, in this McKinsey Author Talks interview. But he warns that there isn’t a “single, seductive principle” to follow: “This is more of a brawl than a ballet.” That means setting norms around collaboration, whether it involves allocating time strategically, energizing and engaging people, or networking purposefully. The best collaborators are “seeding relationships and developing an understanding of how they could work together with others,” says Cross. “Then when the opportunity comes by, their response is much greater than those of people who don’t do this. So they’re able to mobilize resources that produce a bigger outcome.”
Illustration of people on white bubbles
There are many reasons collaborations fail, but a common one is that leaders neglect to set up the conditions needed to support collaboration, relying instead on conventional solutions to fix collaborations when they break down. Research by Babson College professor Rob Cross and coauthor Inga Carboni outlines six patterns of collaborative dysfunction that can harm performance. Examples include hub-and-spoke networks, where leaders micromanage or make all decisions on their own, and disenfranchised nodes, in which groups and team members are isolated from one another. And beware of overwhelmed nodes, in which excessive collaboration brings projects to a standstill.
Lead collaboratively.
— Edited by Rama Ramaswami, a senior editor in McKinsey’s Stamford office
Click to get this newsletter weekly
McKinsey & Company
Follow our thinking
LinkedIn Twitter Facebook
Share these insights
Did you enjoy this newsletter? Forward it to colleagues and friends so they can subscribe too.
Was this issue forwarded to you? Sign up for it and sample our 40+ other free email subscriptions here.
Copyright © 2022 | McKinsey & Company, 3 World Trade Center, 175 Greenwich Street, New York, NY 10007