The Wrong Understanding of Collaboration

Bob Wiesner | February 24, 2017

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Research is clear that companies are pushing their people for more and more collaboration.  And their people, especially younger employees, are eager for it.  Even demanding it.

With more collaboration, it’s that much more troubling that so many companies have the wrong approach to it.  Time is being wasted, emotions are being needlessly frayed, teams are delivering less innovative results.

It boils down to this: Many in todays younger, more innovative and creative organizations, practice a kind of collaboration that de-emphasizes disagreement.  When we collaborate, they believe, we should be working toward agreement. We should see things the same way.  We should have no trouble getting to consensus.

Ahh, wouldn’t it be nice….

The truth is that the best ideas don’t emerge when collaborative team members continually agree.  The authors of this HBR article are clear: The best ideas emerge when there’s healthy disagreement, healthy tension.  As the title says, “if your team agrees on everything, working together is pointless.”  Here’s a great quote:

There’s no point in collaboration without tension, disagreement, or conflict. What we need is collaboration where tension, disagreement, and conflict improve the value of the ideas, expose the risks inherent in the plan, and lead to enhanced trust among the participants.

Now, here’s the issue as I see it.  Many millennials aren’t used to disagreement, especially in high-stress business environments.  They resist participating when they feel it will lead to increased tension.  When others disagree with them, they either back down too quickly or become too defensive.

I submit that there’s too much collaboration going on in some organizations, but that’s for another post.  Meanwhile, if you’re going to encourage your teams to collaborate, don’t allow the expectation that everyone on the team has to agree with everyone else all the time.  Teach them the value of healthy disagreement and positive criticism.  Encourage expanded thinking.  Reward risk taking, even when in the minority.  Trust is built when team members believe that disagreement is necessary to achieve common goals.

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