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Managers! Why are you telling employees you don’t want them to collaborate?

26 Apr 2016

Article by Carol Rozwell, Gartner research analyst

Collaboration is the oft-stated goal of a myriad of technology deployments from knowledge management to social software to digital workplace. Managers tell Gartner they want to reduce duplicated effort and get the added bump in productivity that accrues when people can work together easily. They want employees to share their knowledge and work for the greater good of the organisation as a whole.

What puzzles me is how on one hand these managers say they want employees to collaborate, however, the organisational performance metrics send the opposite message. Let me provide three examples:

  • A colleague working in a scientific field applied for a grant she could use to start a “skunk works” project. She was competing against other employees for the funding. Only a few grants would be awarded so receiving a grant was quite an honour. Each employee’s work record was examined carefully as part of the review process. My colleague was not awarded the grant. When she inquired why, she was told that while her ability to collaborate was well-established, the review committee questioned her ability to work individually.
  • Another colleague was asked to mentor a new hire so the newbie could get acclimated more quickly. The mentorship was six months long and was expected to take as much as 20% of his time. When he asked what work could be shifted so he would have the time needed to be a proper mentor, he was told no adjustments to his schedule were possible. He would just have to “find the time” somewhere.
  • Lastly, I spoke with a leader of a consulting practice who lamented over the fact that the consultants were reluctant to take time to help colleagues whose projects were “stuck.” When I asked how the consultants were measured, I was told their sole performance metric was billable hours. So of course they had no motivation to collaborate with others if it meant reducing their billable hours.

Another way managers send a loud and clear message about the importance of collaborating is how they treat their fellow managers. If there is a cohesive team structure where everyone is committed to the success of the whole team, then those values will permeate the organisation. When the work environment allows back-stabbing and divisiveness, then the message is that looking out for #1 is preferable to working together.

Be alert to the message your managers – and you – are sending with your words and your actions.

Article by Carol Rozwell, Gartner research analyst

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