Without collaboration, there is no innovation. But how much collaboration is necessary? Is there a limit to collaboration and exchange in the workplace? Analysts like Rob Cross, Professor of Global Leadership at Babson College, say: Yes! “Collaboration overload” puts people in a state where they can no longer work productively due to all the communication in various teams and projects. On the other hand, there are high performers within companies who are so productive because they have found just the right amount of interaction for themselves.
How can companies prevent collaboration overload among their employees? How can they retain the high performers? And what is needed to ensure that as many employees as possible achieve a high level of productivity?
To find an answer to these questions, it helps to look at what makes collaboration so valuable as a working principle. Collaborating with other people saves the individual time and energy by distributing tasks among different people based on their strengths. Ideally, the resulting free time is used by the employees to work on new ideas and to develop themselves and the organization further. Only when this happens does collaboration have the desired effect.
What do high performers do differently than others? How do they find the right level of collaboration and maintain it over the long term?
Skill-based working and networking
For one thing, high performers make themselves expendable. They know their inner motivators – both the good and the less helpful ones. The latter include the desire for short-term recognition, which makes many people say “yes” again and again to even more requests and projects. High performers manage not to let these temptations guide them. As a result, they don’t get involved in projects that don’t match their priorities or that can be done just as well by someone else. Instead, when faced with relevant requests, they look for solutions that do not require their own involvement and actively draw from their network within the company. This approach has nothing to do with passing on responsibility or tasks, but rather with the sensible use of skills and resources in the organization for the benefit of everyone involved.
Learning to say no
This approach requires the ability and strength to say “no” and to reject requests from colleagues if they do not fit in with your own focus. In one of her articles, journalist Lena Marbacher described her change in attitude from constant “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) to “JOMO” (Joy of Missing Out). She compares not accepting invitations and requests to the feeling of skipping school to spend time with people or things that really matter to you. For her, this also results in a different kind of networking: away from the defensive “being asked to do anything and everything” to a proactive approach to colleagues and other people out of genuine interest.
New quality of networking
Through hundreds of conducted interviews, the aforementioned Rob Cross found that employees who consistently implement this type of targeted and measured collaboration often radiate very special energy. Colleagues value their advice and strong network and experience the exchange as motivating and inspiring. Because through this smart collaboration, high performers create the time and cognitive freedom to really listen to others, to be present in the conversation, and to always look for holistic solutions and opportunities for the benefit of as many people as possible. The question “And what do you do?” doesn’t stick with them. Instead of arbitrarily telling people about their projects, they play the question back: Tell me what exactly you need, then I can see if I can help you -– personally or with appropriate contacts from my network.
Gain control over your communication
The interesting question is: Can anyone learn how to protect themself from collaboration overload? – Generally speaking, yes. The corporate culture plays an important role here. First, organizations need to have an honest interest in allowing employees to (re-)gain control over their communication and networking habits. And in ensuring that all employees can build a reputation based on their skills, regardless of position or job title. This also includes taking a critical look at the existing communication channels in the company and training employees in the use of new tools that enable them to engage proactively in networking based on their interests. A digital talent marketplace is a great way to do this. Why?
- A talent marketplace counteracts FOMO and collaboration overload because people are matched with other people and offers within the company based on their interests and needs.
- The marketplace allows employees to position themselves specifically in terms of certain skills (reputation) and consequently to
- experience a high level of self-efficacy in the company because suitable projects and teams are presented to them. A healthy self-confidence in turn boosts the ability to say “no” in the right moments.
Talent marketplace accelerates the personal and professional development
Not only the high performers need an increased level of self-efficacy to feel comfortable in the company and stick around long-term. Those who are accustomed to working collaboratively do not want to start from scratch every time they move to a new company. At the same time, companies should aim to turn as many employees as possible into high performers. After all, they lead the organization into the future with their ideas. However, the data from Rob Cross and his team also showed that it takes an average of three to five years for employees to reach the “high performance” level. Too long, given the pace of change in the corporate environment. A digital talent marketplace can accelerate this process immensely. The introduction to the marketplace should be an integral part of employee onboarding so that employees can build and expand their network in a self-determined manner from the very beginning and get involved in projects that are relevant to them. The talent marketplace then acts as an accelerator for the personal and professional development of employees:
- for personal development, because it emphasizes the strategy of “strengthening strengths” and helps employees to focus more on relevant contacts and offers,
- for professional development, because it gives their competency profile visibility and highlights interesting new work and development opportunities within the company.
In conclusion: Collaboration remains key in the working world of the present and future. Utilized correctly, collaborative forms of work not only ensure that many good ideas come together, thus increasing the innovative potential in companies. They also increase the enjoyment of work and relieve the burden on the individual. The freed-up time and energy can be used to do many other useful things.
Sometimes you have to skip work to be able to do good work.