Collaboration: When Is It OK to Say No?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Collaboration. The practice is celebrated. The practice is credited with the development of exciting new products. And, collaboration is criticized for chewing up the time of key contributors. If you’re looking for a way to help your team members manage the demands on their time for collaborative efforts, check out what researchers from Wharton suggest.

One of the first steps to take is to understand how much time your team members are spending in collaborative meetings. The experts say knowledge workers are sometimes devoting 85% of their work effort to meetings, chats on the phone and email updates. This commitment leaves little time for creative and independent thinking.

It doesn’t take long for some workers to feel shackled by this kind of a schedule. While collaboration is key to developing products that cut across cultures and industries, individual contribution is important, too.

Nobody expects to go back to work patterns that existed in siloed companies. But, your team members will have days when they want more autonomy and the chance to work independently.

Encourage them to consistently block an hour or two on their calendars every day. This time period can be devoted to the creative work they enjoy.

Top collaborators may like the status they have when they’re called on to offer expert advice. Too much of these kinds of contributions will leave them feeling overloaded. Encourage them to limit their collaborative efforts. Nobody says that they have to spend an hour in a cross-​functional meeting. They may be able to jump in for 10 or 15 minutes, offer their opinions, and then move on.

Finally, team members should also know that it’s OK to say no. They shouldn’t feel like there is nobody else to take on the challenge of cross-​team work. That’s where you need to step in and facilitate the training of other team members to become experts in these areas.

Successful collaborative efforts can yield great results for the bottom line. Just make sure you help your team members balance the demand between collaboration and individual contributions.