Teamwork failures can result from many factors; understand the underlying dynamics to help collaboration succeed.
Q: I’ve been running into roadblocks on collaboration. People give lip service to working together, but then don’t even respond to emails. I’m really frustrated and trying to figure out what to do. — Evani, 40, project manager
A: Collaboration failures can result from many factors; understand the underlying dynamics to help collaboration succeed.
First of all, manage the emotional aspects of your frustration. Lashing out is rarely productive and could even undermine your desired goal. Count to 10, take a couple of deep breaths, whatever it takes to keep steady while you make a plan.
Now, taking an honest look at the collaborative efforts you’ve sought to launch, how much have they been about you and your needs, and how fully have you considered the points of view of the other parties involved?
Start to think of all the reasons that people are not following through on this collaborative vision. Here are a couple to get you started.
For one, they may not share your vision; some may actually oppose it. Sometimes people will agree to go along with something without any intention of following through. And given how often corporate or team directives fall by the wayside, they probably see this as a rational approach. Have you given them a reason to believe?
Or, they may be well-intentioned but overloaded with other priorities. Most of us have been in that situation. If the benefits are not clear, you’re not likely to get the cooperation you seek.
As you think about this, consider whether you’ve laid out a clear approach for working together. Being vague is a common cause of failed teamwork and can be addressed by clear plans that have been explicitly agreed to.
Practice with a past failed example, analyzing root causes and laying out steps you could have taken if you had a “do-over.” Your plan should articulate expectations for communication, roles and responsibilities, and implications if the plan isn’t adhered to.
Move forward with an improved collaboration framework starting with a project that is currently underway. Your first step should be spending time with each of your key stakeholders one-on-one, with an agenda that includes: ensuring agreement on your shared project’s reason for existing, their definition of success, and their understanding of project roles and responsibilities. Then bring this deep understanding into a broader meeting where you build buy-in to the collaborative vision.
What if people still don’t follow through? At that point, you have more justification to call them to account.
Know your allies, too. Your boss should have your back, so ask him or her to help reinforce the expectations, especially across department lines. Use executive clout to reinforce your authority.
Building a collaborative culture can be difficult; be persistent and rely on open, ongoing communication to make progress.
Submit questions to Liz Reyer at email@example.com.