Success stories

The 7 Deadly Sins of Team Collaboration (And How to Fix Them in 2020)

by: John Coburn
The 7 Deadly Sins of Team Collaboration (And How to Fix Them in 2020)

Team collaboration may feel as if it’s something that should just “happen.” After all, you’ve hired top talent. You’ve equipped them with the best tools and technologies you can. You’ve given them the autonomy to work independently. So why aren’t the results they’re producing living up to your expectations?

More and more organizations are discovering that enabling truly effective collaboration requires a more nuanced view of the practice, as well as an eagle-eye for spotting the myriad problems that can affect teams (and the different ways they can manifest).

If collaboration within your organization has fallen short, any one or more of the following deadly sins could be at fault. Learn to spot and resolve them, and you’ll set yourself and your teams up for collaboration success in 2020.

1. A Lack of Communication

Good team collaboration requires effective communications. And although you’d think that the many technological tools available today to facilitate communication would guarantee effectiveness in this area, the 2017 Workplace Productivity and Communications Technology Report from Webtorials found that, “Nearly 15 percent of employees’ total work time is wasted inefficient communications.”

That’s huge, but it doesn’t have to be the case at your organization. To prevent ineffective communications from compromising collaboration at your company, consider designating a “single source of truth” for project information. 

Rather than have team members capturing information across multiple platforms, pick one system and require that critical information be captured there for reference by the group. In this way, having a single system of record like Taskworld eliminates the siloed conversations that happen in person or via email, which risk leaving stakeholders out of the loop.

2. A Lack of Trust

Without trust, collaborative efforts will always fall short of expectations. That’s because true collaboration requires individual members of the team to trust that others will manage their own responsibilities without letting things fall through the cracks.  

Imagine that you’re a member of a team working on a major marketing campaign that involves releasing a free guide across multiple channels. If you’re the team member in charge of social media promotions, you’re counting on other collaborators to ensure the guide is taken live at the right time and that it’s functioning correctly. 

If you aren’t able to trust that your teammates have carried out the responsibilities upon which yours depend, you’ll have to waste time double-checking their work. Not focusing on team building can have a lasting impact on the way your peers interact with each other and can affect the company as a whole. without, you risk damaging your brand’s reputation by publishing the wrong information to your company’s social profiles.

Certainly, this is only one example – and it may not be one that’s particularly relevant to you. But it should still make clear how critical trust can be when it comes to collaboration among team members, as well as how important it is that you cultivate it within your groups. 

3. Bottlenecks Produced by Micromanagement

If you’ve ever worked as part of a micromanaged team, you understand the ways in which overzealous management can stifle collaboration. And if you haven’t? Consider yourself lucky.

As described above, collaboration requires trust between team members. A micromanager disrupts this trust by telegraphing – either directly or inadvertently – that team members can’t be trusted to carry out their responsibilities. Not only does this create an unpleasant work environment, it often results in the kind of duplicate work shared earlier in the marketing campaign example.

Solving micromanagement challenges often requires a multi-pronged approach, potentially including everything from enrolling managers in additional training courses to reassigning team members who aren’t suited to management responsibilities.

However, when it comes to sussing out issues of micromanagement, don’t just look at those who have the word “manager” in their titles. Collaborative teams often form their own dynamics. As a result, team members at any level can take on de facto managerial roles and introduce the deadly sin of micromanagement to their groups.

4. Uneven Patterns of Recognition


On an institutional level, patterns of recognition must shift if collaboration is to be truly effective.

Take the average corporate recognition program. Typically, the focus is placed on individual contributors – the salesperson who produced the most revenue, the customer support person who resolved the most complaints, or the IT worker who handled the most help desk tickets. In these kinds of systems, what’s the incentive for team members to collaborate, if their efforts within the group are unlikely to be recognized?

An interesting example of an alternate model of recognition comes from the materials company, Corning. A Harvard Business Review webinar profiled an innovative fellowship program offered by the company, which awarded fellows with lifetime job contracts if they met two criteria:

  1. They had to be the lead author on a revenue-generating patent, and
  2. They had to have contributed regularly to patents written by others.

Awarding fellowships to those who met only the first criterion would have mirrored the way many organizations recognize top talent. Yet, by including the second requirement, they were able to identify, attract, and retain those with a high capacity for working collaboratively.

The way you recognize top collaborators within your company may range from an informal system based on observations to a more formal program through which team members can nominate others, based on their contributions. However you proceed, making it clear to all team members that those who work most effectively with others will be rewarded for their efforts provides a powerful incentive to collaborate.

5. Burnout by Top Collaborators

Looking at the point above, it’d be easy to assume that adopting a similar set of criteria into your company’s hiring and recognition processes would increase your likelihood of achieving successful collaboration.

However, there’s another relevant data point to consider. In a separate article found in the Harvard Business Review, research conducted by contributors Rob Cross, Reb Rebele, and Adam Grant across more than 300 organizations found that: “the distribution of collaborative work is often extremely lopsided. In most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees.” 

As a result, identifying these top performers isn’t actually all that difficult, which can simplify the process of providing them with appropriate recognition. What’s more critical for companies to consider is the potential for burnout faced by top collaborators.

As Cross, Rebele, and Grant describe, what happens to these high performers is that demand for their work increases. They’re invited to join more teams, to contribute insight to those they aren’t on, and to pull more than their share of the weight on teams where they do participate. In doing so, they have the potential to become bottlenecks, as well as to see their own performance decline due to burnout.  

Bottlenecks such as these can be identified through formal status reports or by tuning into office chatter (stand by any water cooler, and you’ll quickly learn who’s really behind project hold-ups). Burnout is similarly easy to identify in the form of irritable workers who lash out unexpectedly or whose attitudes take a turn for the worse. 

Though these symptoms can certainly be attributable to other causes, they should still be considered warning bells that cause you to take a closer look at an employee’s workload.

6. A Lack of Decision-Makers

The one good thing about working under the kind of micromanager described earlier? Whether right or wrong, there’s always someone to step up and make the necessary decisions.

Often, efforts at improving collaboration attempt to take an egalitarian approach, delegating decision-making authority to every team member. But when everyone is able to make a decision, many teams find that the fear of stepping on each others’ toes prevents anyone from actually making a decision.

Fortunately, this deadly sin is relatively easy to identify in the field. If collaborative teams aren’t meeting their deadlines, and when asking who’s at fault for delays produces no clear answers, you can assume you’re facing problems produced by a dearth of true decision-makers.

The easiest way to eliminate the impact of absentee decision-makers is to define, early on, who specifically bears the responsibility for the completion of each project stage, sprint, or other deliverable. To promote collaboration, you can share these responsibilities across multiple team members – what’s more important is that the designations are clearly understood by all members of the group.

7. Remote Work Challenges

One final deadly sin of team collaboration is the simple logistics challenge presented by the increase in remote work adoption. Research conducted by FlexJobs and Global Workplace has seen a major shift in the number of remote workers in the U.S.


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As more teams add remote members, collaboration practices must evolve to ensure all team members – across all locations, countries, and time zones – play a role. Limiting project discussions to times when remote team members can be included can help, as can investing in the creation of strong process documentation to serve as a reference for external workers.

Even if your team isn’t experiencing challenges with remote collaboration – or any of the other deadly sins listed here – treat this article as a cautionary tale. By being aware of the different ways issues affecting collaboration manifest, you’ll be better prepared to avoid them by implementing effective communication and work processes in a proactive manner.

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