Six signs that collaboration has run amok in your organization

Collaboration is a wonderful thing. Who wouldn’t want to be in an organization in which people discuss ideas, exchange points of view, have productive back and forth, and build upon the best thinking?

Unfortunately, we have seen collaboration run amok in many healthcare organizations. Here are six symptoms that might tell you that your organization suffers from this malady:

  1. Almost anyone can shut down an idea to the point that it is very hard to get anything done. Collaboration doesn’t mean that everyone gets veto power. If almost anyone in your organization can derail an idea by crossing their arms and saying that they aren’t sure about it — and then leaving it at that — you might have a culture that has taken collaboration too far.
  2. Managers use collaboration as a tool to manipulate. If managers treat healthy debate by their direct reports as “lack of collaboration,” that is a symptom that collaboration is no longer a virtue but rather a vice. Specifically: “If you aren’t doing it my way, you aren’t being collaborative.”
  3. You have noticed that your organization has stopped coming to you with fresh, bold ideas. Steve Jobs was famous at Apple for making bold decisions that a collaborative committee never would, like removing the headphone jack from the iphone. Too much collaboration makes it too tedious for people to want to take the risk and invest the energy to both pushing ideas through the organization. What’s the point if they are eventually going to face rejection?
  4. People stop telling the truth to each other’s faces. If you start to notice people talking behind each other’s back, or no longer have productive disagreements, that is a sign that people are afraid to have open, honest conversations. Collaboration has gone from being a productive discussion to being something inauthentic, where people are penalized for being honest and telling the truth. Open and honest conversation stops.
  5. Decision makers won’t commit without perfect information that doesn’t exist. It is difficult to make decisions in healthcare organizations when so much is at stake – especially when perfect information doesn’t exist. However, leaders have to make decisions with the information available. As consultants like to say, “You can’t boil the ocean.” There are many decision making tools that allow people to test ideas and gather information efficiently. Analysis paralysis can’t become an excuse for avoiding difficult decisions in the name of having more discussions and collaboration.
  6. Your strategic initiatives don’t move at the pace you would like. An organization that has too much collaboration can’t get things done at a fast enough pace.

Please don’t misinterpret the point of this article. Collaboration is important in a complex organization. However, when people take collaboration too far, it can slow down innovation, key initiatives, and change. Leaders need to observe the conversations that people are having in their health system, and set the tone for how much information people need to make decisions, and what it takes for an idea to move forward. Sometimes leaders need to give their managers support and move ideas forward for them. Collaboration is a virtue in moderation; taken too far, it can slow down the organization and keep it from achieving important initiatives and goals.