February 7, 2014

To Accomplish More, Collaborate Less

meetingsIt’s 9:15 am and you are just getting into the rhythm of your day. The phone rings, and on the other end of the line one of your colleagues unexpectedly asks you to attend a meeting that starts in just 45 minutes. Although you respect this colleague and ideally would like to support her, you had plans for your morning and are getting closer to a few deadlines of your own. How would you respond to the meeting invitation?

  1. Stick to my existing plan and graciously say “no.”
  2. Be a “team player” and let my colleague know that I will attend the meeting, but clearly set a boundary that I won’t stay longer than one hour because of my own deadlines.
  3. Ask a few questions about the anticipated goals and importance of the meeting…then quickly evaluate whether my own priorities match and if the specific contributions I could make are likely to impact the outcome of the meeting…then, make a committed yes/no decision based on those factors.

If you chose either response one or two, you may be an over-collaborator. Response three is the preferred answer because it focuses your decision around two critical factors: your highest priorities and your value-added contributions. In order to get more done at work, these are the two factors that can help you escape the inertia of unnecessary collaboration and join your efforts with others only when it counts.

Routine Collaboration Drains Time

Of course, collaboration by itself is not bad. Problems occur when “routine” collaborative efforts with unclear mandates produce a byproduct of toxic sludge known as meeting soup. On a bad day, a cynical view of meetings is that they can be the single biggest waste of time in our working lives. On a good day, we may look at meetings as the chance to connect with people and discuss important matters in the pursuit of getting good work done.

The reality for most of us is that the quality of our meetings falls somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. According to most estimates, managers and employees spend anywhere between 25 and 80% of their time in meetings. For a full-time employee this translates to time in meetings from 520 hours to 1,664 hours (or 65-208 full working days)! What is the rationale for all of these meetings? It is the “need” for collaboration.

Selective Collaboration Boosts Performance

To reduce your meeting clutter, make it a priority to collaborate in the right way, at the right time, with the right people. This kind of Selective Collaboration is about intentional partnering that boosts the chance of success by aligning the required strategic skill/resource with the essential contributors in the simplest way.

Think of Selective Collaboration as a career move for you, not just a chance to escape the unproductive, routine meetings and conversations that fail to push your goals forward. Moving away from routine collaboration—even when professional or cultural norms dictate it—can deliver a greater return on your efforts because it aligns with your highest priorities and features your value-added contributions. Getting great work done by delivering clear and consistent contributions is perhaps one of the best ways for you to stay relevant in the world of work.

The first step is learning how to choose when, how, and with whom you collaborate. Yes, you will have to learn how to say no. Yes, there may be some short-term negative reactions to this. But, your elevated contributions to top priorities should ease those concerns quickly. Instead of relying on partnerships that are dictated by circumstance and opportunity, you will seek out collaboration opportunities that serve a specific purpose in the moment. Sometimes the missing piece is motivation, and that can be found through a partnership with some individual or group who is driven, focused, and inspired. At other times the missing piece may be technical, strategic, or organizational. In these instances the mix of skills, abilities, and access to resources serves as the driver for Selective Collaboration.

Selective Collaboration gives you a tool to accomplish things that otherwise would not be feasible alone. The restraint of choosing high-potential collaboration allows you to avoid wasting time when collaboration itself is just a substitute for lack of creativity, vision, or accountability for individual follow-through. There is reciprocity with this as well. When invited to collaborate with others, accept the invitation only when the best mix of skill and contribution can be aligned in an effective way. It’s not about being selective because you “have better things to do;” you choose the moments where your impact can be the greatest.

When in doubt, you can use the following checklist to confirm the opportunity for Selective Collaboration. If you can check each box, it’s time to schedule a meeting!

  • I have identified a clear learning and performance outcome for this collaborative effort.
  • The outcome will clearly support one of my priorities.
  • I know what I can contribute to make the collaboration a success.
  • I understand what my collaborator(s) can deliver + their contributions make it better than going it alone.

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