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Why it is not so easy to work with colleagues

Updated: Oct 7, 2020


As per Professor Yuval Noah Harari, author of “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”, the only reason we humans control the planet is because of our ability to cooperate flexibly and in large numbers. In any organization- corporate or otherwise, working together is key to its success and there are numerous case studies of such organizations. However the distinction between co-operation and collaboration should be pointed out: Co-operation is when a group of people work in support of another’s goals, whereas collaboration implies shared ownership and interest in a specific outcome.


It is no wonder that in 3 of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Stephen Covey lays emphasizes on developing teamwork, collaboration and communication skills and moving from independence to interdependence. Lori Beer, CIO JPMorgan Chase has said, “Without mastering collaborative relationships both inside and outside the company, we won’t produce the outcomes needed to win our customer’s business.”


One would assume that in an environment where the code of ethics or goals are clearly defined and a professional review system is in place, we would have all the necessary tools and support structure to thrive collaboratively. While colleagues are encouraged to work together on tasks, the truth is that when teamwork is involved, there is frustration and lack of cohesion beneath the surface. Some of the top ten reasons for attrition around the world come down to interpersonal relationships or the lack thereof.


In my personal experience as well, working well with peers and managers who have an uncommon sense of ownership or interest can been challenging. Unfortunately, even when you do have the individual skills required to do the job you will eventually have to rely on your team or manager to help you climb the ladder of success. Surface-level attributes of individual team members—such as age, gender and reputation—can be important to the team's overall function, but they aren't necessarily the factors that matter most. Instead, it's the "deep-level" factors you can't see at a glance, such as the members' personality traits, values and abilities that tend to have a much bigger impact on work teams, studies suggest.


While diversity, remote working and large globally-dispersed organizations are some macro level conditions that make collaboration challenging, there are other micro level conditions that add to the complexity of working collaboratively. A few examples of these are:


1) Assessment/Hiring of employees based only on skills/experience: Some companies have a very robust system for evaluation of employees while others treat it casually. Whatever the case may be, most of the times the process is much skewed towards analyzing qualifications, skills and experience. While this is important, softer skills and abilities as well as cultural fitment or work ethics should be considered necessary to assess team compatibility.


2) Focus of reward and recognition on individual contribution: Even when you are part of a larger team, the metrics for performance are based on individual contribution. Hence team members never really try and consciously learn the skill of interpersonal relationships. Finding ways to recognize and reward individuals, leaders, and teams who engage in productive collaborative behaviors can pay off in a big way.


3) Lack of training or knowledge on interpersonal skills: While some companies may include “collaboration” as its core value or mission statement, there is no formal process of ensuring employees know how to achieve it. Trainings are frequently conducted on products and processes, but less on developing team skills or competencies. Team-building interventions aim to better teams by improving interpersonal relationships, clarifying roles and improving problem-solving. Such interventions might focus on increasing trust or setting challenging yet specific goals, for example.


4) Feedback mechanisms do not capture accurate sentiments: 360 degrees appraisals or skip level reviews do not capture the real sentiments of the team members. Most people in corporate setups are adept at hiding their true feelings. They portray an external persona which they feel will be acceptable to the standards of the company. However there may be emotional baggages that may not be readily visible but will manifest themselves in interactions eventually.


5) Culture of every team is unique and undefined: Most leaders have their own unique style of managing and running teams. However not everything is explicitly stated or transparent and sometimes the team have to figure out for themselves what is expected from them and how to adjust their working style to the leaders. Team success also hinges on some basic tenets of team composition. One person's mood and outlook can cause conflict and confusion with the way the whole group views its goals.

Team building is a big area of focus for organizations worldwide. They understand the power of high performing teams to get things done better and faster. However there are many factors that can make it difficult to achieve high levels of collaboration. Conscious effort should be made both at the individual and organization level to create a work environment that supports and promotes collaborative working. I conclude with the words of Henry Ford, who said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success”. Feel free to reach out to me at jayb@harkcoachingservices.com for more information.

Jay B is an interpersonal intelligence coach. With his coaching methodology, he helps his global clients better understand and resolve workplace power dynamics and interpersonal situations effectively in order to achieve goals.

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