4 Collaboration Killers and How to Avoid Them

June 27, 2018


Oh, the dreaded group project. Whether college was a recent success or a distant memory, it was a time when many of us experienced the challenges of bringing a group of students together toward the common goal of completing a class project. If you were a Type-A overachiever like I was, then you found the task frustrating, to say the least.

Fast-forward to today’s workplace, where we still see many of the same struggles when groups try to collaborate: communication breakdowns, scant attention to detail, missed deadlines and — perhaps worst of all — a lack of innovation. Failed collaboration results in less effective teams, despite their overall potential. The process and the end-product both suffer, as do our clients.

But collaboration is not going away. In fact, it’s becoming more complex than ever. We’re now tasked with bringing together virtual teams from around the world to collaborate digitally. Whether you’re working with your internal team or with outside partners for client projects, an intentional approach to collaboration — in which we deliberately set out to collaborate — increases productivity and innovation, enhances culture and creates award-winning work.

Unfortunately, too often we get in our own way, inadvertently building barriers to collaboration and crippling our teams’ effectiveness. For more productive, effective and happier teamwork, let’s explore four collaboration killers and how to avoid them.

1. A lack of empathy

It’s all too easy to judge another person’s approach as inferior to your own, or to dismiss an idea that you don’t understand. Getting to know someone takes time and intention, but the investment yields a superior result. In her 2017 book, “Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity,” author Kim Scott delivers an excellent guide for communicating with openness and empathy.

2. Reactive communication

At my agency, Belle Communications, we hold the Core-Belle-ief of “Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.” Even in the communications profession, that overarching label can be taken for granted.

Too often, communication is reactive rather than proactive. To avoid that collaboration killer, establish an expectation for how often you require communication from your team. When you are not leading the team, set an example by proactively communicating the project’s progress, along with questions, concerns and ideas.

3. Not listening to understand

As an extrovert who tends to overcommunicate, I find it quite challenging to listen closely enough to understand another person’s point of view. But I think I’m making progress.

To be better listeners, we all have to ask questions to make sure that we understand the idea that another person is presenting. Successful collaboration depends on this ability. 

4. A closed-minded attitude

I recently had the opportunity to attend PRSA’s Counselors Academy Spring Conference in Toronto, where the theme was diversity and inclusion. For me, it was paradigm-shifting to learn the business case for diversity — specifically that diverse, inclusive teams often produce more relevant ideas while decreasing the risk of unintended insensitivity. In collaborative groups, cultivating an open mind and diverse teams can bolster creativity and cooperation.

Empathy, openness and proactive communication can help us avoid the trap of assuming our own experiences and ideas are better or more relevant than someone else’s. For successful collaboration, we must look beyond our own lenses and bring together teams that represent varied experiences, upbringings and opinions.

Kate Finley

Kate Finley is founder and CEO of Belle Communications, an award-winning PR and social media firm based in Columbus, Ohio. Ranked as a Top-10 PR Firm in Central Ohio, Belle connects public relations to business goals through a smart, scrappy approach. Finley serves on the executive committee for PRSA’s Counselors Academy.


Felicia Blow says:

Excellent article! Kate, you hit the nail on the head, and I particularly liked the example of the experiences of the Counselors Academy. Well done!

July 16, 2018

Jared C. Meade says:

"As an extrovert who tends to overcommunicate, I find it quite challenging to listen closely enough to understand another person’s point of view." Shout out to this quote!! As a communicator it is hard to admit that we have to train ourselves to truly listen but I'm glad I'm not the only one. Great article, Kate!

July 25, 2018

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