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Are You Facing Collaboration Overload?

By Mark Busine and Pauline Nolte

In the last four decades, perhaps the most significant change in the corporate landscape has been the transition from an economy based on physical and tangible assets, such as plants and equipment, to one based on intangible assets, including customer relationships, brands, ideas, and innovation. It is now estimated that intangible assets account for more than 80 percent of an organization’s value and knowledge workers make up more than 40 percent of the workforce.

A couple of years back, McKinsey & Company explored the relationship between workplace interactions and the productivity of knowledge workers, on the assumption that the key to improving knowledge worker productivity lies in an organization's ability to identify and address the barriers workers face in their daily interactions. This research, for which McKinsey examined several knowledge-based organizations, focused on the broader barriers (physical/technical, social/cultural, contextual, and time) that inhibit effective workplace interactions.

Collaboration overloadA more recent Harvard Business Review article by Michael Mankins from Bain & Company explored the impact of collaboration overload on both organizations and individuals. According to Mankins, the rise in knowledge work has seen a significant increase in the volume of interactions in the workplace, but in many organizations the costs associated with these meetings, emails, IMs, and other forms of workforce collaboration now exceed the benefits.

Bain research found that the most productive companies address the issues associated with collaboration overload by first recognizing and then addressing two underlying organizational conditions: organizational complexity and a “collaboration for collaboration’s sake” culture.

While the more systemic responses offered by Mankins and McKinsey & Company are critical, we cannot overlook a significant reality: leaders and employees continue to spend a large portion of their time engaged in one-on-one and small group interactions, and the quality of these interactions, including informal discussions, has a notable impact on the performance and productivity of both the individuals and the organization.

Consider for a moment the amount of time wasted in poorly managed meetings, or worse, the lost productivity when somebody leaves a discussion frustrated and disengaged. If organizations could quantify the fiscal impact of poor conversations, they would quickly conclude that improving the quality of workplace interactions must be a priority for both the organization and individuals. Indeed, one might conclude that the ability to effectively manage interactions is now a core skill across all levels of the talent pipeline.

In the end, you can change the systems, structures and volume of conversations as much as you want but if people still can’t lead and facilitate an effective interaction, the negative impacts and consequences of collaboration overload will remain a reality.

DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2014│2015 showed that leaders spend 41 percent of their time “managing” and only 25 percent of their time “having high quality interactions.” Most of our organizations are trying to “do more with less” and new work practices (such as Agile) mean there is an even greater demand for collaboration.

Leaders' Balance of Time—Actual, Preferred, and Company Valued

Interacting vs. managing

What if you could:

  • Give more constructive feedback?
  • Handle challenging conversations in a way that builds trust and loyalty?
  • Get to the heart of issues quicker, knowing you’ve gathered multiple perspectives?
  • Effectively solicit ideas from others so you don’t feel you need to have all the answers?
  • End all your interactions knowing that there is a clear plan of action and accountabilities?

What if your team, business unit, or entire company engaged in better quality interactions?

The Interaction Essentials, which have been a core foundation of DDI’s Interaction Management® program for more than 45 years, are perhaps more important today than they have ever been. Furthermore, our research continues to show that leaders and individuals often lack them.

The good news is that these skills are developable. With the right training, practice, and application, anyone can acquire these skills and become more adept at conducting effective interactions that serve to strengthen relationships and drive productivity and results.

At a time when leadership development programs and practices are rightly under scrutiny, DDI undertook a major piece of research to evaluate the impact of Interaction Management® in our client organisations. The result is an unprecedented aggregation of studies including responses from more than 18,000 leaders and over 12,000 observers of leaders completing an Interaction Management® program. While the research spans more than four decades, many of the studies come from just the past few years. We encourage you to spend some time with the report. You’ll discover that the study shows unequivocally that investing in the development of these skills leads to positive changes in behavior and business results.

While we must continue to address the broader systemic and cultural factors contributing to collaboration overload, any effort to improve collaboration across the organisation must consider the quality of interactions. Put simply, do people have the skills and frameworks to conduct effective interactions face-to-face, over the phone, or through e-mail?

DDI is committed to building the capability of your leaders so they can execute on your business strategies. We work closely with you to design a solution that addresses the business problem you are trying to solve. We then measure the impact of the program in terms of quantifiable behavior change and the impact it’s had on your leaders, their teams and the broader business.

Mark BusineMark Busine is Managing Director for DDI Australia. Passionate and curious about the field of leadership, Mark is always looking for creative ways to solve client problems. This creative orientation extends outside work where he dabbles in the fine art of song writing convinced that a worldwide number one hit is just around the corner.


Pauline Nolte

Pauline Nolte is a Strategic Client Adviser in DDI’s Sydney office. Outside of work, she and her husband spend their time encouraging their two young daughters to be caring, curious, adventurous, and to tidy up their rooms!



Learn more about the Interaction EsseentialsSM and why they are critical for leaders.

Posted: 27 Jun, 2017,

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