Collaboration; The Bad…

The second of 3 posts looking at different aspects of the development of greater collaboration within businesses. The Good highlights the importance of putting users at the heart of any initiative.

the Bad…

On the face of it, any increase in the levels of internal collaboration ought to be a good thing. However, greater collaboration isn’t really a goal in itself, rather it should be the means to achieving clearly defined, costed and planned business objectives.

Morten T. Hansen’s Harvard Business Review article ‘When Internal Collaboration is Bad for your company‘ provides valuable evidence that greater collaboration is no guarantee of business success and highlights the importance of making informed decisions about collaboration projects.

Whilst successful collaborations generate increased returns for the business, they don’t come without their costs. It is inevitable that asking teams or individuals to work together more closely will mean changes to their current working practices; new goals, new ways of working, different resource requirements, as well as the need to overcome the common personnel issues that come with the creation of any new team or working group. All of this has associated costs, especially in the early stages where things are likely to take longer, be less effective and cost more; until the new ways of working are bedded in and the benefits of the collaboration start to emerge.

Hansen’s article proposes that the evaluation of any collaboration initiative should include careful analysis of the investment involved – the expected returns, associated costs and alternative uses. He suggests a formula for calculating the net value to the business of a particular collaboration project:

Collaboration Premium = Projected return (cash-flow generated by the project) – Opportunity cost (cash flow that could be generated by investing money elsewhere)  – Collaboration costs (cash flow lost as a result of collaboration difficulties).

Informed decisions about when, who and how to collaborate will also benefit from a strategic look at

  • the skills and strengths of the different elements of the business,
  • the goals and opportunities of both individual groups and the organisation as a whole
  • an honest evaluation of the challenges presented by bringing new groups together work on challenging projects.

As organisations get better at selecting collaboration opportunities and implementing the tools and practices to make them work, they will start to develop a naturally more collaborative culture. As teams and individuals become more comfortable and skilled at forming and contributing to new working groups, the potential returns from such  projects will begin to grow and the associated costs will fall.  It is at this point that organisations will truly be in a position to realise the benefits of greater collaboration.

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