Effective collaboration does in fact drive business results while simultaneously energizing and engaging the organization. We have been fortunate to work with a number of cross functional teams who had a focused goal and left the agenda from their individual functions at the door. We have been part of great improvements in time to market, brilliant change plans, significant reductions in handoffs, notable cost savings, and great product development. But these are the exception, not the norm.

One of the best ways to illustrate challenges associated with collaboration is to begin with a real life example. This same scenario repeats itself in many organizations.

Rachel was the CEO of a well-known retail chain. The good news: the business was growing quickly and overall results were positive. The bad news: it was evident that the more the company grew, the more difficult it was to connect corporate projects and initiatives with the needs of the stores. Store managers felt inundated with programs and processes from multiple enterprise functions. The timing and content of what they received never seemed coordinated with the various corporate groups and the store managers ended up managing the ongoing mess. Rachel was convinced that if things didn’t change, their ability to keep growing would be compromised.

The CEO worked with the HR department and leadership team to establish cultural values she felt were critical to success. First on the list was collaboration. Rachel strongly believed that many of the organization’s challenges would be corrected if communication between corporate groups improved. Rachel and her team completed a well thought out and thorough roll out of the cultural values, with collaboration as the key point of emphasis. Posters featuring these values were displayed in conference rooms and other prominent locations.

A year later there was more good news and more bad news. On the positive side, it was evident that people from different groups were making more of an effort to work together. On the other hand, the push for collaboration resulted in more meetings, slower decision making, and confusion regarding who needed to be involved in which decisions. The desire to be more collaborative generated all kinds of extra activity.

At The RBL Group, virtually every organization we work with stresses the importance of increasing the quality of collaboration in order to improve business results. Many of these same organizations have experiences very similar to Rachel’s. Collaboration done well has huge benefits, both in terms of business success and employee engagement. Alternatively, when these initiatives are rolled out in a general way, that is without focus and without a process, it often makes things worse. This environment is often characterized by work overload, excessive meetings, and bogged down decision making. The collaboration conundrum is that the very things you do to increase collaboration can effectively make things worse.

Over the last few years we have been conducting a very simple survey on collaboration effectiveness to further evaluate this conundrum. To date we have input from over 100 companies. We invite you to participate in RBL’s Brief Collaboration Survey, which evaluates the impact of your organization’s efforts to increase collaboration. In the coming weeks, we will share the results of this Collaboration Survey. You will see how your perspective on collaboration compares to other participants. We will also share an article that briefly outlines key decisions and key principles that will make the collaboration process much more effective