Too much teamwork can be bad for your business. Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant spent two decades researching the damaging effects of collaboration.
How much time do you spend in meetings, answering emails and being on the phone? In some companies, it amounts to more than 80 % of one’s day. That leaves little time to finish individual work tasks. At the same time, collaboration activities in firms have increased 50 % in the last 20 years. Therefore, productive teamwork is vital for organizational success.
Does that require everyone in the firm to step it up? Apparently not. The researchers found that 20 to 35 % of valuable collaboration comes from no more than 3-5 % of employees. These employees are driven by a giving mindset and a wish to quickly help others. These “extra-milers” can drive team performance in a better way than all the other team members combined. As noted by Cross, Rebele and Grant:
It becomes a problem when employees feel exhausted and productivity drops, as these individuals become “institutional bottle necks”: Work does not progress before they are are weighted in.
There are three types of resources employees contribute with to create value: Informational, social and personal resources. The latter includes one’s time and energy. Only the first two can be shared without depleting a collaborator’s supply. Instead of asking for concrete information or social resources such as access to other people, employees are asking for hands-on assistance too often. This results in an energy drain for the “extra-miler” and lowest engagement and career satisfaction scores amongst all employees:
It ultimately leads these employees to either leaving the organization (taking valuable knowledge as well as network resources with them) or staying where they are, noticeably dissatisfied and spreading their apathy to other colleagues.
The research proposes two ways to solve this:
Redistributing work by mapping out collaboration patterns and by rewarding effective communication. Former Goldman Sachs Chief Learning Officer once wrote that leaders hope for collaboration but reward individual achievement. They must instead learn to spot and reward people who can do both:
Consider professional basketball, hockey and soccer teams. They don”t just measure goals; they also track assists to each other. Organisations should do the same.
What is needed, is a healthy balance between individual employee accomplishments and collaborative team contributions.
The full article can be found in Harvard Business Review, January-February issue 2016, pages 74-79.