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Think you’re a Good Collaborator? Check out our Top 10 Collaboration Killers

By January 31, 2020April 20th, 2022No Comments9 min read

(This is a follow-up to my post in July 2019:  Bias is the Kryptonite to Collaboration.)

Collaboration. It’s one of the tenets of the new Heart of Agile and central to all agile practices today.  Effective collaboration increases communication, encourages creativity, lowers rework, improves morale and delivers better products. Many of us consider ourselves pretty good at communication and collaboration, yet I’ve discovered some silent habits we have that kill collaboration in its tracks.  This post is a Top 10 Checklist for professionals in all industries that tests whether you harbor some of these silent collaboration killers.

We already know how…

As humans, we instinctively know how to collaborate – we do it all day, every day in our personal lives as we interact with friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers. When we throw Super Bowl parties or have friends over for dinner, collaboration is second nature and flows easily in the kitchen.  As adults, we’re practiced communicators, we know how to act in public and nurture our private relationships. We’re typically good at cooperation, communication, emotional intelligence and critical thinking with our partners, friends, family and, even strangers.  (While this is not a given across all of society, I’m assuming that if you’re reading this post, it’s true for you.)

To me, it seems ironic that these same collaboration skills seem to atrophy once we cross the thresholds of our work.

Millions are spent on Corporate Training

Case in point — Corporate America spends millions of dollars every year training professionals on how to better collaborate and communicate, yet recent studies (2019) show workplace morale at all-time lows: One study cites a whopping 75% of US workers are unhappy, a second shows 80% of professionals reporting career blockage due to emotional issues at work.

The Connection!

I believe that there is a direct connection between the lack of collaboration skills at work and the levels of workplace dissatisfaction — and it stems from an unconscious lack of respect and love for our co-workers.  I’ve seen silent collaboration killers in every board room and war room, and I profess that if we acted at home as we do at work, we’d all be unattached with few friends.

The following checklist is a Top 10 list of (silent and not-so-silent) Collaboration Killers that sabotage our projects.  Maybe you’ll recognize one or two (or more) and see yourself in the mix.  The good news is that these are easy to overcome with recognition and practice! Which of these are most dominant in your workplace?

(Note that a description of each follows the checklist.)

Top 10 Collaboration Killers – CHECKLIST

  1. The Eye Roll / Heavy Sigh.
  2. The Emperor Wears No Clothes.
  3. Shoot the Messenger.
  4. Dunce Capping.
  5. The Shut Down.
  6. Sarcasm (passed off as irony or wit.)
  7. Confirmation Bias.
  8. Okay Boomer, Okay Millennial.
  9. The Charlie Brown Teacher.
  10. Selective Blindness (or selective hearing.)

 Top 10 Collaboration Killers

  1. The Eye Roll / Heavy Sigh. We’ve all seen this in action – it is one of the quickest ways to show bias and disapproval to an entire room without saying a word. (So ingrained is this habit in our culture that even small children mimic and master it.) The Heavy Sigh is often used together with the Eye Roll to provide emphasis of the disdain. The impact of this killer increases when used by management.
  2. The Emperor Wears No Clothes. Many of you can recall the fable of the emperor who was fooled into thinking he was wearing the finest suit in public (as convinced by his expert tailors) and paraded through the village naked, before someone finally exposed the truth. Today’s the term is used as slang on Urban Dictionary: “The Emperor Wears No Clothes… is often used in political and social contexts for any obvious truth denied by the majority <sic, management> despite the evidence of their eyes, especially when proclaimed… When people say “The emperor wears no clothes”, they mean that other people need to stop being *** kissers to a political leader and see things for what they truly are instead of denying the truth of the situation.  It takes a person with guts to speak the truth and blast through the bs and lies.”  It must be safe for staff to raise issues and challenge the “truth” for collaboration to live.
  3. Shoot the Messenger.  We’ve all witnessed this when someone delivers factual (aka honest) information and is chided with “No, no, no! That’s not true… don’t you tell me that… !”  This is a verbal killer that stops collaboration (and truthful information) in its tracks.  Banish this habit.
  4. blankDunce Capping. We can laugh at movies where a comedic movie depicts a dunce cap, but the impact on the “dunce” is profound.  Today, the public ridicule killer is equally harmful.  The danger is that the practice is often innocuous:  someone asks a question that the recipient judges as being obvious and the response kills collaboration:  “Did you seriously just ask me that question? Wow!  Go back to your desk and figure it out, what a stupid question…” I stand firm in my belief that 99% of questions raised in groups are not obvious (no one likes to be shamed for a lack of knowledge.)
  5. The Shut Down. Agile teams talk about the value of “early failures” but in reality, this is anything but the truth. Delivery time pressure still trumps late corrections when defects are discovered close to production.  The Shut Down involves chiding such as “That’s an enhancement. You know we don’t have the time for that today – we’ll work on it later (post-delivery.)  Even scrum masters are humans who want to avoid the wrath of management when delivery is late.
  6. Sarcasm (passed off as irony or wit.) We’ve all seen sarcasm at work – someone spouts a sarcastic remark to what could have become a valid idea. When the target reacts in astonishment, they are chided for being too sensitive because they can’t take a joke. Leadership expert Brene Brown takes sarcasm to its roots (the Greek word means to “tear flesh,” and is a cruel form of indirect communication.  Consider curbing your sarcasm at work if you want to increase collaboration.
  7. Confirmation Bias. This is a BIG one because we’re all guilty of it without even realizing it(in and out of work) but it becomes especially damaging when we aren’t aware of it at work. Without even thinking, we can dismiss valuable contributions if they come from someone we’ve already judged we don’t respect. A silent collaboration killer.
  8. blankOkay boomer, okay millennial… Cultural bias. Similar to #7 but based on our opinion (or ignorance) of anyone different from us (from another country, culture, generation, religion, financial status, etc.) we summarily dismiss valid input because we can’t see past the face that delivers it. We hear the words or ideas, then quickly dismiss them because they are spoken/written by someone older, less intelligent, poorer, less educated or simply “different” from us.  Collaboration squashed.
  9. The Charlie Brown Teacher. If you’ve ever watched a Charlie Brown cartoon, you’ll recognize this from as the teacher of character Peppermint Patty (who she refers to as “Sir”.) The words spoken are completely tuned out and whatever is said is unintelligible.  This is related to the Biases, but rather than listening and dismissing ideas based on the source, we dismiss the words entirely before even hearing them.
  10. Selective Blindness (or selective hearing.) Related to #9, this practice is the subject of the running joke of longtime married couples where one partner doesn’t hear (or see) when the other speaks.  In workplaces, this practice can also develop where certain people are rendered invisible (worse than bias) and their contribution is not seen or heard.  At my own family gatherings, I witnessed this in terms of sexism on the part of my father.  We’d be having a nice dinner with a large family group of 10 or more and the conversation was flowing.  At some point, I’d say something and my father would not respond at all.  Then my now ex-husband would restate the exact same words as his own and my father would instantly “wake up” and say how great the comment was.  Regardless of my response (“I just stated that”) both my ex and my father continued the practice until I finally stopped contributing anything when family dinners arose. Selective Blindness kills collaboration.

How many of these silent killers lurk in the hallways or boardrooms in your company?  How many are part of your own repertoire of workplace habits?

misunderstandWould you help me by joining in on a discussion?

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