According to Harvard Business Review, managers and employees are spending 50% more time in collaborative activities (virtual and face to face meetings, phone calls, e-mail) compared with 20 years ago.

While collaboration and information sharing are vital in today’s interconnected world, it is important to ask if all of this collaboration is adding value.

Collaborative activities account for up to 80% of some employees’ time – is the remaining 20% sufficient time to allocate to critical work they are personally responsible for delivering?

When there is over-reliance on collaboration, the ‘best’ collaborators may get sucked into an energy sapping vortex of ever-increasing involvement so that they become the ‘go to’ person – ultimately creating a bottle-neck whereby work doesn’t progress without their input.  Worse still, these super collaborators often experience significant work pressure, take work home, and ultimately may become disengaged and overwhelmed.


‘The distribution of collaborative work is often extremely lopsided.  In most cases 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees.’

Rob Cross, Reb Rebele, Adam Grant, Harvard Business Review, January – February, 2016)


For female collaborators the news may be even worse – a 2013 Huffington Post poll on collaboration found that male respondents were 36% more likely to contribute by sharing information while women were 66% more likely to contribute by helping to do some of the work.


If you think you’re experiencing ‘Collaborative Overload, it may be worth your while reviewing your collaborative input, ensuring you’re adding real value and checking if there is scope to shift the balance of your contribution from ‘doing’ to ‘information sharing’?

Ground rules

Here are a few suggestions for leaders:

  • Explore if an inappropriately high level of collaboration exists in your organisation – and if so, why? Could people be afraid to risk getting something wrong? Could it be that people don’t feel empowered to make decisions independently so every decision ends up being a decision by committee?
  • Empower people to prioritise – and lead by example.
  • Agree ground rules for e-mails, including appropriate use of the ‘cc’ function.
  • Tackle your meetings culture – critically asses the need for each meeting, plus length and purpose, and identify who needs to participate.
  • Adopt effective meetings processes like Nancy Kline’s Thinking Organisation.
  • Check out and incorporate recent research around the ineffectiveness and cost of multi-tasking and constant distractions.

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