Collaboration: Motivation and Ability

IMG_0974Organizations that purposely embark upon initiatives to increase collaboration do so because they’ve successfully identified the reasons why the time and effort will be of benefit. Efforts are also more successful when there’s a deliberate plan in which leaders assess when collaboration is appropriate, define desired outcomes, and commit to understanding and removing the barriers that may currently exist in their organization.

The first step, before anything else kicks off, is to assess the existing attitudes and behaviors of the people in the organization to determine if people ready or if, perhaps, they are either unwilling and/or unable to collaborate.

Barriers to collaboration will either be due to motivational issues or ability issues and understanding what currently exists allows leaders to either take action that makes people willing to collaborate or take action that enables motivated individuals to collaborate throughout the organization. 

Motivational Barriers 

There may be various reasons that individuals choose not to collaborate. What individual behaviors, attitudes or cultural practices exist that may foster  unwillingness in individual or groups of employees?  Some common reasons are:

  • Protection of self-interest
  • A belief in self-reliance
  • Fear of being viewed as unknowledgeable or weak
  • Competitive relationships (sometimes self-imposed, sometimes institutional culture) such as department vs. department of desire to “own” results
  • Perception that collaboration takes ‘too much time’
  • Organizational power struggles
  • Company programs (i.e. HR compensation, incentive or recognition programs)  that reward employees primarily (or only) for their individual work and not for helping others

Ability Barriers

Individuals may desire to collaborate with others but are unable to do so for any number of reasons:

  • People are unable to find the information, resources or individuals that can provide assistance
  • Large organizations, in particular, may have vast resources spread across wide geographies or systems and there are insufficient networks to connect people
  • Sharing tacit knowledge with other, whether that knowledge is in books, brains or technologies, is often difficult
  • Lack of trust, respect and relationships with potential collaborative partners

Once organizational leaders understand if people are either unwilling (motivational) or unable (ability) to collaborate, solutions can be devised to break down those barriers. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways including recruiting and hiring people with an inclination/desire to ask for help and share with others; appraising employee performance on not just individual performance/results but also the employee’s contributions and willingness to assist others; and eliminating the ‘stranger’ problem in the organization by encouraging relationship building.


Visit the blog tomorrow when we’ll be discussing Collaboration: The Role of the Leader. View yesterday’s post in this series on collaboration. 


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