Collaboration Is a Key Skill. So Why Aren’t We Teaching It?

Here is an excerpt from an article by for the MIT Sloan Management Review. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

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New research finds that despite the importance of collaboration, most organizations fall short when it comes to helping workers build their relationship skills.

Americans spend more time on work than on all other waking activities combined. Many of these working hours are spent collaborating with colleagues. We think together in meetings. We act together on project teams. We manage up and manage down. Across sectors and levels, collaboration is the name of the game.

In spring 2022, Dev Crasta and I fielded the Workplace Collaboration Survey to better understand collaborative relationships in the modern workplace. The 1,100 people who participated in the survey were employed full-time in the United States; to qualify for inclusion, they had to work with others at least some of the time.

We asked respondents what proportion of their job entails collaborating with others to advance shared goals. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of the sample reported collaborating at least 41% of their work time. This means that in a 40-hour, five-day workweek, people spend an average of 3.2 hours per workday collaborating with others.

Given how much time people spend working and being with others at work, it’s no surprise that relational challenges generate stiff and persistent headwinds in the workplace. In fact, 72% of respondents said they have been involved in at least one workplace collaboration that was “absolutely horrendous.” Such collaborations create operational drag, bust timelines and budgets, trigger managerial headaches, and occupy already overloaded HR staffs.

What is surprising, especially considering these costs to organizations’ bottom lines, is how little professional development people reported receiving on how to build healthy and productive collaborative relationships at work. (See “Professional Development Training Time on Collaboration Skills.”) When asked how much professional development they had received on this front in total, 31% of the respondents said “none.” Six percent said “a few minutes,” which is roughly the length of a TikTok video or the time it would take to read a Dilbert cartoon. An additional 14% said “about an hour,” 23% said “a couple of hours,” and only 26% said they had received substantial development — “more than a couple of hours” — in this critical workplace skill. Yet professional development in how to build collaborative relationships correlates positively with a host of desirable mindsets that benefit both organizations and individuals.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Deb Mashek, Ph.D., an experienced business adviser, professor, and national nonprofit executive, is the author of the forthcoming book Collabor(h)ate: How to Build Incredible Collaborative Relationships at Work (Even if You’d Rather Work Alone) (Practical Inspiration Publishing).

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Bob Morris

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