The startling cost of inefficient collaboration

MIT SloanThe following material is featured on the MIT SLoan Management Review website. I urge you to check out the wealth of resources by clicking here.

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Collaboration is all the rage in business these days – and for good reason, given the complex challenges businesses face today. But recently published research suggests that collaboration can exact heavy time costs if done inefficiently.

Consider this. In research published in MIT Sloan Management Review, Rob Cross of the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce and four coauthors — Peter Gray, Shirley Cunningham, Mark Showers and Robert J. Thomas — analyzed employee networks in the IT functions of 12 large companies. Their aim: To better understand how to foster effective collaboration.

Some of the authors’ findings also shed light on the time costs of inefficient collaboration. For example, the authors write in an article in MIT Sloan Management Review that:

“At Monsanto the employees who interacted with the least efficient project managers and organizational leaders spent five times more time preparing for and engaging in those collaborations than did employees who interacted with the most efficient project managers and organizational leads….”

“Many individuals spent 25 to 35 hours per week preparing for and engaging in collaborations with others.”
Monsanto managers, according to the article, concluded that if they could help just 20 of their less-efficient project managers and leaders become average in collaborative efficiency, the approximately 400 individuals who routinely interacted with those project managers and leaders would save up to 1500 hours a week, collectively.

In general, the authors observe that:

“Although collaboration is often seen as a virtue, too much collaboration at too many organizational levels can be a negative. It is important to reduce network connectivity at points where collaboration fails to produce sufficient value.”

You can read more about the authors’ other findings – and how individuals and business units can collaborate more effectively — in the Fall 2010 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review.

How about you? How much of your workweek do you spend collaborating or preparing to collaborate with others? (And how much time do you think people spend preparing to collaborate with you?) Could any of that collaboration be done more efficiently?

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These are among the findings of special interest to me:

1. Executives should analyze employee collaboration networks to discover how high-performing individuals and teams really do connect and interact.

2. Networks should be designed to optimize the flow of good ideas across function, distance, and technical specialty.

3. Network analysis can show where too much connectivity slows productive collaboration decision making.

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