Best Business Books 2021: Taming Collaborative Dysfunction


Beyond Collaboration Overload: How to Work Smarter, Get Ahead and Restore Your Well-Being
by Rob Cross (Harvard Business Review Press, 2021)


In the 1920s, Mary Parker Follett put forward the heretical idea that managers should seek power. with– not the power more-employees. “It is possible to develop the conception of power with, jointly developed power, co-active power, not coercive power,” argued Follett, whom Peter Drucker has dubbed “the prophet of management.”

A century later, Follett’s vision is a reality. “Today, virtually everything you do at work is collaborative,” writes Rob Cross, Edward A. Madden professor of global leadership at Babson College, in Beyond collaboration overload, this year’s best business book on the topic of management. “When you attend your morning meeting, when chatting with a direct report, when helping the new person find the right expert to talk to about a project, when you go through your emails, when you take a break To chat with a colleague, when you switch between webinars while simultaneously sending instant messages that seem to have urgent deadlines, you are collaborating over and over again.

If this description seems to take on a manic tinge, welcome to the world of the manager. “The intensity of collaborative work has exploded in recent decades,” writes Cross. Drawing on a series of studies conducted under the auspices of Connected Commons, a consortium of over 100 large employers, where Cross is a lead researcher, he finds that 85% or more of employee time is spent on activities. collaborative. And yet companies have “no idea of ​​the impact of this period on company performance, individual productivity or, perhaps most worryingly, the well-being of employees.”

But Cross has some idea of ​​the impact. Analysis of the organizational network, performance measurements and extensive structured interviews reveal that many managers collaborate too much, thus becoming obstacles to organizational performance and their own well-being.

Take Scott, a 5,000-person manager working in three business units of a large corporation. In just one of these units, which employed 1,800 people, a staggering 118 people per day on average came to Scott with requests. Worse yet, over 65% of them, or 78 people, said they couldn’t reach their business goals without more time. “It’s another obscene number,” Cross writes. “When we see that number exceed 25% of a leader’s immediate network, we know we’re in trouble. Although the leader doesn’t feel it when running from meeting to meeting, it slows things down considerably. The results are burnout, attrition, and lower engagement scores because people can’t do their jobs. Indeed, Cross learned that Scott, whom many people in the company saw as the top candidate for CEO success, was about to be fired.

If you’re lucky, your level of Collaboration Overload is nowhere near Scott’s level. But if you feel uncomfortable with the demands of collaborating on your time, and those demands are impacting your performance and well-being, Cross offers help: He says he can help you. show (or someone you work or live with) how to “get 18-24% of your collaboration time” – about one day a week.

Cross says he can show you how to “get 18-24% of your collaboration time” about one day a week.

The detailed process that takes this time is informed by Cross and colleagues research conducted on the behaviors and practices of managers who suffer from collaboration dysfunction, as well as those who have mastered the flip side, or what Cross calls “Essential collaboration. “The process follows an infinite loop and forms the core content of Beyond collaboration overload.

The right side of the loop is designed to eliminate collaborative malfunctions and give you back the time it consumes. According to Cross, he does this by describing the beliefs, structures, and practices that cause collaborative overload, offering exercises to help identify those that torment you, and suggesting practical remedies.

“A decade of research shows that we create about 50% of collaboration overload problems in the form of beliefs we’re holding on, ”says Cross. “By ‘beliefs’ I mean deeply held and often unexamined wants, needs, feelings, expectations and fears centered on how we assume we are to show ourselves for others. These beliefs manifest themselves through two types of triggers: identity and reputation spurs, such as the desire to help others; and anxiety and the spurs of the need for control, such as the fear of missing out.

The book includes tips for dealing with each trigger. If you’re motivated by the need to help, for example, be aware of why people come to you. If it’s because they’re hoping you’ll do their job for them, learn to say no and teach them to help themselves instead.

The left side of the infinite loop is designed to put your newly freed up time to good use. “I’ve seen a lot of people reduce their overload to accept more meetings, more emails, and more frantic activity that, despite their best intentions, derails them, either by sending them back to where they were or by trading their old set of problems. for newcomers who undermine their careers and their lives, ”Cross warns. Instead, he wants you to reframe your work as a collection of networks, become an energizing force within those networks, and invest the time to create a more balanced and fulfilling life for yourself.

If your work is primarily collaborative in nature, then of course you should think about it in terms of networks. Cross finds that successful managers intuitively understand that form follows function; in other words, they let their work, especially its deadlines, whether short, medium or long, determine their approach to building networks.

“Most of us have at least one and usually three or four medium-term strategic projects or goals that are critical to our future success,” he writes. “These mid-horizon workflows dictate what types of connections are essential for effective and efficient delivery of results. In this case, successful networkers cultivate connections that generate incidental ideas, view projects as sets of activities rather than linear tasks, and exploit both formal and informal influencers (including those who are opponents).

Beyond collaboration overload deserves its place among this year’s best business books for several reasons. This disenchants us with the idea that collaboration in itself is a good thing. It defines dysfunctional collaboration and identifies its many causes. It provides a host of research-derived tools and techniques to manage collaboration in a way that benefits the people and organizations in which they work. And, of course, there is the welcome prospect of recovering one day a week of your life.

Honorable mentions:

How to be an ally: actions you can take for a stronger, happier workplace
by by Melinda Briana Epler (McGraw-Hill, 2021)

By all accounts, decades of large-scale diversity, equity and inclusion (DCI) initiatives have failed to dramatically reduce stigma in the workplace. In How to be an ally, Melinda Briana Epler, CEO of Change Catalyst, a DCI consultancy firm, takes a different approach: she brings the struggle down to the individual level. Read it to find out the daily, individual actions you can take to achieve the kind of workplace that organization-wide DCI programs promise, but rarely achieve.

The code of conscience: lead with your values, advance your career
by G. Richard Shell (HarperCollins Leadership, 2021)

We all aspire to live up to our values, but inevitably this aspiration is called into question in the real world of business. In The code of conscience, G. Richard Shell, chair of the Wharton School’s Department of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, offers ten rules for meeting these challenges. They add to a smart prescription to do the right thing.


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