The problem with collaboration, and why goals should have single “owners”

From The Collaboration Paradox: Why Working Together Often Yields Weaker Results by Ron Friedman:

Studies on collaborations have yielded mixed results:

Collaborations breed false confidence. A study in Psychological Science found that when we work with others to reach a decision, we become overly confident in the accuracy of our collective thinking.

Collaborations introduce pressures to conform. Studies show that group members tend to conform toward the majority view, even in cases when they know the majority view is wrong.

Collaborations promote laziness. Ever been to a meeting where you’re the only one prepared? Then you’ve probably experienced social loafing—people’s tendency to invest less effort when they’re part of a team.

But there’s a bigger problem: Attached to every meeting, conference call and mass email you’re exposed to is an invisible price tag — the opportunity cost of all the tasks you’re not getting done while you’re busy “collaborating.” In many organizations, the higher up you are in the hierarchy, the more often you’re called upon to collaborate. Intellectually, it’s a progressive tax.

(1) In Seeking Alpha, we assign each goal and its metrics to a single individual, never to multiple individuals who are then expected to collaborate. People help out anyway, but they know there’s a clear “owner”.
(2) In a document called How to get stuff done in Seeking Alpha, I wrote: Maximize what you can get done on your own. Before you ask for help from others, get as far along as possible on your own. Identify the key person you need to collaborate with, and don’t involve anyone else. Be explicit about what you need from people. Minimize your “ask” of other people’s time.

5 thoughts on “The problem with collaboration, and why goals should have single “owners”

  1. Huge proponent of defined ownership, but not (primarily) for the reasons in the quoted text.

    In most non-trivial situations, _collaboration_ is both beneficial and necessary, but _shared ownership_ will generally increase both the timeline and the risk.

    Sure – don’t invite the CEO to every meeting just because he’s a smart dude – but you also don’t need to (and shouldn’t) put the fate of the whole team on your back every time.

    … now where can I get myself a copy of that Seeking alpha memo 🙂

    • Jim, great comment.
      — Agree that ownership and collaboration are distinct.
      — I just posted the whole doc as the most recent post.
      — As you’ll see from the doc, I think people get more done by figuring out how to avoid collaboration wherever possible.

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