Collaborative Overload

The collaborative demands eventually wore me down.  Constant email, international travel often to places that are difficult to get around, calls at all hours of the day and night due to the global nature of the role…I was exhausted when at home but even worse I just didn’t feel good about myself.  You begin to internalize all of the different collaborations and demands and it literally makes you into someone you don’t want to be at home.

— Senior executive of a global technology firm.

The collaborative intensity of work has exploded over the past decade due to companies transitioning to matrix based structures, increased complexity of products and services, globalization, email proliferation and adoption of collaborative tools and social media.  Most knowledge workers or leaders spend 85% or more time in a given week on email, in meetings and on the phone. This places an enormous – and invisible — cost on organizations and people.

Over the past eight years we have been involved in a program of work that has leveraged both quantitative and qualitative research across over 50 organizations to help us address this critical issue.  What we learned was uncomfortable.  To be sure technology, demanding bosses, needy clients and inefficient co-workers were problematic.  But for most of us these time drains are matched by another enemy – ourselves.  While there is undeniably a more demanding reality today, much of the problem is driven by how we decide to structure that reality or let our calendars and “to do” lists look like someone else’s idea of fun.

The good news is that some people do this well.  And perhaps even better news is that they are not doing anything heroic – typically just 5-6 things differently that enable them to claw back 18-24% of their collaborative time.

How Successful People Reduce Collaborative Overload and Innovate through Networks

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