Is it just me, or are meetings getting larger? I’m increasingly finding that meetings with clients start small but then everyone in the project team wants to be present. With the widespread availability of Lync and other conferencing tools the days of finding that the available meeting room space placed limits on attendance are over. So I was relieved to see that the front page of the January-February 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review carried the alert notice “Collaborative Overload – Your most helpful employees are burning out”. There is a set of four articles in this issue under the subtitle of The Emotional Organization that look at some of the implications of the emotional aspects of working together. All are well worth reading but I want to focus on the article on collaborative overload.
The authors are Robert Cross (author of The Hidden Power of Social Networks), Adam Grant (Professor of Management and Psychology at Wharton) and Reb Rebele, a research fellow at Wharton. In their view over the last two decades the amount of time that managers and employees spend on meetings has ballooned and at many companies people now spend 80% of their time in meetings. (Just take a look at your own calendar at this point). They go on to suggest that although the benefits of collaboration are well documented the costs often go unrecognised. These may well not be direct costs but more likely to be workflow bottlenecks (where progress comes to a halt because of difficulties in getting a meeting set up with a large attendee roster) and employee burnout from the top experts always having to be in meetings. There is a fascinating chart in the article which shows that people regarded as the best information sources and more desirable collaborators have the lowest engagement and career satisfaction goals. They have no time to get on with their own work! I find that companies love the concept of expertise databases but never check with the people who are providing the expertise about how they are coping with being in the limelight.
One of the recommendations of the authors is that it is time that companies appointed Chief Collaboration Officers with a remit to ensure that the benefits are in line with the personal investments being made. I find it strange that companies that have a policy of stimulating collaboration and making use of virtual teaming to support wider collaboration rarely offer any training in effective collaboration and in how to get the best from virtual teams. Nor is there any attempt made to assess the outcomes of collaborative working to identify what types of training are needed and whether the adoption of social networking applications “because we need to be better at collaborating” actually make any impact on corporate performance. The HBR article has promoted me to revise my Research Note on Virtual Team Management
Will it prompt you to reassess the value of a visible collaboration policy supported by evaluation and training?