Collaboration Is So Overrated

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The other day, for the godonlyknowshowmanyth time, I heard yet another Gen Yer prattle on about how collaborative his generation is.

Oh spare me. When you’re at the bottom of the org chart, everybody is collaborative. My g-g-g-generation was no less collaborative when we in our 20s (or so I deceive myself into thinking, just as Gen Yers deceive themselves).

Now I see that McKinsey has defined 12 collaboration types like the “administrator” who “repeatedly executes a standard or well-defined process” and the “investigator” who “examines facts and information to determine cause and effect.”

McKinsey says that “to improve the productivity of collaboration workers, we must understand the details of how their work gets done. “

I have a lot of respect for McKinsey, but this is hogwash for a few reasons:

1. Twelve segments aren’t manageable. Study the 12 collaboration types. Go back to work, and a few hours later, write down how many of the types and their definitions you remember. I doubt I’d remember more than one or two (although I’m sure that Gen Yers, with their super powers, will remember 10 or 11 of the types — oh no, wait, 12 different Gen Yers will each remember one type, and then collaborate to put the total list together). I don’t care what type of segmentation you’re talking about, 12 segments is 8 or 9 too many.

2. No one fits into just one segment. How many of you don’t — during some part of your day — execute a well-defined process and examine facts and information to determine cause and effect (although I’m sure that Gen Yers in demonstrate traits of all 12 types — all at once, every minute of the day). How can a manager use the segmentation if no one is in any one category?

3. There are more important things to understand. McKinsey is just plain wrong (and this where the Gen Yers, who pat themselves on the back for being collaborative, miss the point). It’s not that important to understand how the work gets done, nor is it that important to be collaborative. Senior executives don’t know — and don’t care — how work gets done. They care that it does get done, gets done right, on time, and at the appropriate expense. When this doesn’t happen, they care about fixing the problem.

I can picture the following conversation:

Senior exec: Why the hell isn’t marketing and finance working together to improve the reporting of marketing ROI?

McKinsey: Well, Sally in finance is a Counselor, who collects information and provides counsel based on past experience and new insights.  She needs whiteboarding and Wiki tools to collaborate effectively. Tom in marketing is an Investigator, and he needs podcasts and document/file sharing technologies.

Senior exec: F*ck that. Fix the g*ddamn problem, or I’ll fire you, Sally, and Tom.

If fixing the problem requires more — or better — collaboration, then what managers need is a guide to understanding what prevents collaboration.

To McKinsey’s credit, they planted the seeds of this guide with their segmentation. For example, what may be preventing effective collaboration could be the “lack of a well-defined process” or “inadequate information available to determine cause and effect.”

And what Gen Yers need to understand is that “being collaborative” is nice, but no big deal. What’s important is understanding why people aren’t collaborating when they need to be, and what can be done to foster collaboration when it’s needed.

You know why Gen Y thinks they’re so collaborative? Because Boomers have designed the academic environments that Gen Yers have grown up in to foster (if not force) collaboration.

But business organizations are different. Org structures, pay/bonus incentives, departmental goals, etc., all create roadblocks or disincentives to collaboration. Being collaborative means diddly-squat.

I’m often involved in the hiring decisions in my firm. When I’m interviewing someone (Gen Yer or not), I could care less if s/he is collaborative. What I care about is finding out how they get others to collaborate when goals and objectives aren’t aligned, or when who-knows-what other barriers to collaboration exist.

On second thought, that last sentence was a load of crap. I don’t even believe it myself. All I care about is whether or not the candidate can get sh*t done. That might involve being collaborative, it might not.

Gen Xers, Boomers, Seniors: I look forward to seeing your comments on this post. Gen Yers: I’ll understand if you decide to collaborate on your responses.

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