Aren’t we taught when we’re children the importance of working together? And I know I remember being told in college that once we entered the real world, we’d have to work in teams every day, so we had better get used to it. So have we failed then?
Well, not completely, but from my experience it seems like people only begrudgingly work in teams. Most of the people I encounter in the professional world fall into one of two categories: either they prefer to do everything themselves, or they welcome any opportunity to push work off onto other people. I fall into the former category, but I’m striving to become better at working more collaboratively.
Both sides need to compromise more. Those of us who prefer to do everything ourselves need to learn that it’s ok to give up control and trust others to do the work, and those who push off as much work as possible onto other people need to take more responsibility and contribute more.
In my just-over-four-years of work experience, there has been one experience that stands out to me as a fantastic collaborative effort. I was working with one of my coworkers, a business partner, and a client to put together a presentation in which I was the official organizer, and the other three would all be speakers.
Usually when I organize these types of things, it’s like herding cattle. Getting everyone on the phone for a planning call is a struggle. Getting slide decks, speaking points, biographies, and any other necessary bits of information requires seemingly endless phone calls and emails. But in this instance, not only was it incredibly easy to get everyone together for a planning call a month before the presentation, everyone agreed that they’d like to convene once a week until the presentation to review slide drafts, talk over revisions, familiarize themselves with the online presentation tool, and even do a rehearsal presentation.
Every person was proactive about putting together slides for their portion of the presentation. When I needed information from the speakers to get the logistics set, they responded quickly. When I sent them information, they retained it and didn’t ask me to resend it multiple times. Thanks to all the collaborative planning, on the day of the presentation, everyone knew exactly what was needed of them and delivered superbly.
I’m sure we’ve all been part of at least one great collaborative project in our lives, so it begs the question of why we don’t always strive to work so collaboratively.
I think it all boils down to the fact that work is stressful. We’re all juggling several projects at the same time, and we’re often not able to devote the necessary time to a project that may not be at the top of our priority list. It gets frustrating though when the project is at the top of someone else’s priority list! That’s when we end up either saying “can you just deal with it?” or “I’m going to do it, I just don’t have time right now.” The former often frustrates the person doing the asking because they don’t have time to do their part of the project and yours, while the latter often frustrates the person doing the asking because this is a priority for them and they don’t want to wait for you.
So it’s just not very often that the stars align and every person working on the project both sees the project as a priority and has the necessary time to devote to the project.
This is the reality of teamwork in the business world. There are few things you can do to mitigate the frustration of these situations.
If you’re the one who sees the project as a high priority:
1) Communicate with the others involved that this is a high priority project for you. They still might not be able to carve out the time to do their part, but at least they’re aware that you’re waiting for their input. With any luck, they’ll be more apologetic about holding up your project, and will try their best to get it done as quickly as possible.
2) Communicate with your supervisor about the situation. If you’re struggling to finish a high priority project because the others involved aren’t pulling their weight, you’re likely worried that it will reflect poorly upon you. Make sure you let your supervisor know what’s going on, but don’t bad mouth your colleagues. Acknowledge that they’re struggling to finish their part of the project due to time constraints, and that you’re doing your best to keep it moving along. Your supervisor may even have the clout to give the others involved a gentle push, or ask others to contribute if possible.
If you’re the one who doesn’t have time for a project that is a low priority for you:
1) Acknowledge that you realize the project is a high priority for someone else. That alone will make the person who deems it high priority feel less frustration. Ask them if there are some simple things you can do in the short term to help them keep the project moving that won’t eat up too much of your time.
2) Look at your work load and see if there are any projects that could be moved down on your priority list. If there’s another project with slightly higher priority for you, but nobody else is waiting for you to complete it, that would be a good candidate for a demotion in priority.
3) If applicable, nominate someone else with the necessary skills who may have more available time to complete the project.
Questions for the readers
Do you prefer to work in groups or alone? How do you handle working in groups where not everyone sees the project as a priority?