Can leaders be too collaborative?

Can collaboration can go too far? Is there an arc to the effectiveness of collaboration, where at some point, collaboration begins losing its effectiveness? This kind of seems ridiculous to write. Of course we should collaborate. Teams are necessary in today’s ever-changing world. Collaboration is necessary for innovation. There’s no ‘I’ in team (on an unrelated note, does anyone else want to hurl when you hear that cliché for the 1000th time?). No one wants a bunch of cowboys doing their own thing in the organization and not working together on projects.

Anyone who has worked in a large organization has probably seen collaboration morph into insane bureaucracies. Timid and incompetent managers often hide behind collaboration to spread blame around. They talk, and talk, and talk. They set-up committees to study and discuss ideas and then form committees to manage the committees that oversee the committees. This happens a lot in government, but it also happens in private organizations as well. It is possible to collaborate your organization to the point of extinction, by taking great ideas and subjecting them to so much discussion that no one actually makes a decision on implementing the idea. The decision might get made made, but only after 174 people have contributed to the discussion on the new color of paint in the lobby. In the meantime, countless dollars are spent on wasted productivity.

At some point, collaboration implodes on itself. It begins contradicting the exact purpose of having it in the first place. I am not advocating for zero collaboration; we all need to be challenged by other viewpoints. But organizations do need to understand that talking about ideas is easy; having the chutzpah to make a decision is hard. Leaders that can find ways to collaborate without allowing that collaboration to paralyze the organization will succeed in complex organizations.