Collaboration Overload in the Business World? Some Perspectives For the AV Industry


Collaboration. Every day we hear about new ways to work as a team, new technology products that help to do it, devices introduced into the mix and much more. However may we be overlooking something important when discussing it in general conversation – that being the human element?

I would like to begin by giving credit to AMX by Harman for posting an article on social media that appeared in the Harvard Business Review entitled “Collaborative Overload.” Here is part of their statement on Facebook in the posting:

Collaboration is a powerful tool, but it’s easy for the most helpful employees to quickly get burned out. In this excellent HBR article, read how technology, management and organizational changes can help prevent “collaborative overload.”

I found it quite interesting to see a major manufacturer posting an article referencing “collaboration burn out,” something the industry may well not be aware of as an issue in the business world. While the industry addresses the major benefits of collaboration through the abundance of solutions that are offered, is it really addressing it in all of the proper ways for the enterprise end user?

The industry refers to UCC – unified communications & collaboration:

Unified communications (UC) refers to the integration of communication tools that help people exchange ideas and do their jobs more effectively (SearchUnifiedCommunications). 

Collaboration: working with others to do a task and to achieve shared goals (Wikipedia). 

While the industry talks UCC and even creates a dedicated pavilion for it at trade shows, let’s focus on collaboration here since that’s the subject topic and save unified communications for another blog.

HBR article

The Harvard Business Review article begins:

Collaboration is taking over the workplace. As business becomes increasingly global and cross-functional, silos are breaking down, connectivity is increasing, and teamwork is seen as a key to organizational success.

In one statement we see certain keywords to go along with collaboration – workplace, cross-functional, connectivity and teamwork.

  • Workplace: any or all places where people are employed.
  • Cross-functional: denoting or relating to a system whereby people from different areas of an organization work together as a team.
  • Connectivity: the state or extent of being connected or interconnected.
  • Teamworkcooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons acting together as a team or in the interests of a common cause.

It makes we wonder though how with this being said, along with the the many collaboration solutions that are available today, we can even remotely have such an issue in the business world. We have collaboration occurring in the workplace, people are working together globally as teams sharing information, working from meeting spaces and even connected with PC’s and mobile devices.

In the digital era of the cloud, devices and more, are we as an industry on target to provide the business world all that it needs to achieve full “collaboration?”

Here’s another statement from the HBR article:

According to data we have collected over the past two decades, the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more.

This is good right? It appears that with a sufficient uptick in collaboration activities over this time period the business world is highly engaged?

Wait, there’s more.

Certainly, we find much to applaud in these developments. However, when consumption of a valuable resource spikes that dramatically, it should also give us pause. Consider a typical week in your own organization. How much time do people spend in meetings, on the phone, and responding to e-mails? At many companies the proportion hovers around 80%, leaving employees little time for all the critical work they must complete on their own. Performance suffers as they are buried under an avalanche of requests for input or advice, access to resources, or attendance at a meeting. They take assignments home, and soon, according to a large body of evidence on stress, burnout and turnover become real risks.

And then reality sets in. These numbers may tell the real story:

What’s more, research we’ve done across more than 300 organizations shows that the distribution of collaborative work is often extremely lopsided. In most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees.

Is it possible that the distribution of collaborative work can be this lopsided? “Value-added” collaborations coming from less than 5% of employees? With this, are we as an industry properly aiding in bringing collaboration to business in the proper ways?

There is more to the article that touches on personal resources, those in highest demand as the “collaborators”, work redistribution, rewarding effective collaboration and more. Then there was this — how women bear more of the collaborative burden than men and in turn experience greater emotional exhaustion.

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Men were 36% more likely to share knowledge and expertise—an informational resource. Meanwhile, women were 66% more likely to assist others in need—an action that typically costs more time and energy. By making contributions that rely less on personal resources, women can protect themselves against collaboration overload.

Managers must also ensure that men and women get equal credit for collaboration. In an experiment led by the NYU psychologist Madeline Heilman, a man who stayed late to help colleagues earned 14% higher ratings than a woman who did the same. When neither helped, the woman was rated 12% lower than the man. By improving systems for measuring, recognizing, and rewarding collaborative contributions, leaders can shift the focus away from the gender of the employee and toward the value added.

In this respect it is important for management to be aware of the levels of collaborative interaction among men and women, as well as where and how credit is given, in creating an overall atmosphere of value-add.

To further build on and enhance standards of collaboration within the organization, the “leadership” factor comes into play:

Leaders must learn to recognize, promote, and efficiently distribute the right kinds of collaborative work, or their teams and top talent will bear the costs of too much demand for too little supply. In fact, we believe that the time may have come for organizations to hire chief collaboration officers. By creating a senior executive position dedicated to collaboration, leaders can send a clear signal about the importance of managing teamwork thoughtfully and provide the resources necessary to do it effectively. That might reduce the odds that the whole becomes far less than the sum of its parts.

Does the organization you are looking to work with have an officer (possibly a CCO?) or manager dedicated to collaboration? Is it worth finding out?

Four years ago globally recognized keynote speaker Jacob Morgan (author of The Future of Work) wrote a blog “Do Organizations Need a Chief Collaboration Officer?” where he states:

More organizations are starting to deploy new collaborative tools and strategies as a core part of their business evolution to connect and engage employees.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult (especially at large companies) to oversee these initiatives as typically there isn’t a role devoted to collaboration.  Usually collaboration falls on the shoulders of employees (such as the CIO) with an existing full plate of things that need to get done. So is it about time for organizations to create the role of the CCO (Chief Collaboration Officer)?

Interestingly enough, this blog linked to an HBR article “Who Should Be Your Chief Collaboration Officer?”

And just where are we four years later? Well I did a “Chief Collaboration Officer” lookup on LinkedIn and yes, they are out there. If you have already leveraged this search, congratulations you may already be ahead of the game.

With all of this known, it appears that the industry’s focus on collaboration needs to be taken very seriously now – more so than just being a term that applies to solutions that give “teams” the ability to “work together” from a “distance” on “devices”, etc.

Here is my posted comment exchange with AMX by Harman on Facebook:

AMX FB post reply

We’ve become very good at talking about collaboration and describing the technology using such terms as easy, visual, sharing, anywhere, everywhere, distance, device (at times BYOD) and more — however is the industry ready to tell a more pinpointed collaboration story with this article and the above post exchange in mind? I could guarantee the corporate IT manager could care less at this point whether you’re game-changing – and after all is said and done, I’m sure others in the corporate world are as well. Bottom line – they want “collaboration” to work in their favor, period.

Think about it, if it’s truly about the best and most effective ways to work with others to do a task and achieve shared goals, shouldn’t this phrase in essence become the industry’s collective collaboration mantra? Can we go well beyond providing a product-based solution toward helping facilitate a highly focused employee-driven collaborative environment for the customer? Read the HBR article, judge for yourself…

…to be continued.


Jacob Morgan’s blog Do Organizations Need a Chief Collaboration Officer?