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The Collaboration Blind Spot

Podcast host Kimberly Boyd | Podcast guest Dr Lisa Kwan
December 13, 2019 | 16 min 47 sec

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Brief summary

Digital leaders understand the central role that cross-group collaboration plays in innovation and solving challenging problems. Yet most of us agree that collaboration isn’t easy. Harvard University researcher and Harvard Business School executive coach, Lisa Kwan, breaks down why this is the case. If you lead teams or organizations and want to hear about the common collaboration blind spots and barriers and how to overcome them, this is the podcast for you.


Collaboration is increasingly necessary for success in the modern day business. The problems our companies are being asked to solve are growing in complexity and so you're going to need more of those specialized pockets of knowledge integrated together to serve and solve those types of problems.

In terms of low hanging fruit of kind of collaboration challenges for leaders, I would say the two would be: time and priorities, and shared understanding about goals and especially what collaboration looks like for this particular interface.

We use the word collaboration on a lot of different activities that are just not the same thing. And so what that leads to is everyone operating on certain assumptions about what collaboration is in good faith and then finding that that other group is not a good collaborator because they're not collaborating how we're expecting them to collaborate.

Some signals I see in the companies that I work with are what I generally call counter collaborative behaviors. So groups will stall. They will do things to stall the initiative or they'll do things like data dumping, or excluding other groups from meetings that they need to be at, or making decisions that they shouldn't be making on their own. These are essentially a neon sign to stop, take a step back and figure out what is happening in this collaboration, what are some of the pieces that might be missing.

Lots of times collaboration between groups can be a threat to groups because they're actually asked to share this information that has kept them differentiated and important in the company or to give up their autonomy in certain ways.

A very critical thing is the leader needs to pay attention to what they're really asking for in the collaboration and address the fears and discomforts, etc, involved with that request. The awareness of a leader can go a long way.

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