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Organizations around the world are embracing workplace collaboration, encouraging their employees to break down departmental silos and share ideas and information across the enterprise. Generally, this is a good thing—increased workplace collaboration usually results in higher efficiency, improved quality of work and a better workplace morale. There can be a downside to widespread collaboration, though, especially for an organization’s most capable employees. 

collaborative overload

Collaborative overload, a term popularized by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant in a recent Harvard Business Review article, describes the overwhelming burden of emails, meeting requests and other interactions that can disrupt the work of highly knowledgeable, highly approachable employees. Studies have shown that employees who are viewed as the most valuable collaborators within their organizations tend to have the lowest levels of job engagement and career satisfaction. The constant stream of requests that these employees receive can leave them with little time to do their own work and can do serious harm to their quality of life.

Fortunately, there are several strategies organizations can adopt to protect their top performers from collaborative overload. We’ll take a look at some of the most effective approaches here.

Encourage employees to set boundaries

While collaboration in the workplace is critical to long-term success, employers need to find a balance between individual needs and team needs. Employees who are known for going the extra mile are often the target of last-minute requests on impossible timelines, and for requests from employees who simply want someone else to do their work for them. Let employees know that it’s OK to say “no” to unreasonable requests.

Put technology to work

A good workplace collaboration solution can streamline employee communication and help top performers prioritize their work and their interactions. Clarizen’s innovative business collaboration tools allow project teams to have more purposeful collaboration, where communications, documents and project tasks are all linked together in a single place. As a result, employees can engage in unified, easy to navigate conversations, rather than disorganized discussions in which a team member might be asked the same question by multiple

colleagues. Clarizen’s advanced project management features also let project managers track task completion in real time, making it easy to identify situations in which a top employee is being pulled away from his or her work by collaboration requests.

Evaluate staffing and task assignment patterns

Co-workers aren’t the only ones who can contribute to collaborative overload. Project managers and employee managers can also be guilty of placing excessive burdens on their top contributors. Assigning too many tasks to a high performing employee, as tempting as it may be, only creates additional problems. Even though the employee may be able to handle the work in the short-term, other project team members will become too reliant on him or her, and will fall into a habit of asking the high performer to assist with even the small number of tasks that were assigned elsewhere. Distributing task assignments equitably across the entire project team will not only keep your best employees happy and engaged, but will also motivate your other employees to improve their skills and contribute to their full potential.

Angela Bunner
Angela has 17 years of experience in the project portfolio management space, mostly with Oracle, as well as with NetSuite, before joining Clarizen where she is a Director of Product Strategy and Sales Engineering. Angela has extensive industry experience in engineering & construction, professional services, aerospace & defense, public sector, as well as working with embedded service organizations such as IT and marketing PMOs.