Why is your organization struggling to collaborate? Understanding the six types of collaborative dysfunction is critical to effective problem resolution

Overview

In the article When Collaboration Fails and How to Fix It: Leaders can diagnose team dysfunction by looking for six common patterns, authors Rob Cross and Inga Carboni write about what they discovered about effective team collaboration.

Using organizational network analysis (ONA) to study groups across industries and geographies, we’ve identified the patterns of network connectivity and collaborative practices associated with high-performing teams and units. This research also revealed six patterns of collaborative dysfunction that have a negative impact on performance.

In this article, we share what we’ve learned about the types of dysfunction, a number of the drivers that create them, and a select set of remedies for addressing them.

I recommend reading the summary below or reading the full article: When Collaboration Fails and How to Fix It. Then reflect on how these patterns show or do not show up in your own experiences.

One Page Summary

This one-pager / image lists the six dysfunctions of collaborative networks and the issue, drivers, solutions, and visual diagram of each.

One Page Summary Transcribed

Hub-and-spoke networks

Issue

Excessive reliance on formal and informal leaders slows decision-making, blocks innovation, alienates team members, and overloads leaders.

Drivers

  • Hierarchical or overly controlling leadership behaviors.
  • Dominance of experts
  • Flaws in roles, decision rights, or incentives
  • A fear-driven culture that promotes approval-seeking and validation

Solutions

  • Boost engagement in work by coaching people to assume an appropriate level of authority, and focus on what, not how.
  • Distribute knowledge through methodology, tools, databases, and training.
  • Integrate expertise through joint work.
  • Revise decision rights, roles, and/or incentives.
  • Shift work away from hubs.

Visual Diagram

A center node is connected to eight surrounding nodes but the surrounding nodes are not connected to one another.

Disenfranchised Nodes

Issue

Marginalized team members lack access to resources and struggle to contribute, negatively affecting group performance and the disenfranchised members’ engagement and retention.

Drivers

  • leaders who elevate some group members above others.
  • Onerous processes that cause some members to become disillusioned and withdraw.
  • A lack of trust in peers outside the function and/or an overreliance on familiar faces.
  • Disconnection by virtue of status or physical location.

Solutions

  • Create a process or role for recognizing and reintegrating the disenfranchised.
  • Embed inclusion as a group value.
  • Add process touch points to give individuals a greater voice or more opportunities to participate.
  • Use technology to overcome geographic disconnection.

Visual Diagram

A center node is connected to six surrounding nodes. Four of the surrounding nodes that are connected to the center node are also connected to one other node. Two nodes are connected to zero nodes.

Misaligned Nodes

Issue

Factions that don’t relate to one another slow down work, erode cohesion, and undermine project success

Drivers

  • Agreeing on integrated objectives but then persuing work in a way that optimizes functional or business unit goals.
  • Problems and solutions viewed only from one discipline’s perspective.
  • Clusters of like-minded teammates.
  • Distrust or competition among the team members.

Solutions

  • Cocreate shared goals and priorities, and reinforce them with metrics and accountability.
  • Seek forums that build competence and interpersonal trust and that establish the value of group goals.
  • Create processes to identify and address misalignments.
  • Conduct exercises that enable members to connect outside the group and reset relationships.

Visual Diagram

One center node is connected to eight surrounding nodes. Four of the surrounding nodes are densely connected with each other as well so that each of those four nodes are connected to one another. Two of the other surrounding nodes are connected with one another but disconnected with the six other surrounding nodes. These two nodes are light orange. Then another two nodes are also connected with one another but disconnected with the six other surrounding nodes. The two nodes are dark orange.

Overwhelmed Nodes

Issue

Team members cannot keep up with the collaborative demands placed upon them, leading to insufficient time for work, inefficient decision-making, excessive compromise, lower engagement, and ultimately burnout.

Drivers

  • Group growth that surpasses the limits of team and work design.
  • Ineffective meeting and communication norms.
  • Lack of effective collaborative workload metrics.
  • Fear of making independent decisions or of being left out.
  • A culture of overinclusion — both within the team and within the larger organization.

Solutions

  • Redesign the group’s structure and work.
  • Define and respect roles and responsibilities.
  • Determine the impact-to-effort ratio of new activities, and empower team members to say no.
  • Adopt and practice meeting and communication discipline.

Visual Diagram

The center node connects with each of the surrounding nodes. Each of the surrounding nodes is also connected to a minimum of three other surrounding nodes with some connected to as many as five other nodes.

Isolated Networks

Issue

Impermeable group borders block stakeholder input and external resources/expertise, resulting in flawed decisions, innovation failures, and a lack of integration with the organization.

Drivers

  • Mandated separation of the group (à la Skunk Works or Agile initiatives).
  • Hyperfocus on optimizing the outcome based on the group’s expertise or values rather than the end need.
  • Echo chamber created by amplified input from a select few stakeholders.

Solutions

  • Systematically engage relevant stakeholders/influencers, including both positive and negative opinion leaders.
  • Build in time for iteration with stakeholders.
  • Focus on outcomes from the stakeholder perspective.
  • Provide the group with greater visibility into broader organizational goals and initiatives.

Visual Diagram

A center node is connected to only six of the surrounding eight nodes. Two of the surrounding nodes are only connected to one other node and the rest are connected to a maximum of only three other nodes. An orange circle surrounds these networked nodes. Meanwhile, outside of this circle are seven orange nodes that are completely disconnected with both the other orange nodes and with the nodes inside the circle.

Priority Overload

Issue

External stakeholders demands cause group members to lose sight of their mission and highest priorities, resulting in work overload that hurts the quality of execution, delays delivery, and creates employee burnout.

Drivers

  • Overemphasis on agility
  • Lack of North Star clarity/agreement among project leaders with competing demands.
  • Personal and cultural values that lead to overcommitment.

Solutions

  • Map activities with external stakeholders.
  • Review demands based on the task and collaborative footprint.
  • Force decision makers to make trade-offs in the content and timing of demands.
  • Adopt a priority definition process and mechanism/coordinator to screen incoming requests.
  • Be transparent about workload and competing demands, and reset group priorities collectively.

Visual Diagram

A center node is connected to only six of the surrounding eight nodes. Two of the surrounding nodes are only connected to one other node and the rest are connected to a maximum of only three other nodes. Meanwhile three of these surrounding nodes are also connected with two or more external orange nodes.