How to Avoid 3 Big Collaboration Traps? Morten Hansen’s Book Helps

Collaboration across functions and company units has become a top priority for firms in the United States, Europe and Asia (read more here). And yet too many collaborative efforts fail. A whopping 75 percent of cross-company teams are currently dysfunctional, according to a recent study. Clearly there are serious and often underestimated traps. Morton Hansen’s book can help you to avoid them.

‘Bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration.’ It was this statement by management professor (UC Berkeley) Morten Hansen that made me read his book ‘Collaboration’ when it was launched. Four years and lots of client cases later, Aad and I still turn to it from time to time.

What makes this book powerful?

Not just that it is based on solid research (Hansen spent 15 years analyzing what differentiates good from bad collaboration in large multinationals.) Not just its central thesis that the objective of collaboration is more than tearing down silos and getting people in different business units to work together. It is to generate results. We couldn’t agree more (read our previous article about how to get collaboration right).

What I like best is Hansen’s take on what could possibly go wrong. When stimulating cross-company collaboration, companies and organizations can run into serious, and often underestimated, traps. I am picking 3:

Collaboration Trap 1: You collaborate too much

In today’s fast-paced business environment, it is easy to get carried away with collaboration. Many companies see increasing collaborative efforts as a smart way to deal with insecurity and change. But setting up too many collaborative projects, without sufficient focus can slow your business down (read more here). Or worse: become the enemy of reaching concrete results. Lack of results, in turn, inevitably affects trust. Ask any business team that fails to make real progress. Or ask the men and women leading the EU.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, the key to being successful with collaboration is to know when to say no to it. If you can decide when collaboration does not make sense and turn down projects which don’t have a solid business case in their favor, then you increase the odds the collaborative projects you do undertake will be winners. – Morten Hansen

Collaboration Trap 2: You haven’t analyzed existing barriers

‘Different situations have different barriers. Leaders must first evaluate which barriers exist in their organization. Not doing so is the same as throwing darts in the dark; you have no idea what you are hitting.’

Building smart collaboration across functions and company units starts with understanding the nature of the barriers that may be present in your organization. For instance: People, working hard to meet their own targets and feeling swamped already, may drag their feet when asked for help by people in other business units. People may find it hard to search large enterprises for ideas and information. Or they may simply not have learned how to work effectively as cross-unit, and often virtual, teams. Different collaboration barriers require different types of intervention.

Collaboration Trap 3: You underestimate accountability

To make collaboration generate results, the last thing you need are teams where people hide behind one another’s backs and don’t take ownership. But how to make cross-unit teams embrace accountability?

Collaborative leaders who hold themselves and others accountable engage in a few key practices. They spell out what they are accountable for – which targets, what kind of job. You can’t hold yourself and others accountable if you don’t know what to be accountable for. They then accept responsibility for mistakes and poor performance, no matter the circumstances and whether or not others mess up a collaborative effort. – Morten Hansen

Amen to that.

The focus on cross-company collaboration will increase, as road ahead becomes more complex, the world increasingly global, and technology increasingly connective.

Make your own collaborative efforts count, and avoid these 3 big traps.

Thoughts? Feel free to share your own experience below!


Leadership Expert Series Logo in green with worldmap and compassThis article is part of the Expert Series investigating how high-quality collaboration helps leaders to build success when faced with complex change. Business leaders, experts and role models selected by Hanneke Siebelink explain how they did it and share valuable lessons they learned along the way. You can find previous LeadershipWatch Series articles here.


Hanneke Siebelink is Research Partner and Writer at HRS Business Transformation Services, and author of several books. Her current research focuses on how leaders build successful organizations by increasing the quality and effectiveness of collaboration across companies, business units, functions, teams, and cultures. Find out more about Hanneke and HRS services. If you would like to invite us to your organization, contact us here.

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