Collaboration Barriers Across Organization Units

Hidden attitudes and behaviors may limit collaboration

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Do you believe you collaborate with others when it's needed or more desirable to work together? In Morten T. Hansen's book, Collaboration, he points out four specific barriers that may even prevent collaboration from happening across organization units to improve outcomes.

Having researched extensively on the subject of collaboration, including differences between good and bad collaboration, for over fifteen years, Hansen has become a well-known authority in the management field and is currently a professor at UC Berkeley School of Information.

One of the main assumptions, and often overlooked, is whether people are willing. Understanding the barriers that Hansen has discovered in his research, including associated variables of behaviors and attitudes can give you food for thought. More importantly, identifying collaboration barriers can be the next step for you or your group to make progress.

The Not-Invented-Here Barrier

The barrier not-invented-here likely stems from motivational limitations when people are not willing to reach out to others. When it counts, what happens? As Hansen points out about this barrier, communication typically stays within the group and people protect self-interests. Have you ever experienced such a situation? Pride may be getting in the way.

Status gaps and self-reliance are other attitudes that fall into this type of barrier. People who have an attitude of self-reliance will feel they need to solve their own problems, instead of going outside of the group. Sometimes fear can hold you back simply for fear of being perceived as weak. The expression, "I don't know" is a powerful statement — so why not let others help you find answers?

The Hoarding Barrier

The barrier hoarding refers to people who may hold back or not cooperate because of several reasons. Competitive relationships between departments over performance or ownership of results will limit collaboration. In a situation when a coworker could have made a difference, but said, "Well, you didn't ask" — is clearly an example of hoarding.

In addition, people fear losing power if they are sharing information or if the perception is collaboration takes too much time. Power struggles in organizations will persist until leadership can instill trust.

When you reward people only for their work and not for helping others, this will fuel the hoarding. To overcome hoarding, team sports, like basketball, provide a great example to show the importance of acknowledging players for their "assists" and not the points they have directly scored.

The Search Barrier

The search barrier exists when solutions embed within organizations and people are unable to find the information or people that could help them. Too much information can also hamper search in an enterprise. In such large companies where resources are spread across departments and divisions and geographic areas, search is also a problem due to lack of sufficient networks to connect people.

According to Hansen, people prefer to be closer in a physical sense. The mindset is changing as collaborative enterprise strategies and technologies to connect people online across geographic boundaries are improving the discovery of information and resources.

People are becoming accustomed to working in a virtual world of multiple connected devices and browser-based collaboration tools to work anywhere, anytime. In the same token, people do need face-to-face communication, whether it is in person, or using voice and video communication systems that can make physical connections the next best thing.

The Transfer Barrier

The transfer barrier occurs when people do not know how to work together. For example, volumes of knowledge on bookshelves or in computer code often referred to as tacit knowledge, or even product or service "know-how" that takes experience to master can be difficult to pass on to others.

In some particular situations, people work better together, including musicians, scientists, and sports teams. The common elements among collaborative cultures and groups who tend to have close working relationships are trust, respect, and friendship.