7 Deadly Phrases That Kill Collaboration


Collaboration seems like a brilliant approach to life and business – until you realize it entails working with other people. Eliminate this anti-collaborative language, and you'll begin to foster cooperation and innovation.

Collaboration. It seems like a brilliant approach to life and business … until you realize it entails working with other people.

If you’re anything like me – and I like to assume that everyone is – life would be so much simpler if you could just get your work done without having to navigate all the scheduling, political and relational complexities of functioning within a team. Because collaboration is hard. Really hard.

Yes, “they” say collaboration is a good thing, but is it really worth all the headaches?

Collaboration and God’s Grand Design

There are several well-documented advantages to collaboration in the workplace, including improved communication, higher levels of trust, technological advances, product innovation, enhanced marketability, greater employee engagement, enhanced efficiencies and more.

In “12 Habits of Highly Collaborative Organizations,” author Jacob Morgan writes, “Sure, collaboration can make our employee more productive and benefit our customers. But collaboration also allows employees to feel more connected to their jobs and co-workers, reduces stress at the workplace, makes their jobs easier, allows for more work freedom, and in general makes them happier people.” (Forbes.com)

What’s more, collaboration is key for anyone who aspires to lead like Jesus. It would have been much more streamlined for Jesus to save the world on His own. Instead, He chose to accomplish His mission through the messy process of collaborating with imperfect humans. Through His three-year discipleship of 12 ordinary men, and again in His long-term empowerment of the Church, Jesus modeled the importance of collaboration in leadership. So if we endeavor to lead like Him, that entails embracing collaboration.

Through collaboration, we uphold God’s grand design for us to live and thrive within community. And as leaders, genuine collaboration shows others we value their God-given talents and unique insight as critical to our collective success. We treat those we lead as valuable creations of the loving Father. We affirm that we are better together than we are on our own.

7 Phrases the Kill Collaboration

If we truly believe in the power of collaboration, we’ve got to start acting and communicating in ways that foster true cooperation and innovation. And that means we must eliminate from our vernacular any language that reflects an anti-collaborative mindset.

1.“That’s never worked before.”

Ok, so an idea or approach didn’t work in the past. But what’s changed since the last time we tried? Have circumstances evolved? Has the market shifted? Do we have new people or resources available that we didn’t have before? Learn from the past, but also learn to recalculate and adapt based on the present circumstances.

2. “That will never work.”

A close cousin to “That’s never worked before,” is any language that squelches the exploration of new ideas that seem too difficult, outlandish or unorthodox at first glance. Significant innovations often come as the result of crazy ideas taken seriously.

What’s more, employees need to feel safe when sharing their thoughts and ideas, regardless of how (initially) ridiculous they may seem. Otherwise, team members will quickly clam up, afraid to be chastised or dismissed if they say something off-the-mark. Keep in mind, sometimes the discussion of a slightly wrong idea sparks a conversation leading to the just-right solution.

3. “I’ve got this fantastic idea I want to run by you!”

One less obvious barrier to collaboration is unbridled excitement and bias toward our own ideas. When we come to a conversation already sold on the merits our own approach, we may be less open to valid questions, potential obstacles or even alternate ideas raised by other parties. Enthusiasm is a wonderful thing, but always leave the door open for feedback – positive OR negative – and suggestions from others.

“4. "Got 5 minutes to brainstorm?”

While well-intentioned, this oft uttered phrase (or similar variants of it) rarely results in the brilliant results its speaker hopes to achieve. Collaboration is generally a slow, messy process, and any last minute short-cuts to achieve it are likely to leave participants dissatisfied or even frustrated.

 If you truly want the input of others, carve out ample time for processing and discussion. Even better, give your team plenty of advance notice. This allows them an opportunity to arrange their schedule/workload accordingly and perhaps even mentally process the topic on their own time, thereby coming to the table better prepared and less distracted.

5. "That’s not your concern.”

It’s crucial to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities in an organization. However, limiting employees to only having opinions and suggestions within those boundaries stifles teamwork and innovation. It could also potentially silence warning bells from team members who spot legitimate issues that need to be addressed.

Successful organizations celebrate employees who “own” everything. They welcome out-of-the-box thinking at every level, and they encourage feedback and creativity that transcends the organizational chart.

6. “We don’t have the [people, process, time, expertise] for that.”

Yes, in order for collaboration to truly succeed, you must take realistic stock of whatever resources are at your disposal. Pie-in-the-sky thinking leads to pie-in-the-face results.

However, collaboration is hampered when people only see obstacles instead of opportunities. It’s okay to identify the things you can’t change, but then focus the bulk of your thinking and energy changing the things you can. If an idea seems too far of a stretch at the outset, what could you adapt to put it within your reach?

7. "But what if [insert calamity here] happens?"

Just as it’s good to take realistic stock of your resources, it’s also wise to identify the potential pitfalls. But don’t let fear of the unknown or the fear of failure prevent you from considering new ideas or moving in the direction you need to go.

Identify how you can best manage weaknesses and avert crisis, then step boldly forward, trusting that God will sustain you along the way. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Philippians 4:6)

Pause and Reflect

  • In what ways could collaboration allow me to have greater influence or impact as a leader?
  • Do I value the talents and insight of those I lead in my home? My church? My work? My community? If so, what am I doing to communicate their value and collaborate with them?
  • What anti-collaborative phrases do I need to eliminate from my vocabulary immediately?

 By Heather Day

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