Collaboration this. Collaboration that. 

So much has been said about the benefits of inter-departmental collaboration – better thinking, better product, better outcomes –you’d be hard pressed to find any fault with it. Collaboration, in fact, has become so revered by organizations, it even gets emblazoned onto t-shirts and caps as part of a company’s core values.

But it’s not all roses. Sue Shellenbarger wrote a terrific piece in the WSJ last week (Taking One for the Team) about the difficulty of getting people and teams to collaborate in a meaningful way. Some challenges Sue explores:  It’s hard to drag people out of silos, the learning curve is steep, and the team can only move as fast as the slowest member.

Virtual collaboration, while genius in theory, can also prove challenging as we traverse time zones and tech glitches. It also removes some of the exuberance and magic of face-to-face ideation.

Finding and assembling the right team, structure, technology and process to do this well can be a herculean effort. Collaboration, with a capital C, never really goes well when it is forced.  It is reliant on effective knowledge sharing and true integration. You can’t dip in and out when other commitments call.

You also need to buy into the end goal and align on priorities. You need to trust the people with whom you’re working. And, most importantly in my opinion, you need an effective facilitator – someone who is respected and has a deep empathy for, and connection to, the people they are helping. Someone who is committed to the process – not just the outcome.

Different points of view are healthy and essential for problem solving, but they can also create tension that can slow the process down.  An effective facilitator can help break down barriers and turn a challenging feat into something that is smooth and elegant and, when done really well, invisible.