When Collaboration Can Make You Crazy

Most of us are familiar with the phrase, “The ends justify the means.”

Typically, we offer it up (in one form or another) when we attempt to justify an otherwise undefendable influence strategy we put in motion to produce an end result. It’s a defensive remark really, primarily intended to shine a light on what we have accomplished, while simultaneously diverting attention from the manner in which we accomplished it.

The opposite set of circumstances can be equally problematic, “We feel strongly about employing these means.”

Statements like these are primarily intended to justify a particular influence strategy irrespective of the impact that strategy might be producing. Consider collaboration in that regard. After decades of attending, facilitating and auditing leadership training programs, I would offer that when most people conjure up an image of collaboration it looks something like this:

Collaboration is happy, engaged people! They love each other almost as much as they love their jobs. They are solving problems! They are learning! Life is good!

And, before I get too carried away with the sarcasm, all of these descriptors are indeed potential (and frequent) by-products of effective collaboration. My caution is that collaboration (or empowerment or guidance or coaching) are but “value-neutral influence strategies.” None are inherently better or worse than the other.

With those thoughts in mind, consider two scenarios where collaboration has the potential to make you crazy:

  1. “You literally have no clue.” – You somehow have been assigned a project that is both highly visible and particularly important. The more you wrap your head around what you have signed up for (or probably more accurately, been signed up for) the more you come face-to-face with the reality that:
    1. You have no idea what you are doing.
    2. You are having private panic attacks.
      1. After thoughtful self-diagnosis, you approach your boss and say something like, “I literally have no clue what I’m doing.”
      2. And, your boss responds by saying something like:
      3. “I’m honored that you feel comfortable bringing this to my attention…”
      4. “No one is better than you at solving problems like this…”
      5. “Help me understand the challenge and how you think we should proceed…”
      6. “Given the deadline, do you feel you have time to consider doing X… or Y… or Z?”

    That can make you crazy.

  1. “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” – This is an often used and well-intended process declaration that, unfortunately, provides cover for any number of collaborative abusers (primarily in group settings). For instance, have you ever been in a meeting and heard someone ask a question that basically communicated:
    1. “I didn’t do the pre-work, so could somebody just review everything for me real quick at a high level?”
    2. “I’m not sure this is relevant, but there are few things I enjoy more than hearing myself speak on topics that I enjoy speaking about, so here goes …”

    That can make you crazy.

Net-net, collaboration (as well as all other influence strategies) can either be an effective means to a targeted end or a pre-determined mechanism almost guaranteed to produce periodic (and largely unnecessary) frustration. Simply stated: it depends!



  1. How often do you determine a strategy of influence (i.e. leadership style) without thoughtful consideration of the alignment between that approach, the individual(s) involved and/or the outcome you seek?
  2. If you answered anything other than “NEVER” above, what can you do from this point forward to more effectively align your approach with the “task at hand” and the individuals performing it?