Learning Why Collaborations Fail

Learning from research

In our previous two articles we have learnt that most collaborations fail to deliver on expectations. The next area of focus is to explore the science of what goes wrong. 

Various fascinating theories and studies give us insights into the barriers to effective collaboration:

1. Internal vs external dialogue

Anyone who has ever been in a meeting recognises that there are two dialogues going on throughout the meeting – the actual, verbalised conversation, and your own internal voice. 

Often, the things we say in a meeting are not a true reflection of our inner thoughts. There are all kinds of complex reasons for this, ranging from interpersonal relationships and office politics to uncertainty and, sometimes, lack of confidence and courage.

But if no-one is verbalising their whole, true thoughts, the collaboration cannot unearth the key issues, challenges and opportunities that will be essential in successful project delivery. We will come back to this important point in a future article.

2. Theory of interdependent decision making

Rooted in Game Theory, this school of thought focuses on the complexities that arise from human interactions. It explores how the outcomes of people’s decisions strongly depend on other collaborators’ behaviour. Each person has a role in determining the outcomes for everyone else in the room. 

When each person has different priorities it can become a zero-sum game – where one person’s win is another’s loss. In a multi-stakeholder environment it is helpful to understand who the winners and losers could be, as this will be a key dynamic driver.

3. Relational networks study

A study of 330 organisational projects by Taylor/Chambers had many insightful conclusions. One of these was the importance for a collaboration to state its purpose.  Most projects are driven by a problem or gap – but too often the stated objective is simply to fix the problem.

When you ask participants to explain a collaboration, they will state the problem. Yet rarely will two people agree what the purpose of the collaboration is. Getting this agreed up front will ensure clarity and greater consensus on the right way forward, from the outset.

Our next article will explore how these learnings affect objectives and goals.

Lesz Sikorski

  • People Strategist, coach and advisor with 30 years global MNC experience in leading change and organisation development
  • Certificated professional coach
  • Lived on 2 continents, worked on 6 and visited over 45 countries
  • Previous roles have included HR Director APAC, Group Head of Organisational Development, Project Director – Change & Development and Global Programme Manager, Operational Improvement