Promote collaboration – yes, but to much of a good thing is not helpful

Stressed woman with hand to face being overwhelmed

Collaboration with others often leads to better outcomes with others supplying ideas, energy, and effort. However, your desire to be a team player, to help others, and to be there for others can lead to too much collaboration and burn out. It is ok to say “no.”  You can do this diplomatically. It is necessary to say “no” sometimes. Become aware of your triggers, apply diplomatic commentary to say “no,” and keep balance in your life. That is the focus of this commentary.


Collaboration is a good thing, but…


With the pandemic, working from home, collaborating with others via various sources has only increased. Conventional wisdom tells us collaboration is good. But the question is whether this is the right kind of collaboration. Is this putting to much pressure on you, extending beyond boundaries, and negatively impacting your mental or physical health? It is not the size of your network, but how you balance and work effectively and efficiently with your network. By focusing on this with whom and when it is possible to do this effectively  allows you to capitalize on the positive aspects of collaboration. However, it takes some thought and action to address this appropriately. An article entitled Where We Go Wrong with Collaboration in the Harvard Business Review elaborates on this topic. Key points from this article and some personal observations follow.




There are only so many hours in one week (168 to be exact). You have to decide how to spend your time with sleeping, eating, exercise, work, family, leisure, and other activities. When you are at work, you need to focus on various tasks and with whom. Step back and consider how you are spending your time and whether you have your priorities right.

  • What do you need to do more and with whom?
  • What do you need to do less and not with that person or people?
  • What do you need to continue to do and what are you doing right with the right person/people?
  • Every time you say “yes” to something, that means you are saying “no” to something else. Think about that. Is this the best use of my time right now?

Prioritizing how you spend your time is key.


Connecting and delegating


When someone comes to you with a concern you can:

So, why don’t you consider all of these elements when given a new task or someone new to you? You may feel you have to provide the answer. You want to feel important and demonstrate that you can do this. You believe you are the best person for this activity. That may be true. However, who can you develop and help them to gain this experience? Who could you connect to this activity? You want to be recognized for accomplishing the task.

Step back and realize that your perception of your ego and status may be preventing you from doing what is actually best for you.

Does your need to be right require you to be involved? Think of your role and title. Are these getting in the way of you letting go of certain activities because you feel you have to own them? Can you let others succeed? Others might actually become dependent on you instead of you being able to help them learn and advance.


How can you say no?


If someone asks you to do something and you say “no” that may be perceived negatively. However, if you consider their request, you may be able to answer and in essence say “no” with some examples like this.

  • I would love to help out, but not at this time.
  • If I help out on this task, that will mean that these other tasks will be circumvented. Is it acceptable to circumvent those tasks? I will need to go over this with my supervisor.
  • Where does this task fit in with my other priorities?
  • Is there another way to accomplish this task?
    • With someone else?
    • In a different way?
    • Does it need the attention to detail initially proposed?
    • What is acceptable quality in this instance?
    • What is fitness for use for the end customer at this time?


What can you do?


If you cannot determine what to do in a relatively short time period (15 minutes), is it time to reach out to someone else for help?

  • Who can help?
  • Who has the knowledge?
  • Who has the time?
  • Who has the talent?
  • Might you need to help develop that talent in someone else?

You need to be authentic. You are who you are. Ask questions. Encourage others to be honest with you.


The stress response


The stress response is triggered by three things.

  • The need to be in control
  • The need for predictability
  • The need for progress

Stand back for a moment and see if your need for control, predictability, and progress are preventing you from letting go. This drives the activity back to you. When you are under stress and not thinking as clearly, you may direct inappropriately. I have done this and gotten back exactly what I asked for but not what I wanted. At times like this … slow down. Take a deep breath. Go for a walk. Try mindfulness. Pause. Focus on being compassionate and being calm, confident, and competent. You are.

Consider adapting a response that is appropriate for the situation.

Take that 15 to 20 minutes to think about how you may want to proceed. One alternative is to do nothing. Consider other alternatives. Determine the impacts of those alternatives economically, socially, and environmentally. Evaluate the alternatives and produce a plan. Consider testing the plan before going forward with the plan. Make sure it is going in the right direction. Live life on your terms. Keep balance in your life. You have the ability to decide your priorities. Collaborate where appropriate and when appropriate but consider the implications the next time you say “yes.” The choice is yours. Collaboration is a good thing, but to much of a good thing is not necessarily good.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]