Why Collaboration Breaks Down – And How to Avoid It

January 14, 2019

Collaboration breaks down and falls apart for these main reasons.

Collaboration is one of the skills companies need most, according to LinkedIn data. And it sounds good – I think nearly all of us would like to work better with others.

Great. That means there’s both universal need and universal desire. Feels like problem solved, right?

Well, not quite. Despite the hope of employers to have more collaborative employees and the aspiration of many of us to be collaborative, collaboration remains a huge issue at many organizations.  


LinkedIn Learning Instructor Prakash Raman has done extensive research into the subject. What he found is that there are five primary causes of collaboration breakdown, which he shared in his LinkedIn Learning course, Collaboration Principles and Processes.

These causes persist in every industry and among every function in the world. The good news – just knowing what they are will alone help you be more collaborative. 

Plus, in this post, we've added strategies for overcoming them.

The 5 Main Causes of Collaboration Breakdown – And How to Avoid Them

LinkedIn Learning Instructor Prakash Raman explains the five primary causes of collaboration breakdown.

According to Raman, the five biggest causes of collaboration breakdown are:

    1. Trust

Think of a micromanager, although this can happen among teammates and cross-functional partners as well. If you don’t trust the work other people do and double-check everything, collaboration is worthless – you might as well just do it yourself.

The whole point of collaborating is to get more done together, not to repeat someone else’s work while damaging your relationship with that person in the process.

How to Avoid It: You have to trust your teammates and they need to trust you. Easier said than done, I know.

“For me to ask you to do something, I have to believe, to trust, that you'll respect my request and do it correctly,” Raman said. “I also have to believe that you trust that I'll do my part correctly, too.”

As far as trusting your teammates and cross-functional partners, you need to learn how to effectively delegate. Here's a playbook for how.

If someone doesn't trust you and is micromanaging you, the best thing you can do is make sure you are aligned with them upfront, give them clear deadlines and hit those deadlines. If you consistently do that, you’ll put them on ease and they’ll start to trust you.

    2. Idea Attachment

This is another way of saying that we fall in love with our own ideas. To the point we stop collaborating with others, as we think our ideas are consistently the best.

For example, say you are brainstorming ideas as a team and you come up with one you believe is best. When others don’t necessarily agree, things can go off the rails if you remain stubborn.

“If others question our ideas or make suggestions for change, it can feel like a rejection of yourself, making you much more likely to be defensive, which is not good for collaboration,” Raman said.

This can get bad if it goes unaddressed. At its worst, a person will secretly root for a project to fail, just because it wasn’t their idea.

How to Avoid It: This starts with yourself. If you are too attached to your idea and fight for it mercilessly, others will too.

So, be aware of yourself. It’s good to believe in what you pitch – but, if the rest of the team doesn’t agree, you need to let it go and move on.

To avoid others growing too attached to their idea, you need to let people know they’ve been heard and explain to them why you can’t execute their idea. Often, this will quell the frustration a person might feel if their idea isn’t chosen.

    3. Clarity and Alignment

Arguably the most important on the list. If everyone isn’t marching toward the same goal, collaboration will be ineffective at best – and explosive at worst.

How to Avoid It: Alignment needs to start immediately. The leader of any project should start it with a kickoff meeting where they state the goal of the project and why that goal is important.

Same with teams. If you are running a team, it’s so important to have clear goals for the team and clear reasons why those goals are important.

The initial kickoff is great. But then it comes down to reinforcing – and, for this, don’t communicate the vision. Overcommunicate it.

There are many ways to do it; including just repeating the mantra every time you have the opportunity too. Here’s one creative technique Raman suggested in his course, if you are running a project:

“Ask everyone to grab a piece of paper and write down what they think the goal is, why you're collaborating. Then, crumple up each piece of paper, place them in the middle, and read aloud each response. Are they all the same? Probably not. I've done this hundreds of times and have rarely seen alignment. This doesn't mean that your project is doomed. Actually, this is a good thing because clarity and alignment is something you can fix.”

    4. Speed

A classic cause of collaboration breakdown.

You need to get something done – fast. Which means you don’t have the time (or, perhaps more accurately, the energy) to get approval from five other people. Its times like these where collaboration can feel like a hindrance, not a help.

And, to be frank, collaboration sometimes can slow you down in the short term. In the long term though, it’ll speed you up, as it’ll keep many people working toward the same goal – instead of many people working toward their own goals, some of which could be contradictory.

How to Avoid It: They key to overcoming this is having the right expectations and processes in place.

First off, you need the right processes in place where you don’t have to make decisions immediately. You should set expectations with others so they give you time to speak with your team before being expected to act.

Additionally, you also need a process and expectations in place for others on your team to weigh in. Maybe its two days – that means, if you email something out looking for feedback, people have two days to respond (or else you carry on without their feedback). The problem is often these expectations aren’t clear, so we are unsure when we’ll get approval and therefore are tempted to push it through ourselves.

Having clear expectations in place of when others need to weigh in will eliminate that and empower you to trust the system.

    5. Technology, Geography and Culture

While all three of these feel like little things, all three can lead to collaboration breakdown.

“I can't tell you how many times I've seen collaboration go awry because not everyone on the team is used to a certain technology, or because time zones make scheduling difficult, or because the team members in Germany approach meetings differently than the team members in Brazil,” Raman said.

How to Avoid It: All of these can be avoided by having the right processes in place.

Take time zones, for example. That can affect speed. But following the rule in lesson four – have an set period in place (obviously, at least a day) for people to weigh in – will solve that.

Or, technology. This can be tricky if people are using different technologies. By aligning upfront, by either getting everybody on the same piece of software or figuring out a way for different softwares to work together, can solve it.

The key is discussing these things upfront. Otherwise, it can lead to issues down the road.

Are you looking to become a better collaborator? These LinkedIn Learning courses can help – and they are free until Jan. 31: