7 Reasons Collaboration Breaks Down

7 Reasons Collaboration Breaks Down

Great ideas come in halves.  Work is enhanced by true collaboration. One of the best parts of my entrepreneurial journey has been the amazing collaborations, in writing, in business, in shared passions.

I’ve got four deep collaborations in process now, including writing a children’s picture book with Alli Polin  and the launch of a Parent’s Guide to Leadership (a free ebook downloadable from the sidebar.)

I’ve also had a few false starts.

7 Reasons Collaboration Breaks Down

Here are my lessons learned. I look forward to hearing what you would add

  1. Misaligned Passions –Collaboration works best when you’re both deeply in it to win it. Your shared passion fuels inspiration. If one or the other of you is less of a zealot, sooner or later the spark will fade.
  2. Propinquity- Joining up with the usual suspects or the guy next door, simply because of convenience limits possibility. Go slower and cast a wider net when looking for potential partners. When you stumble on chemistry search deeper. Sure working with partners around the globe is logistically more tricky, but becoming easier each day due to amazing technology.
  3. Score Keeping – Real collaborators don’t keep score. They’re too engaged in the cause to count who’s doing what. The focus is on the end state.
  4. Surface Respect – For true collaboration to blossom mutual respect must run deep and thick.  It becomes slippery when one or the other feels superior.
  5. Fuzzy Communication- Collaboration requires a constant flow of real-time communication. Don’t rely on email or chats, look in each other’s eyes, even if it’s over Skype.
  6. Short Term View- True collaborators value the relationship over the small stuff. They’re willing to let go of what really doesn’t matter and spend time seeking to understand differences that do.
  7. Rigid Boundaries – True collaboration involves doing whatever it takes to get the job done. Toe stepping goes unnoticed or is met with a real-time discussion.
Posted in Authenticity & Transparency, Career & Learning, Communication, Employee Engagement & Energy and tagged , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of several books: Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates (Harper Collins Summer 2020), Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. You have “mismatched talent” but what about “mismatched risk-taking”? I don’t have an immediate story, but I feel that when you enter a collaboration each partner risks (1) being vulnerable, (2) being hurt, (3) exposing weaknesses, (4) energy with an uncertain outcome, (5) changing … and probably a few more qualities. Come to think of it, these are risks that are present in any “committed” relationship, business or otherwise. What is important is to share risks (brag politely if necessary) and to acknowledge that the partner is actively taking risks. That way you can appreciate risks taken separately and together.

    • David, I really like how you’ve extended to the conversation, and I totally agree with you. Once again you’ve written another post in your comments. LOVE IT!!!! Thanks so much.

  2. Sorry, I’ve been gone for a bit. We’re overwhelmed with all of these unaccompanied minors from Central America just now.

    Great article (as always!) I think collaboration is a bit like marriage. It requires constant open communication, mutual respect, and healthy doses of mutual encouragement.

    It breaks down for similar reasons including the well known ‘stupid fight.’

    • Bill, Sounds like you are having an interesting and very worthwhile summer. I so agree, it’s a lot like marriage,which in may ways is the most complex collaboration of all.

  3. I am currently involved in multiple projects where people were assigned to participate. Because of the assignment and not volunteering based on desire or passion there are people involved in the projects that don’t share the same interests or energy. There are many times I see this happen in the environments that I have worked in, and so projects often don’t get the best results, and some of the people are over extended and lose pace on their normal responsibilities.

    As a leader I try to ensure I am soliciting interest and giving opportunity to those who have the ability to balance the extra project responsibilities with their current job responsibilities.

    • Shawn, You raise a REALLY important dynamic here. So many times we don’t get to choose with whom we are going to collaborate. So often it’s about making the most of working with the people in the scene. I love the approach you describe here.

    • Shawn, You raise a REALLY important dynamic here. So many times we don’t get to choose with whom we are going to collaborate. So often it’s about making the most of working with the people in the scene. I love the approach you describe here about taking time up front to really engage the right team.

  4. An absolutely great list of things that true collobators should do, Karin!

    I’m so excited about your book project with Allie! That is a true collaborative project that will resonate with many business women leaders in the future.

    • LaRae, Thanks so much. Of course one of the big 4 is the Energized Leaders book project. There are so many examples of beautiful collaboration working with all of you on that. Game on!

  5. Hi Karin,
    You covered those points so eloquently I had to include your post into my weekly dispatch of weekly recommended reading which I hope you do not mind. In my experience collaboration failures, be it total break down or simple poor impacts at the of it, often have one thing in common: a poor governance structure and wrong mode of collaboration selected. Those ‘boring’ bits tend to be swept aside in the initial rush of enthusiasm that collaboration often elicits in us humans.
    Great piece and thanks for sharing.
    Jelenko Dragisic, ROADMENDER

    • Jelenko,
      So great to have you join the conversation and thank so much for sharing. You raise a really important point about setting the collaboration up for success. So vital! Thank you.

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