Hybrid Work, Productivity

Collaboration and priority overloads weighing down organizations

group hovering over woman over collaboration and priority overload

Modern knowledge workers are being weighed down by over collaboration. One-on-one meetings have exploded since the start of the pandemic – meetings went up 500%! The problem doesn’t stop there. Not only is the average professional spending half their workday in meetings, they leave each one with tasks and follow ups. Top priorities and deliverables are then replaced with non-critical work and at times, just busy work. This leaves people drained and unable to focus on their main job responsibilities. 


Priority overload is one of the biggest derailers of team success. There are too many external stakeholders now – with competing needs and misaligned goals  – taking up an employee’s bandwidth. 49% of employees are feeling the pressure of priority overload


There are benefits to our hyper-connected world. Working together allows employees to learn from each other, creates an open space for ideas by removing pressures of vertical hierarchy, and connects remote workers. But there are also unforeseen consequences. When collaboration is used irresponsibly employees can be taxed, overwhelmed, and burned out. 


To solve for collaboration and priority overload, companies first need to address the issues within an organization. Here are some signs your organization is experiencing collaboration and priority overload and how to address it. 


Signs of collaboration and priority overloads


Packed employee schedules 

If you think your calendar is packed, it probably is. Schedules can be a direct indicator whether your team is headed toward collaboration overload – or is already there. Take some time to look at your calendar and your teams’ schedules to see if there are too many meetings and whether they are all critical and whether everyone needs to be there.  


Too many decision makers can slow down any growing organization. Naturally, as companies expand to new regions and add new products there are more departments and more leaders involved. But keeping too many decision makers in the process leads to more time in meetings and chat apps and reading emails. Organizations have to decide who can be freed from certain decisions to work on other priorities. 


Burned out team 

It would be great if all employees looked forward to meetings but that’s not realistic. A regularly enthusiastic team is unexpected but an unenthusiastic team is a red flag. Managers need to have emotional radar – paying close attention to checked out or irritated employees. If managers notice tension surfacing during meetings, they need to find the cause and do their best to address it. 


Leadership should pay close attention to burnout. The term is becoming ubiquitous. It feels like everyone is using it and claiming everything is now a source for burnout. That may be the sentiment but doesn’t take away from the reality that many people feel like they are being pushed to their breaking point. Stressors can range from health and world concerns to personal lives, or work lives. There’s no way an organization can fully resolve what keeps people up at night – but making sure each meeting is of utmost significance can help. 

How to solve for over collaboration and priority overload


  1. Managers attuned to collaboration happening 

Leadership is not immune to collaboration and priority overload. The example of the airplane oxygen masks is used frequently because it’s often disregarded. Not intentionally. But often managers forget that they cannot take care of their team, if they don’t take care of themselves first. 


Managers need to be attuned to the collaboration that is happening – taking a close look at all of their meetings and the ones scheduled on their team. There are many Saas tools that can display everyone’s schedules – to get a comprehensive look at how everyone is spending their time. 


Harvard Business Review did a study on “collaboration intelligence” – better understanding how often you try to collaborate with a colleague or a colleague tries to collaborate with you and the number of teams someone collaborates with. One participant said, seeing the calendar dashboard made him or her decide to be more mindful of interactions with others. 


  1. Creating a central hub for communication for teams 

Replacing meetings with team announcements – when possible – is one way to clear schedules. But a quick email blast with critical updates can easily get lost in inboxes and add to modern knowledge workers drowning in notifications. Instead organizations should invest in a central hub – that can consolidate several tools and is a place where employees can find important announcements. This way, information that needs to go across teams can be shared at once – and tracked by internal comms teams to make sure everyone is caught up. 


  1. Encouraging asynchronous workflows  

Can it be done asynchronously? Honestly that should be the first thought before ever pulling up a calendar. With technology, working asynchronously is the future of work and much more efficient than packing schedules with meetings. With collaboration happening in the background as employees are able to focus, more work is getting done and higher priorities are being targeted. That way when there is a meeting that time can be spent on discussions and decisions that can’t be made alone. 


  1. Do a reset 

It can be hard to break habits. Sometimes the best way to do it is reset and start over. If you have gone through this article and decided your team is over collaborating and has priority overload, clear everyone’s calendars, except for one meeting – one to talk about collaboration intelligence. Teach the team about collaboration overload and how to be conscious of setting too many meetings. That way once new meetings are added back to calendars, they are done so with intention and purpose. And mostly so we’re not back at a reset at the end of the quarter. 


It’s all about balance and intention. Employees are one of the most valuable assets to an organization. The ideas and creativity people bring can fuel and grow an organization, which is why collaboration has to be used efficiently and effectively. 

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