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10 Barriers to Effective Workplace Collaboration (And How to Fix Them)

barriers to effective workplace collaboration

There has been a 44% rise in collaboration tools since 2019 — and for good reason. Collaboration can impact several metrics from engagement to retention and productivity. Even something as simple as recognising the achievement of teamwork can drive profits by 29%.

But collaboration isn’t always easy. Otherwise, we’d all be doing it. It can come with various challenges ranging from issues that stem from leadership and individuals. Here’s what you can expect to encounter and, more importantly, how to fix it.


1. Lack of Clarity

A lack of leadership, vision or understanding of the benefits of collaboration can hugely hinder its adoption in the workplace. 

Without clarity, teams can easily dismiss the power of collaboration and continue to work independently, ignorant of its possible positive impact on their work. 

Collaboration, at least in its introductory phase, is a project that requires a strong and confident lead. If businesses take collaboration seriously, there needs to be somebody to champion it at every opportunity, suggesting new and innovative ways to work it into existing projects.



It’s simple. Collaboration needs to come from the top down, even if it’s a case of leadership calling out successful instances and rewarding those involved. To successfully embed collaboration into the culture, it needs to become part of the organisational vision, forming a pillar in the plan to success. 

This also means injecting collaboration and its benefits into team training to ensure every individual is bought into the idea of working together to get better and bigger results. 

As a leader, you’ll need to drive these improvements, add collaboration to your agenda, revise top-level documents to reflect this part of your philosophy and create avenues for better understanding and adoption.


2. Goal Misalignment 

Working towards different goalposts makes collaboration messy, even if it does mean multiple people adopt the same way of working. 

Harnessing the power of collaboration is more than just hoping people take it upon themselves to share and learn from each other. Instead, collaboration should be strategic and targeted so you can prove its success through clear, measurable goals.



Set some goals at the beginning of a campaign and identical objectives for a project without collaboration at its core. This way, you can directly compare whether collaboration is helping drive productivity as well as tangible results for your business. 

More generally, the introduction of collaboration should complement some visionary goals. What does your business want to achieve through increased collaboration? It could be creating more cohesion between two teams or increasing role engagement across the board.


3. Mixed Messages

Chinese whispers can make collaboration more of an enigma than it needs to be. People may either divert from collaboration if they feel it’s too complicated or go about it the wrong way, taking different communication routes and following unregulated processes. 

Soon, compliance problems arrive on your doorstep, confusion mounts and teams feel more distant than ever before, thanks to poorly managed projects. Mixed messages spell the ultimate downfall for collaboration, putting people off the idea of group work for fear of a ‘too many cooks’ scenario.



Set standards, processes and ways of working from the start. Be clear, specifically with virtual collaboration, about how to communicate, share documents and manage timelines in shared projects. 

You should always track a project, access its assets and understand its progress, no matter which role you take on within a team. Otherwise, shared projects become stagnant and sharing the workload becomes more of a burden than a benefit.


4. Broken Bonds

Unfortunately, siloed teams, lack of trust and negative experiences with group work can dampen the delight of collaboration. 

Everything from a skewed attitude to united success to trauma around teamwork can be enough to kill the excitement around collaborative work before it even kicks in. Remember, people have a past life before their employment with you, so they continually need to be reeducated — and in some cases — retrained to do things your way.  



Fixing broken bonds is tricky business with a different course of action for every instance. Siloed teams can be brought together through the power of digital transformation, including clever project formatting in project management systems and convenient shared drive spaces with logical file infrastructure. 

Again, education can help paint a new, improved picture of collaboration, while pilot projects can act as shining examples of success, helping instil trust and excitement.


5. Perceived Power

Perceived power — because it isn’t explicitly stated — is a problem for many areas of business, not just collaboration. However, a lack of a formal hierarchy or the absence of a project lead can have dire consequences for collaborative projects since there are so many people of different seniority and skillsets involved. 

It can be easy to step on each other's toes or, conversely, drop work on an unexpecting individual that isn’t equipped to handle it. Power structures don’t exist to put people down but to lift the entire team, so everyone feels supported.



The simplest solution is to identify the roles of every individual in the team. What’s their expected contribution to the project? Who do they report to? And who reports to them? 

Everyone can have the same expectations with a clear hierarchy. In practising this to aid collaboration, you’ll quickly see how it benefits other areas of your work by giving people an easy route to talk to someone should they need some help.

Every Barrier, Risk, Tool and Strategy Relating to Collaborative Working, Contained in a Single Click

Explore the practice of collaborative working in meticulous detail with our dedicated page on the topic. A must-read for any business hoping to adopt collaborative working or achieve even more efficiency with a current practice, click the banner below. 

Collaborative working

6. Subpar Strategy

As we’ve mentioned in an earlier point, collaboration should be targeted and employed as a strategy. Without guidance, collaboration can mean anything from leaning on employees when you want to do a lesser share of the work to make a mountain out of a molehill in minor tasks that don’t require additional input. 

Strategy informs everything from the size of the group working on the project to the ultimate goal. Trust us; you’ll know if your team is going off on a tangent without a strategy to stick to.



Ease in collaboration by being prescriptive about where and when it should be employed. Help your teams with prompts around how often to have meetings, which collaboration platforms should be used as well as which individual activities to take accountability for. 


7. Poor Planning

Very similar to strategy but on a more granular level, flawed workflows and ambiguous briefs can make collaboration fall off — as well as the projects they relate to. 

Just because teams will take more action to interact in collaborative projects doesn’t mean they should need to use unnecessary energy to orchestrate them. This puts too much pressure on the group and takes away from the original intention to bring teams together and make projects easier and more engaging to complete.



Make sure someone is in charge of managing the project or, even better, manages all projects across the organisations. This way, all the hard work of organising activities and due dates is done for teams to get to the critical activities of ideating and sharing expertise.


8. All Digital

Digital collaboration is great, but it also works best when paired with face-to-face bonding.

When collaboration is all digital, communications can easily get lost in translation and siloed work can creep in, even though there are multiple people on any one project. It’s easy to get into the rhythm of completing your assigned task, handing over the baton and calling it collaboration. But really, this doesn’t mirror effective internal communication or the spirit of collaboration.



Get excited about digital collaboration and curious about how it works, including how to tap into smart storage and sharing. However, don’t get so caught up in online possibilities that you forget to promote the value of face-to-face communication and in-office meetings. 

If you decide to make it a core value, collaboration should run through every aspect of your business, reflecting the hybrid way of working if this is the model you’re most familiar with.


9. Fear

Fear of failure, compliance issues and the unknown can hold teams back, stopping them from even promoting collaboration in the first place or adopting it to its fullest. 

This barrier can be personal, not necessarily a fault of your team but one that impacts them every day. If fear gets in the way, you might talk about collaboration but get antsy when it comes to actioning it, worrying that projects might get too complex with a ‘more the merrier’ attitude.



Face your fear. It’s a concept that’s easier said than done — but one that truly works. Take small steps to introduce collaboration, first with teams you trust to get the job done. Do more research around remaining compliant, even conducting audits and other activities to help cover your back. With the opportunity for 4.5 times higher talent retention, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t just go for it.


10. Being Underequipped

Having the appropriate technology to collaborate is essential to enable a smooth success. 

With no shared place to store files, no platform to send quick queries and no central document to keep up to speed, it’s difficult to know where everyone is up to you, even if you have the best of intentions to band together. Being underequipped is a relatively simple problem to fix, but it’s one that many companies have, with 24% of IT employees believing this to be the case in their place of work.



Find an IT partner that can provide bespoke technology solutions to suit your needs. This needs to be a company that you can trust with the correct accreditations and access to top-tier software that’s up for the job. 

Don’t just buy any project management software, don’t just settle for the first messaging platform you see. Instead, try to invest in a solution that works seamlessly, giving you fewer compliance problems and possible points of entry.


Get Equipped For the Modern Workplace and Overcome Every Barrier

Ready to hop over every hurdle? Motivated to transform into a modern workplace? Curious to see the results collaboration could bring to your team? 

Explore our services to help you create a strategic and safe space for workplace collaboration to take place.

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