Why We Struggle to Collaborate — Part 1

Negative behaviors that get in the way of productive engagement

Babatunde Mumuni
4 min readFeb 21, 2024

Collaboration seems to be a recurring theme for me this year. I have been keenly observing how we work together in teams and organizations, and it continues to be eye-opening what the drivers of behavior are. I am also curious about how leaders can help create true collaboration outside of “mandating” it to happen — which never really works anyway. I have written elsewhere about our tendency towards mere box ticking and that can be read here.

This time around, I want to expand my processing a little to look at what I personally think are some of the underlying barriers to collaboration. These states (or even traits for some) once present in just one of the intending collaborators create difficulty, and this difficulty grows exponentially with each additional member who exhibits the described behaviors.

Photo by Tom Rogers on Unsplash

Scarcity Mindset

It can sometimes feel like good ideas are in short supply. At least this is the impression I get when I see how much time and energy is expended trying to “protect” them. Not every brainstorming session is going to produce a “hit”. When you measure the quality of innovative initiatives by their impact, it is immediately clear that not all are great. So we guard them jealously when we do have them.

However, the solution here is to actually increase your throughput, not hoarding. The next time you have what you think is a good idea, put it out there! Share freely and task yourself with looking for the next one. If you increase your velocity, you improve your odds of getting more.

When you also consider the fact that ideas are almost always derivative, it should take a load of pressure off you. Some of the most creative things made in the world have been as a result of synthesizing existing things in new ways. Collaboration offers us a great way of identifying, curating, and enriching our best thoughts. We need more, not less.

Photo by Melanie Wasser on Unsplash


Closely related to the scarcity mindset is fear. Many people are afraid that someone else with better relationships and resources will take their ideas, thoughts, and initiatives and make a “hit” before they get an opportunity to put them out in the world. We are very often worried about people coming in (usually at the last minute) to take all the credit for the hard work that we have put in.

There is some truth to this. We all know someone who has experienced this if we haven’t experienced it ourselves. When we are fearful in this way, we are hesitant to collaborate, mostly because we feel that it will lead to a loss for us personally.

However, my stance remains unchanged. When we consider the premise, the fact that the important problems we have in the world don’t lend themselves to lone-ranger, superhero problem solvers, then we will realize that this fear we entertain comes at a significant cost.

Is the problem worth solving?

Is your idea or point of view going to add genuine value?

Would you rather see it die?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


The last (for this particular post), and perhaps the most pernicious, is the ego. We all have this, none of us are immune! At best, some among us have learned to manage it better than others. In some ways, I think the ego, rather than being a stand-alone factor, might be the fuel behind the others mentioned above. We want to be seen and heard. There is a fundamental desire for recognition, linked to our sense of identity.

This can be problematic in settings where collaboration is required because it can feel like there is a “loss of self” inherent in the process. In the ideal team, the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts and to borrow another cliché, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one). So, no surprise that people with unchecked egos will struggle to collaborate. There will be attempts to manipulate, dominate, and engineer private agendas and selfish outcomes.

Which of these are you susceptible to?

Which of them do you observe the most?

In the next post, I will attempt to outline my thoughts on how to address these issues and what I think leaders of organizations (especially those in a transformation) can do about them.



Babatunde Mumuni

I think and write here about life as one continuous experience, not fragments stitched together. I believe that we should partake of this with our whole selves.