Why We Struggle to Collaborate Part 2

Some common myths about working well together.

Babatunde Mumuni
3 min readMar 6, 2024
Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

There are a lot of positive sentiments around effective collaboration and teamwork. It seems to be conventional wisdom, common sense even, that people and teams should heartily embrace. However, peeping into most organizations, you will find that people struggle immensely with it. A couple of weeks ago, I started to process my thoughts about why, and you can find that here.

This week, having taken a brief detour, I want to turn my attention to my collection of common myths about the subject. Looking closely at these myths helps us understand why we are so terrible at something we mostly recognize as beneficial to us.

Myth 1 — It Just Happens

Hmmm, naaaah! Collaboration rarely ever happens by accident. To expect this is to go against the laws of entropy. Left to ourselves, we typically regress towards in-fighting, backstabbing, and general chaos. So, if the proverbial grass is green on any side, it is usually because somebody has very mindfully tended the lawn.

Secondly, to continue to torture my scientific metaphors, collaboration happens best under standard conditions. These conditions need to be created by the leader — from the behaviors we tolerate to the achievements we celebrate; we have an endless stream of opportunities to send the right messages to our teams about the desired posture.

Myth 2 — It Can Be Mandated

Leaders sometimes want to take the easy way out. We want to hide behind hierarchy and authority to legislate desired behaviors. In my experience, this doesn’t work so well either. Firstly, your teams will feed off your body language. If you are not open and generous, don’t expect them to do differently.

Having checked your body language, you need to accept the sheer difficulty and messiness of trying to get people to work together. As I mentioned above, it often requires getting your hands dirty and being right there in the weeds with

Myth 3 — It is a Gift

Contrary to some opinions that I have heard, collaboration is not a gift or a natural state that some teams or organizations happen on serendipitously. Borrowing heavily from Carol Dweck’s argument, I think it is certainly a skill that can be learned over time. I believe that individuals and firms can, under the right guidance, get a lot better at doing it.

Better still, I believe that there are certain skills and behaviors that can be learned over time that improve our odds of collaborating more effectively. However, I think the starting point is the self/organizational awareness to acknowledge that we are not as great at it as we think. The errors and gaps are very easy to spot when we are criticizing outwardly, but we are so often blind to our own lapses.

Myth 4 — It is ALWAYS Smooth Sailing

Even after we have managed to overcome the hurdles represented by the three myths described above, we are still prone to being misled by our expectations. So we have modeled the correct behaviors, created the appropriate conditions, and subjected ourselves to the hard work of learning the required skills; what next? Will everything just fall into place? Nope. Does it mean that all the problems we seek to solve will automatically disappear? Again, NO.

Collaboration is great, but it is by no means a cure-all. On the spectrum of issues facing businesses today, and society at large, there are so many that are extremely complicated and difficult to unravel. However, collaboration certainly improves our chances dramatically as it ensures that we are constantly able to leverage the best minds we have at our disposal to tackle problems that matter.

In my next and final post on the subject, I will outline what I think the critical skills to foster collaboration are, and what we can do as individuals, leaders, and organizations to drive their development.



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.