Why We Struggle to Collaborate — Part 3

Building Better Habits to Drive More Effective Organizations

Babatunde Mumuni
4 min readMar 15, 2024
Photo by Anastase Maragos on Unsplash

A few weeks back I started a series of posts to explore the subject of collaboration and why many individuals and organizations struggle with it despite their acknowledgement of how important it is. In the first post, I tried to look at the mindsets that get in the way of seamless collaboration. In the second post, I tried to uncover some of the myths we hold about what collaboration is and how it happens.

In this final piece, I would like to push an argument further. I happen to share the view that collaboration is a muscle that can be built over time. I believe that there are some important skills that we can develop as individuals and encourage within teams. Given the right level of intentionality and effort, I am convinced that we can get better at it — once we get past the erroneous starting point that it magically happens all by itself.

What are these skills that we need to focus on building? Again, the aim here is not to reinvent the wheel but to spotlight the abilities that can make us collaborate more effectively.


Not a very popular word in corporate circles. As a matter of fact, some might consider it anathema. At work what we want to show is strength, not weakness. So, although we struggle with vulnerability generally as people, it is even more pronounced at work.

However, vulnerability is not a weakness. It is aligning with reality. Sometimes, we don’t know, sometimes, we just can’t. It should be ok to admit this. Being able to do this consistently and intentionally is the only way to fully recognize and appreciate that other people on the team can contribute — not as tools to be used, but as humans who can add real value.

Active Listening

Everyone has a point of view, many people are seeking a platform, looking for airtime and their 15 minutes of fame. We mistake being quiet when the other person is speaking for listening, whereas any number of things could be happening in that moment. In this day and age of short attention spans, people could be lost and totally switched off. When they aren’t they might simply be critiquing what is being said or preparing a rebuttal.

According to “Amy Gallo, Active listening is when you not only hear what someone is saying but also attune to their thoughts and feelings. It turns a conversation into an active, non-competitive, two-way interaction.”1. This helps us to have more effective, less defensive conversations because we are listening with more than our ears. It is a posture that suggests to the other person that they (not just what they have to say) matter.

Bridge Building

Traditional organizations make this difficult to do. We have our tidy lines and boxes in the organogram. However, those lines and boxes are in no way an accurate reflection of how information/interaction flows in the company nor are they a true picture of the process of real value creation. Those organograms mostly help to establish and deepen silos.

To get past this, people and teams need to get better at building bridges. The essential, indivisible unit of this is trust. People need to know that they can trust you, people need to know that they are more than just a means to an end to you. Trust me, everyone can see past the token invitations and the emails to carry people along.

What are your energy levels like when you are playing a support role? Are you leaned in or laid back? Do you show any enthusiasm or commitment to the objectives that others are after or are you only ever after your own private agenda?

This can be a very hard thing to do, but that is why it is built on your capacity to be vulnerable. People won’t always respond to your efforts positively. However, it is still a much better way to show up.

Entertaining Dissent

In the end, we won’t always agree on everything. Sometimes I wonder if teams/organizations are seeking alignment or conformity. There is a huge difference between the two.

I often see people trying to deal with their shock and disappointment when, despite their best efforts, things don’t “work”. I was vulnerable with them. I shared information. I showed empathy, I listened. I tried to reach out. But they still didn’t see it my way. They still refused to work with me. They still didn’t agree with my point of view.

This is the attendant risk, and one that we must heartily embrace, difficult as it may be. Unless we are trying to create a shop floor run by zombies, we should be willing to accept the fact that people will hold very often to their own perspectives. We need to allow for that and work harder instead to be more persuasive — whether to the emotional underpinning

In conclusion, the main point I have been trying to make since the start of this series has been that collaboration simply won’t happen under standard conditions. There are bad habits and biases that we have picked up over time that get in the way. However, with intentionality and consistency, we can work to develop the skills and cultivate the behaviors that make it easier. When I look at some of the problems we have to contend with in the world today, I sincerely hope we get it right.

1- Amy Gallo: What is Active Listening? Harvard Business Review, January 2, 2024



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.