Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 40;   October 5, 2005: Recalcitrant Collaborators

Recalcitrant Collaborators

by

Much of the work we do happens outside the context of a team. We collaborate with people in other departments, other divisions, and other companies. When these collaborators are reluctant, resistive, or recalcitrant, what can we do?

Have you ever had problems meeting a schedule because of the nonresponsiveness of people outside your department, outside your division, or outside your company? When your priorities differ from the priorities of the people you depend on, your work and your projects can suffer. Sometimes this can feel like a trap.

When your priorities differ
from the priorities
of collaborators,
projects can suffer
I've felt trapped many times. And I've learned that it isn't really a trap, though it can feel like one. Here are some tips for finding your way out of the trap of the recalcitrant collaborator.

Find out what's happening
Have a conversation with the noncollaborator, and explain the situation as you see it. Try to find out three things: what's preventing cooperation, when the problem might end, and what it would take to make it happen earlier.
Thumbs downSometimes the answers aren't forthcoming, but when they are, the information can be useful and it might even be a basis for joint problem solving.
Gather intelligence about patterns
Find out what you can about recent history. Is there a pattern of difficulty between your team and theirs? Or is the pattern more widespread, affecting many others who work with them?
If some organizational elements get preferential attention, the resolution of the problem will likely involve politics. On the other hand, if your experience is universal, a more mechanical issue might be the cause.
Give your noncollaborator a last chance
Have a conversation with the noncollaborator before you inform your boss. Explain that because of the schedule impact, you're compelled to inform your boss of the situation as you understand it.
Sometimes this helps to persuade the noncollaborator to collaborate. And sometimes, it's seen as a threat, gravely damaging your relationship. If you don't tell the noncollaborator beforehand, though, you also risk damaging the relationship. Be judicious about this tactic.
Keep you boss informed
If your boss expects progress, and you're falling behind, keep him or her informed. Without asking for help or advice, explain what you know about the problem in a "heads up" conversation or a series of such conversations.
When you explain the problem, your boss might offer advice or assistance. Usually, you're free to accept or decline, but unless you have some plan to resolve the problem, accept.
Ask for advice
Ask colleagues for advice first, and then ask your boss. Some will have bad advice, some no advice, and some great advice. Caveat emptor.
Be circumspect about asking your boss for advice — you'll have to follow it.

When everything you know how to do has failed, ask your boss for help, especially if you sense that the problem resides somewhere above you in the org chart. Your boss might decline, or might be unable to help, but if the problem isn't yours, pretending that it is probably won't work. Go to top Top  Next issue: Looking the Other Way  Next Issue

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