What Stops People From Collaborating?

3 min read
19 March 2019

Collaboration involves working with a combined body of people to achieve a common goal. It requires open communication and having the courage to overcome conflict. It begins with the desire to inspire others to turn an idea into a concrete outcome. Unfortunately, in many modern businesses, the environment is far from collaborative.

The sense of “we’re all in it together” is often thrown carelessly about, as is the use of the word collaboration. Collaboration has two meanings. First, it refers to engaging with others on a joint project with the intent to create a positive outcome. But, there is also a more sinister meaning... to work with an enemy in a treacherous act.

What Does Collaboration Look Like?

According to Leadership is Upside Down1, people who do not value collaboration, or who have not developed it, tend to exhibit these characteristics:

  • Self-centred
  • Reluctant to help others
  • Sense of superiority
  • Rude or disrespectful behaviour to others

On the other hand, leaders who value collaboration, and seek to share thoughts and energy with others tend to show these characteristics:

  • Compassionate, tolerant and accepting of others’ perspectives
  • Knows how to engage others
  • Likes to teach or coach
  • Listens and asks meaningful questions

The contrast is quite stark when we compare people who collaborate well with people who do not. More and more, leaders are required to be able to work fluidly across borders, with people from all walks of life.

An inability to collaborate or inspire others will inhibit growth, allowing the competition to rise up instead. The increased stress resulting from this inability will have a negative impact on health and wellbeing, as well. Our brains are very susceptible to stress, and the negative effects of stress have been well documented by neuroscience.

Stress is serious. It’s not something you should someday do something about. Alleviating the stress in your life and accentuating an attitude of peace needs to be at the top of your to-do.

Don Joseph Goewey 
Author and Founder of ProAttitude

Why Do People Resist?

Collaboration can be difficult for some, especially those that view getting ahead at work as almost a political process. These people typically hoard knowledge, think about what they can gain from a situation, work in isolation, and have trouble delegating tasks.2

As technology advances, we find our modern need for collaboration has elements of both meanings. We need to be better at working together within our organisations, but we also need to be open to partnering with other players, even if they are former or current competitors.

The disrupted world requires that businesses enter partnerships that even a few years ago would have seemed unthinkable. The advent of artificial intelligence will require leaders to open their minds to a radically new way of doing business. Instead of succumbing to fear, we should realise the enormous positive potential that AI can have on everyday tasks involved in businesses of any size.

Leaders at the highest levels spend a large portion of their time working to inspire others. We can’t do everything on our own, but we can inspire others to do their best, and the effect will spread to others. When leaders build trusting relationships with those around them, they can create high performing collaborative teams that are essential for success.The future of work requires a more diverse range of leaders who are willing and able to work with others (including AI technology) to achieve seemingly impossible dreams.

The Future of Work Is Now

It’s time to equip leaders with the skills, mindset and permission to collaborate effectively. The faster a business can get over itself to rethink collaborative possibilities, the more likely it is to prosper. The connections between people, ideas and resources are often overlooked, but they should be at the forefront of any successful entity.

When we set out the logical and practical steps to achieve a task or project, we tend to forget to inspire people to want to accomplish the task (and do a good job). Our employees can certainly complete tasks, but without the spark of inspiration, their efforts will likely be minimal.

To learn about why people resist collaboration from a brain perspective, read our article: “The Neurobiology of Inspiration - Becoming a Collaborative Leader”.


  1. Damiano S, Cubeiro JC, de Haas T. Leadership is Upside Down: The i4 Neuroleader Revolution. About my Brain Institute. 2014.
  2. McLennan K. Building Leaders for the Imagination Age: The Case for the i4 Model.  About my Brain Institute. 2016;1. [White Paper].
  3. Hodgson M. Inspiration - The Key to Unlocking Your Leadership Brilliance. About my Brain Institute. 2017.

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