describe the barriers to collaborative problem solving

Project Management

8 Barriers To Collaborative Working (And How To Overcome Them!)


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8 Barriers To Collaborative Working (And How To Overcome Them!)

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Barriers to effective collaboration will arise over the course of a project, and planning for them is essential in successfully overcoming them—while creating a stronger team at the same time!

We’ve talked about how to effectively collaborate in the workplace before, but you also need to know how to plan for the barriers of collaborative working so you and your team can find success at every turn.

8 Barriers Of Collaborative Working & Planning For Success

Here are the 8 most detrimental barriers collaborative teams face and how to effectively overcome them.

1. Communication

Communication is the backbone of any collaborative environment. Teams are only able to function as well as they are able to communicate with one another.

There is one thing that is often overlooked when you think of communication, and it can have a major impact on how the team responds both as a whole, and individually. Communication is more than just what you say to your colleagues. It’s also how you speak to one another. How will you manage communications? Will you meet via conferences or send each other emails? Will you be leaving comments on shared documents and tasks, or will you be making the changes directly to influence the flow of the work? How will communication vary for those working remotely compared to those working from a shared office space?

When your team comes together to create the outline for the project, like roles, responsibilities, and expectations, include an area to define the standard for team communication throughout the lifetime of the project. This will help you (and your team) find success while also making communication easier and minimizing any stress felt throughout the team as a whole.

By clearly agreeing on how you will communicate with your colleagues and adding it to the project outline, you will not only ensure everyone is approaching it the same way, but it also gives you something concrete to reference in the future if effective communication begins to diminish at any point during the project timeline.

Role Confusion

2. Role Confusion

No matter the size of the team, having clearly defined roles is an essential aspect of team collaboration. Each member of the team must know what their expectations are—which should be tailored to the skills they bring to the group. When roles are not defined in clear terms for each member to understand and agree to, it creates an atmosphere where tasks begin overlapping to the detriment of the flow of the project.

Before the project begins, meet as a team and document each member’s specific role and expectation, and make it easily accessible to all team members throughout the lifetime of the project.

When determining role allocation, allow each person to be involved in the decision-making process and in the expectations they are having assigned to them. When people have been provided some control over their tasks, they become more closely aligned with them, often resulting in a higher caliber of work being completed.

3. Skillset

When designing your team, choose team members that have different and complementary skill sets. When the members of your team have skills that are too alike, the group will be at a disadvantage compared to a more well-rounded team, and the project will suffer because of it. When you’re lacking various skill sets, members will begin feeling more stressed as they are having to work outside of their strengths and improvise when problems arise. This often leads to an underwhelming final product, as well as lower employee morale.

When designing your team, consider the skills of each individual, and use that to create a team that is balanced and able to meet the full range of demands of the project. Often, when teams are created through this lens, you’ll discover an increase in skill development in the team as a whole, as each person grows their weaker skills by the examples set from the members that are stronger in those areas. This will not only allow for a wider variety of pairings for future projects but also create a more skilled workplace altogether.


4. Diversity

Diversity brings multiple perspectives and mindsets to a team. If a team is lacking diversity, it becomes one-dimensional. When your collaborative team has similar outlooks and mindsets, a disconnect begins to form between the needs of the project and the diversification of your team, creating a final project that fails to identify with a variety of people.

When considering how to structure your team, look for colleagues that have varying levels of expertise and a wide range of diversity to bring together multiple perspectives, skills, and mindsets. By diversifying your team, you will create a project that will appeal to a variety of people and find higher rates of success, because it was created in a way that accounted for a wide array of personalities and perspectives.

5. Work Ethic

Everyone will have varying levels of work ethic and collaboration can become toxic for the team as a whole when each member is not working to their expected capacity, especially if it begins affecting the project as a whole. When one or more people on a team are failing to put in the work needed, and are causing others to have to work harder to meet the project expectations, it increases stress within the workplace and decreases the effectiveness of the team.

When you develop your team, consider how each person has performed individually in the past. Look at the quality of past projects, previous deadlines and if any were missed, yearly reviews, their standing amongst their colleagues, and most importantly, their likelihood of aligning with the goals of your project. This will help each person on the team to be more focused on creating a final project that exceeds expectations and allow you to hold members accountable for their roles in previous work.


6. Scheduling

Finding a time that works for everyone on your team to meet and work through finer aspects of the project can be a challenge, especially as remote work is on the rise. You now have to schedule not only around the daily routines of multiple people but in some cases, even around time zones. This can lead to missed deadlines and the flow of the project being thrown off due to the lack of communication and failure to connect throughout the lifecycle of the project.

When forming your team, consider ways you can make communication easy without restricting it to specific timelines. Work on a document collaboratively where you can leave comments to other team members, or highlight concerns. Take a record of all parties availability for virtual meetings, and set one meeting a month (or an interval that works best for the needs of your project), and keep it steady, so it becomes easy for each member to plan around and include in their upcoming schedules. Record the meetings for members to go back and review, or for those who are unable to attend, so they can still access them and make any necessary adjustments or reach out to the team leader if they require clarification. Adding these into your collaborative plan will help alleviate any scheduling difficulties and ensure each member is always kept up to date.

7. Leadership

Leadership plays an essential role in any team atmosphere by managing and supporting each member, responding to outside factors influencing the project, and setting the tone of the workplace as a whole.

When leadership is lacking, collaboration quickly deteriorates as members begin feeling unsupported, lacking guidance, or even feeling isolated. This can make project completion difficult and can reduce employee morale. It can even create competition between your team members if they are seeking to gain recognition above others.

Allow each team member to have an impact on the decisions being made while guiding the entire course of the project. You will set the tone for your entire team, both in how they treat one another, and how they complete their tasks. Maintain respect for each of your colleagues, and ensure they feel comfortable coming to you when they need your assistance or guidance. Guiding the project is important, but supporting your team and ensuring they can find success is equally as important to the outcome of the project and the morale of your team.

8. Environment

Organization in the workplace creates optimal success, productivity, and efficiency. A workspace is inherently unique to the person designing it. When working collaboratively you’re not only sharing a workspace but also working expectations (and habits).

For example, maybe you thrive in an office space that allows for untapped access to other colleagues, while someone else may work best when they have time apart from the group in a distraction-free atmosphere where they can focus deeply on their tasks. These are aspects that may come into play while working collaboratively, or in a workplace as a whole, and can wreak havoc if not addressed and planned for.

Whether it’s for a specific team or the entire workplace, find ways to create an environment that encourages everyone to thrive. Consider each individual’s needs and plan for how those can be respected within the environment.

If someone needs uninterrupted time to focus, create a way for them to meet that need, whether it’s an expectation that people schedule uninterrupted time on a shared calendar (for teams), or assign specific spaces throughout the office that are off-limits for conversations and are focused on quiet, individual work. If some people work better by brainstorming and working closely together throughout the entire process, assign a space where open communication is prioritized, like a variety of available collaboration rooms.

Let everyone’s voice be heard and plan as a team, whether it’s company-wide via a survey or team-specific during a small meeting. When everyone feels they have taken part in the decisions, your team will work much more cohesively and produce higher qualities of work.

Overcome Barriers to Effective Collaboration

How To Overcome Barriers to Effective Collaboration

The collaborative nature of teams leaves room for some dysfunction, but it does not have to be that way.

Consider the size of the team. The more people that are on a team increases the complexity of coordination and communication, leading to decisions that require more information, meetings that are increasingly difficult to accommodate everyone’s schedule, and tasks can take longer to complete with more opinions to consider.

Avoid groupthink. This is when people feel uncomfortable speaking up when it is different from the group consensus. While it may seem ‘easier’ to avoid conflict, groupthink actually limits creativity and can lead to poor decisions. This can happen in groups of any size (large or small). Prioritize making the best decision, even if that means suggesting a different direction.

Create trust with confidence. Effective collaboration requires trust to be able to communicate well and understand the other members on the team. When team members work well together, shared goals are achieved efficiently and effectively.

When you plan for the potential barriers your collaborative team may face, you are creating an atmosphere where you and your team can easily navigate the obstacles that arise and can work together in a respectful and powerful way, leading to higher success rates!

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Information Management Simplified

13 Collaboration Challenges and How to Overcome Them

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Collaboration challenges have become an inherent aspect of today’s dynamic and interconnected work environments where the success of projects often relies on the seamless interaction among diverse teams. As organizations strive for innovation and efficiency, the complexities of collaboration come to the forefront presenting hurdles that demand careful navigation.

Collaboration challenges

The major challenges of collaboration are:

Challenge # 1. Misunderstandings

Misunderstandings are one of the most common workspace collaboration challenges. They can happen between team members, and between you and the people you’re collaborating with. Some misunderstandings can be harmless and easily resolved. However, others can cause serious problems.

For example, if you misunderstand the goals of a project, you might end up going in the wrong direction. Or, if you misunderstand the expectations of your team members, you might not be able to work together effectively.

To overcome the challenge of misunderstandings in collaboration, it is essential to have an open communication culture and encourage team members to seek clarification, provide regular updates, and establish a platform for constructive feedback to ensure a shared understanding of project goals and tasks.

As per Deloitte , only 9% of surveyed employees reported that their place of employment had very effective sharing and document collaboration tools and systems.

Challenge #2. Divergent Goals

When team members have conflicting objectives or priorities, it can lead to confusion, delays, and a lack of cohesion within the group.

To address this challenge, it is crucial to establish a clear and shared vision for the project from the outset. This involves facilitating open discussions to align individual goals with overarching team objectives to ensure that everyone understands and commits to a common purpose.

Based on my experience of managing teams, sometimes you need to take more serious steps like expelling team members from your team and replace them by another in order to keep them all under the same frequency.

Challenge # 3. Cultural Differences

Cultural differences represent a serious challenge in collaborative efforts particularly in globalized work environments. Diverse cultural norms, values, and communication styles among team members can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Overcoming this challenge requires cultural sensitivity and a commitment to fostering a multicultural and inclusive environment. Encouraging open dialogue about cultural nuances, providing cross-cultural training, and creating platforms for team members to share their perspectives can promote mutual understanding.

I personally advise to do your homework first about the nationalities of your team members and understand each culture’s characteristics in order to plan how to interact with. For instance, being from the Middle East, I know that we are more emotionally attached race other than others.

Challenge #4 . Time Zone Variances

Coordinating activities and scheduling meetings become intricate tasks, potentially leading to delays and hindered progress. To address this challenge, teams can implement strategies such as flexible work hours, flexible scheduling, or utilizing asynchronous communication tools.

Establishing clear guidelines for communication expectations and fostering a culture of understanding regarding time zone differences is crucial. By leveraging technology that accommodates different time zones and promoting a mindful approach to scheduling, teams can mitigate the impact of time zone variances to ensure smoother and more efficient collaboration across borders and diverse geographical locations.

Challenge #5 . Low Trust and Mutual Respect

Trust and respect are two emotions that affect the success of any project. Without trust, collaboration won’t make it. People will find faults in each other’s work, causing them to lose trust and respect for one another. The environment is important because it allows for creativity, high-quality work, and an overall more positive experience.

The office should be a place that inspires people to work together. It should have a luxurious feel, with lots of natural light, interesting plants, and artwork.

Challenge #6 . Ineffective Communication Channels and Protocols

83% of employees rely on technology for collaboration.

Without well-defined communication channels and protocols, there is a risk of miscommunication, delays, and critical information falling through the cracks. To overcome this challenge, implementing best practices in communication is essential.

Following up with the latest collaboration trends and establishing clear guidelines for information sharing, selecting appropriate communication tools, and defining protocols for various types of communication can enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of collaborative efforts.

Regularly reviewing and updating these practices ensures that team members are on the same page, fostering a transparent and cohesive communication environment that contributes to the overall success of the team.

As per this study , 86%  of employees and executives cite a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures. That’s how important is to have the most efficient communication channels available to increase productivity.

Challenge #7 . Manage Conflict Constructively

These differences, if not properly addressed, can lead to interpersonal conflicts that, if left unmanaged, can escalate and disrupt the collaborative process. Disagreements may arise over project priorities, decision-making, or resource allocation, and without a constructive conflict resolution strategy in place, these disputes can erode team cohesion and hinder progress.

Effectively managing conflict involves creating a culture that encourages open communication, active listening, and the willingness to find compromise or common ground. The challenge lies in fostering an environment where conflicts are seen as opportunities for growth and innovation rather than as obstacles, requiring leadership and team members to embrace conflict resolution as an integral part of the collaborative journey.

Challenge #8 . Navigate Power Dynamics and Manage Egos

Navigating power dynamics and managing egos presents a challenge in collaboration as it involves the delicate balance of individual personalities, hierarchies, and differing levels of influence within a team. Egos can manifest in various ways, such as resistance to ideas, a desire for individual recognition, or a reluctance to compromise.

Successfully addressing this challenge requires understating the components of collaboration and fostering a culture of mutual respect, encouraging open dialogue, and ensuring that decision-making processes are inclusive and transparent. Leaders play a pivotal role in managing egos by promoting a collaborative mindset and recognizing and valuing the contributions of each team member.

Challenge #9. Undefined Roles and Responsibilities

When team members are unclear about their specific roles or the responsibilities assigned to them, it can lead to confusion, duplication of efforts, and an overall lack of accountability. To overcome it, it is essential to establish clear and transparent guidelines regarding individual roles and responsibilities from the project’s inception.

By defining roles clearly, teams can enhance efficiency and foster a sense of accountability, ultimately contributing to the success of this initiative.

Challenge # 10. Allocating Resources Fairly

Collaboration can be difficult and is often hindered by the lack of allocated resources. In order to achieve successful team, everyone should be able to allocate their resources fairly and efficiently.

An efficient resource allocation system is where each person has a certain number of resources and can allocate them as needed. This ensures that each person can contribute without causing a lack of resources for other people.

Challenge #11. Inadequate Leadership

Effective leadership is pivotal in guiding teams, providing a clear vision, and fostering a collaborative culture. When leadership is lacking, teams may lack direction, encounter motivational issues, and struggle to overcome obstacles.

To address this, organizations must invest in cultivating strong leadership skills within their team leads or project managers. A successful leader in collaborative settings understands the strengths of each team member, encourages open communication, and ensures that the team is aligned with overarching goals.

Challenge #12. Lack of Recognition

When individual contributions go unnoticed or unacknowledged, it can lead to dissatisfaction and a diminished sense of purpose among team members. To address this, organizations must prioritize a culture of appreciation and recognition. Implementing regular acknowledgment of achievements, milestones, and valuable contributions creates a positive environment that reinforces the significance of each team member’s role.

This recognition not only boosts morale but also instills a sense of pride and ownership which will foster a happy spirit that push the team toward shared goals with a heightened sense of enthusiasm and commitment.

Challenge #13. Information Overload

Information overload is one of the indirect collaboration challenges particularly in today’s fast-paced and data-rich work environments. When teams are presented with excessive information without clear organization or relevance, it can lead to confusion, delays, and compromised decision-making.

To tackle this challenge, it is crucial to establish streamlined communication channels and implement effective information management systems . By defining what information is essential, adopting efficient tools, and promoting a culture of concise communication, teams can navigate the sea of data more effectively.

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7 Most Common Collaboration Barriers And How To Overcome Them

describe the barriers to collaborative problem solving

  • February 1, 2023

The benefits of effective collaboration

How would you define collaboration? Is it simply the act of working together towards a common goal? Undoubtedly, this is the basic definition, but collaboration is something more than just this. It’s a chance to gain new insights, share expertise and find new inspiring ways to solve problems and deliver efficient solutions.

Effective collaboration is what makes teams and companies grow . Without it, any project will take ages to complete and the results will not be satisfactory, to say the least. In this day and age, good collaboration practices are a must also due to the growing popularity of remote work. As companies employ people based in different locations, they need to make sure teams have good conditions to collaborate effectively and stay productive.

Even though it’s so important to take care of successful collaboration, it’s also extremely challenging. There are many difficulties that may get in the way and they are not to be underestimated. What are the problems that can occur and what how to overcome them?


Common collaboration problems

Interpersonal problems.

Teams consist of people who are often very different from one another and whose points of view and mindsets may vary considerably. This, in turn, can lead to conflicts, which may severely disrupt effective collaboration. It is completely normal that people who work together are not always best friends. They may have different personalities, working habits as well as varying levels of emotional intelligence. The thing is, that none of the above should interfere with their collaboration .

Open communication is the key to solving any interpersonal problem. Team members should have the habit of discussing issues that arise on a regular basis rather than wait until it’s too late. Of course, it’s important to know how to form teams so that they are well matched, but it’s not possible to avoid these kind of difficulties altogether. That’s why it’s helpful to give team members opportunities to confront their points of view and never let any conflict remain unresolved.

Dispersed teams

Since remote work is growing in popularity, apart from the numerous benefits of the solution, there are also barriers to collaboration. Teamwork in dispersed teams is challenging and requires a clear set of rules and appropriate tools to increase efficiency. It might be the case that the flow of information is not working properly or that team members don’t communicate as much as they should. This, in turn, can result in projects taking longer than anticipated and being a source of many frustrations.

There are many things that should be taken care of for dispersed teams to collaborate effectively. A very important one is undoubtedly an efficient collaboration tool that should facilitate the team’s work. Ideally, it should be a task management tool, which allows to follow the workflow on a regular basis and be able to keep up with any changes, but it should also enable smooth communication in real time. Both of the features are available in TimeCamp Planner, a two-in-one collaboration tool.

Indecisive decision-makers

It might happen that there are too many decision-makers at once or that they find it difficult to provide solutions. Also, sometimes those in charge have very different views and opinions . As a result, the whole process gets chaotic and no one really knows what to do. It can either lead to delayed deadlines or numerous changes along the way. Or both.

This problem is quite difficult to overcome, because decision-makers are usually those in charge of a project or even the whole company and it’s them who should actually set rules and provide improvements. But it might be the case that decision makers are, for instance, stakeholders. In such a case a good solution is to facilitate the decision process by proposing ideas and asking them to choose instead of having them say what to do. If decision-makers are product or project managers – well, then it’s time to rethink if they are the right people for the role.

collaboration problems

Working in silos

This problem is oftentimes mentioned in the context of small companies, but it quite often affects big organisations as well. What is it, actually? It’s a situation when certain departments or teams do not share information with others in the company. Instead they believe it’s best to work in their little silos and don’t make the effort to collaborate across teams and share the responsibility. It results in lack of productivity, repeating the same tasks by different people or teams and reduced efficiency.

To overcome this problem, it’s vital that the communication between teams is taken care of. It’s also important to make sure that everyone in the company is on the same page and has the information they need. For team leaders and supervisors, it’s necessary to coordinate work in an efficient way and communicate with one another. The next step is to assign tasks to specific people and teams and give everyone a chance to see the big picture. A good way to organise everything is to make use of efficient task management software.

Too many people involved in a project

The phase of project planning is very important for all the next phases. The work should be estimated accurately , when it comes to the budget, time and the people involved. To encourage streamlined involvement and ensure efficient resource allocation, a referral code system can be implemented for team expansion or external consultations. It might be the case that there are too many people participating in a project. The workload is not accurately distributed and the team members are not as productive as they could be. Also, the roles and responsibilities might not be as clear as they should. Not to mention the communication among the people involved, which is additionally difficult when there’s too many of them.

The most important thing is to be particularly thorough at the very beginning of a project and put enough effort into planning the workflow. Also, it’s vital to make sure that the workload is accurately distributed as the project goes on. If, at any point, there’s too many people involved, it might be necessary to reconsider the roles and responsibilities and maybe introduce some changes. Another solution can be to use a project management app to optimize workflows within a team.

Now you know the most popular barriers to collaboration and how to overcome them. What problems concerning collaboration do you come across? Share in the comments and let’s look for solutions together!

describe the barriers to collaborative problem solving

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describe the barriers to collaborative problem solving

Collaborative problem solvers are made not born – here’s what you need to know

describe the barriers to collaborative problem solving

Professor of Cognitive Sciences, University of Central Florida

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Stephen M. Fiore has received funding from federal agencies such as NASA, ONR, DARPA, and the NSF to study collaborative problem solving and teamwork. He is past president of the Interdisciplinary Network for Group Research, currently a board member of the International Network for the Science of Team Science, and a member of DARPA's Information Science and Technology working group.

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Challenges are a fact of life. Whether it’s a high-tech company figuring out how to shrink its carbon footprint, or a local community trying to identify new revenue sources, people are continually dealing with problems that require input from others. In the modern world, we face problems that are broad in scope and great in scale of impact – think of trying to understand and identify potential solutions related to climate change, cybersecurity or authoritarian leaders.

But people usually aren’t born competent in collaborative problem-solving. In fact, a famous turn of phrase about teams is that a team of experts does not make an expert team . Just as troubling, the evidence suggests that, for the most part, people aren’t being taught this skill either. A 2012 survey by the American Management Association found that higher level managers believed recent college graduates lack collaboration abilities .

Maybe even worse, college grads seem to overestimate their own competence. One 2015 survey found nearly two-thirds of recent graduates believed they can effectively work in a team, but only one-third of managers agreed . The tragic irony is that the less competent you are, the less accurate is your self-assessment of your own competence. It seems that this infamous Dunning-Kruger effect can also occur for teamwork.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that in a 2015 international assessment of hundreds of thousands of students, less than 10% performed at the highest level of collaboration . For example, the vast majority of students could not overcome teamwork obstacles or resolve conflict. They were not able to monitor group dynamics or to engage in the kind of actions needed to make sure the team interacted according to their roles. Given that all these students have had group learning opportunities in and out of school over many years, this points to a global deficit in the acquisition of collaboration skills.

How can this deficiency be addressed? What makes one team effective while another fails? How can educators improve training and testing of collaborative problem-solving? Drawing from disciplines that study cognition, collaboration and learning, my colleagues and I have been studying teamwork processes. Based on this research, we have three key recommendations.

describe the barriers to collaborative problem solving

How it should work

At the most general level, collaborative problem-solving requires team members to establish and maintain a shared understanding of the situation they’re facing and any relevant problem elements they’ve identified. At the start, there’s typically an uneven distribution of knowledge on a team. Members must maintain communication to help each other know who knows what, as well as help each other interpret elements of the problem and which expertise should be applied.

Then the team can get to work, laying out subtasks based upon member roles, or creating mechanisms to coordinate member actions. They’ll critique possible solutions to identify the most appropriate path forward.

Finally, at a higher level, collaborative problem-solving requires keeping the team organized – for example, by monitoring interactions and providing feedback to each other. Team members need, at least, basic interpersonal competencies that help them manage relationships within the team (like encouraging participation) and communication (like listening to learn). Even better is the more sophisticated ability to take others’ perspectives, in order to consider alternative views of problem elements.

Whether it is a team of professionals in an organization or a team of scientists solving complex scientific problems , communicating clearly, managing conflict, understanding roles on a team, and knowing who knows what – all are collaboration skills related to effective teamwork.

What’s going wrong in the classroom?

When so many students are continually engaged in group projects, or collaborative learning, why are they not learning about teamwork? There are interrelated factors that may be creating graduates who collaborate poorly but who think they are quite good at teamwork.

I suggest students vastly overestimate their collaboration skills due to the dangerous combination of a lack of systematic instruction coupled with inadequate feedback. On the one hand, students engage in a great deal of group work in high school and college. On the other hand, students rarely receive meaningful instruction, modeling and feedback on collaboration . Decades of research on learning show that explicit instruction and feedback are crucial for mastery .

Although classes that implement collaborative problem-solving do provide some instruction and feedback, it’s not necessarily about their teamwork. Students are learning about concepts in classes; they are acquiring knowledge about a domain. What is missing is something that forces them to explicitly reflect on their ability to work with others.

When students process feedback on how well they learned something, or whether they solved a problem, they mistakenly think this is also indicative of effective teamwork. I hypothesize that students come to conflate learning course content material in any group context with collaboration competency.

describe the barriers to collaborative problem solving

A prescription for better collaborators

Now that we’ve defined the problem, what can be done? A century of research on team training , combined with decades of research on group learning in the classroom , points the way forward. My colleagues and I have distilled some core elements from this literature to suggest improvements for collaborative learning .

First, most pressing is to get training on teamwork into the world’s classrooms. At a minimum, this needs to happen during college undergraduate education, but even better would be starting in high school or earlier. Research has demonstrated it’s possible to teach collaboration competencies such as dealing with conflict and communicating to learn. Researchers and educators need, themselves, to collaborate to adapt these methods for the classroom.

Secondly, students need opportunities for practice. Although most already have experience working in groups, this needs to move beyond science and engineering classes. Students need to learn to work across disciplines so after graduation they can work across professions on solving complex societal problems.

Third, any systematic instruction and practice setting needs to include feedback. This is not simply feedback on whether they solved the problem or did well on learning course content. Rather, it needs to be feedback on interpersonal competencies that drive successful collaboration. Instructors should assess students on teamwork processes like relationship management, where they encourage participation from each other, as well as skills in communication where they actively listen to their teammates.

Even better would be feedback telling students how well they were able to take on the perspective of a teammate from another discipline. For example, was the engineering student able to take the view of a student in law and understand the legal ramifications of a new technology’s implementation?

My colleagues and I believe that explicit instruction on how to collaborate, opportunities for practice, and feedback about collaboration processes will better prepare today’s students to work together to solve tomorrow’s problems.

  • Decision making
  • Cooperation
  • Problem solving
  • Collaboration
  • Dunning-Kruger effect
  • Wicked problems
  • student collaboration
  • College graduates
  • 21st century skills
  • Group decision making
  • Collaborative problem solving

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How to ace collaborative problem solving

April 30, 2023 They say two heads are better than one, but is that true when it comes to solving problems in the workplace? To solve any problem—whether personal (eg, deciding where to live), business-related (eg, raising product prices), or societal (eg, reversing the obesity epidemic)—it’s crucial to first define the problem. In a team setting, that translates to establishing a collective understanding of the problem, awareness of context, and alignment of stakeholders. “Both good strategy and good problem solving involve getting clarity about the problem at hand, being able to disaggregate it in some way, and setting priorities,” Rob McLean, McKinsey director emeritus, told McKinsey senior partner Chris Bradley  in an Inside the Strategy Room podcast episode . Check out these insights to uncover how your team can come up with the best solutions for the most complex challenges by adopting a methodical and collaborative approach. 

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The six main barriers against problem-solving and how to overcome them.

Challenges. Disputes. Dilemmas. Obstacles. Troubles. Issues. Headaches.

  • The uniqueness of every different issue makes the need for an also adapted and individualized solution.
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Business people discussing the plan at office photo credit: Getty

There are more than thirty different ways to call all those unpleasant and stressful situations which prevent us from directly achieving what we want to achieve. Life is full of them. This is why the ability to solve problems in an effective and timely manner without any impediments is considered to be one of the most key and critical skill for resolutive and successful leaders. But is not just leaders or top managers facing the way forward.  According to a Harvard Bussiness Review survey , people's skills depends on their level on the organization and their particular job and activities. However, when coming to problem-solving, there is a remarkable consistency about the importance of it within all the different measured organization levels.

There are small problems and big problems. Those ones that we laugh about and those that take our sleep away. Problems that affect just us or our whole company. Issues that need to be resolved proactively and others that require us to wait and observe.  There is a special kind of problem for every day of our lives, but all of them responds to a common denominator: addressing them adequately.  It is our ability to do so what makes the difference between success and failure.

Problems manifest themselves in many different ways. As inconsistent results or performance. As a failure toward standards.  As discrepancies between expectations and reality.  The uniqueness of every different issue makes the need for an also adapted and individualized solution. This is why finding the way forward can be sometimes tricky. There are many reasons why it is difficult to find a solution to a problem, but you can find the six more common causes and the way to overcome them!

1. Difficulty to recognize that there is a problem

Nobody likes to be wrong. “Cognitive dissonance is what we feel when the self-concept — I’m smart, I’m kind, I’m convinced this belief is true — is threatened by evidence that we did something that wasn’t smart, that we did something that hurt another person, that the belief isn’t true,” explains Carol Tavris. 

Problems and mistakes are not easy to digest. To  reduce this cognitive dissonance, we need to modify our self-concept or well deny the evidence. Many times is just easier to simply turn our back to an issue and blindly keep going.  But the only way to end it up to satisfactory is to make an effort to recognize and accept the evidence. Being wrong is human and until the problem is not acknowledged solutions will never materialize. To fully accept that something is not going the way it should, the easiest way is to focus on the benefits of new approaches and always remain non-judgemental about the causes. Sometimes we may be are afraid of the costs in terms of resources, time and physical or mental efforts that working for the solution may eventually bring. We may need then to project ourselves in all the fatalistic consequences that we will finally encounter in case we continue sunk in the problem. Sometimes we really need to visualize the disaster before accepting a need for change.

2. Huge size problem

Yes! We clearly know that something is going wrong. But the issue is so big that there is no way we can try to solve it without blowing our life into pieces. Fair enough. Some problems are so big that it is not possible to find at once a solution for them. But we can always break them into smaller pieces and visualize the different steps and actions that we could eventually undertake to get to our final goal. Make sure you do not lose sight of the original problem!

3. Poorly framed problem

Without the proper framing, there is no certainty about the appropriate focus on the right problem. Asking the relevant questions is a crucial aspect to it. Does your frame of the problem capture its real essence? Do you have all the background information needed? Can you rephrase the problem and it is still understandable? Have you explored it from different perspectives? Are different people able to understand your frame for the problem correctly? Answering to the right problem in the right way depends 95% on the correct framing of it!

'If I have an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution' (Albert Einstein)

4. Lack of respect for rhythms

There is always a right time for preparation, a right time for action and a right time for patience. Respecting the rhythms of a problem is directly link to the success of the solution. Acting too quickly or waiting too long can have real counterproductive effects. There is a need for enough time to gather information and understand all the different upshots of a planned solution. A balance of action is crucial to avoid both eagerness and laxity. Waiting for the proper time to take action is sometimes the most complicated part of it.

5. Lack of problem'roots identification

It is quite often that we feel something is not going the way it should without clearly identifying what the exact problematic issue is. We are able to frame all the negative effects and consequences, but we do not really get to appropriately verbalized what the problem is all together. Consequently, we tend to fix the symptoms without getting to the real causes.  It is as common as dangerous and not sustainable for problem-solving. 

Make sure that you have a clear picture of what are the roots of the problem and what are just the manifestations or ramifications of it. Double loop always to make sure that you are not patching over the symptoms but getting to the heart of the matter.

6. Failure to identify the involved parts

Take time to figure out and consult every simple part involved in the problem as well as affected by the possible solution. Problems and solutions always have at the core human needs and impacts. Failing to identify and take into consideration the human factor in the problem-solving process will prevent the whole mechanism from reaching the desired final goal.

'We always hope for the easy fix: the one simple change that will erase a problem in a stroke. But few things in life work this way. Instead, success requires making a hundred small steps go right - one after the other, no slipups, no goofs, everyone pitching in.'  ( Atul Gawande)

Paloma Cantero-Gomez

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9 Collaboration techniques to solve problems: A guide for leaders and people managers

9 Collaboration techniques to solve problems: A guide for leaders and people managers

Knowing when to ask for help is a strength. Learn why collaboration to solve problems is essential to your business and how to promote a culture of teamwork.

Table of Contents

Imagine you’re in Rome for the summer. You don’t speak the language and the transportation system is completely different from your home country. 

You’re using Google Maps and a translation app to read signs and get around on your own. But after wandering around the Roma Termini for 15 minutes with no idea where to find your train platform, it’s time to get some help.

In this case, no one would think less of you for asking for directions. So why are we often too worried about being judged to do the same at work?

It’s a strength to know when to seek help and use collaboration to solve problems. Acknowledging that there are things you don’t know or can’t solve on your own isn’t only smart, but is actually more productive. As soon as you and your team start playing to each other’s strengths, you’ll find those KPIs far more achievable.

Instead of spinning their wheels when they’re stuck on a problem, your team needs to know when to bring in an outside perspective to find possible solutions. By the end of this article, you’ll have a clear understanding of the benefits of collaborative problem-solving and learn how to get your team working together to overcome challenges.

Work together to find the best solutions to your business problems. Add a whiteboard to your Switchboard room and collect your team’s ideas live or async. Learn more

Benefits of collaborative problem solving

Solving complex problems in groups helps you find solutions faster. With more perspectives in the room, you’ll get ideas you’d never have thought of alone. In fact, collaboration can cause teams to spend 24% less time on idea generation. Together, you’ll spark more ideas and reach innovative solutions more quickly.

Not only that, but looking at problems in groups allows your team to learn from others, which can make them more resilient to issues in future. 

Peer-to-peer learning is also an opportunity to upskill your team while strengthening their relationships. That’s because collaborative problem-solving encourages people to trust each other as they work together towards common goals. It’s team collaboration best practice to encourage your team to share ideas without risk of humiliation.

How to get your team to solve problems collaboratively

Promoting collaborative problem-solving skills within your team allows you to create a culture where people are comfortable seeking feedback on their work. That means you won’t have to host a dedicated brainstorming session to get your team to collaborate—they’ll just start doing it naturally.

To get there, you need to foster a psychologically safe environment, provide them with the right tools, and reinforce the power of teamwork whenever possible. Here are ways to enable a collaborative problem-solving culture: 

1. Create the right environment 

Simply inviting your team to work together isn’t enough for them to actually do it. You need to foster psychological safety so they feel comfortable sharing ideas and aren’t afraid of getting called out if they are wrong. 

It all starts with your team culture 

Your culture should be supportive, inclusive, safe, trusting, respectful, and empathetic. It should make people certain that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. 

Remind your team that brainstorming spaces are safe and all ideas are welcomed. They shouldn’t wait until they have a perfect solution to intervene. Be open-minded and treat all ideas as important even if you think they aren’t viable. This can be as simple as writing down all solutions on a shared document and asking questions for further clarification. 

Give them what they need to do their job  

Set your team up with the necessary resources and information to solve problems effectively. This includes written guidelines or even training on communication, leading a brainstorming session, or problem solving skills.

Also, technology improves collaboration in the workplace , so equip your team with the right tools for effective communication, information sharing, and project management. Make sure your team finds it easy to work with the tools they have. If they struggle to reach team mates due to technicalities, they’ll likely end up working on their own. 

Switchboard can support your existing tech stack since all browser-based apps work in their persistent rooms. In this visual digital workspace , team members always know where to find project-related information and can work together on those apps directly from Switchboard—without switching tabs.

Switchboard room with multiple files opened

2. Promote open, transparent communication and feedback  

A huge part of creating a psychologically safe environment for collaboration is encouraging open communication and establishing a culture that embraces feedback. Using active listening techniques, such as paraphrasing their words to check your understanding, can help you truly understand individual points of view focusing only on your answer.

For example, if your team member is struggling to find the words to express themselves, don’t jump in straight away with your own assumptions. Listen openly and let them fill the silence with their thoughts. Then, try and summarize what they’ve said so far and let them correct you.

It’s also important to be transparent when setting goals and addressing potential setbacks. 

“The clearer you can be about what you need as a leader, what you need from your team, and what your clients need, you’ll be able to take action that's in alignment with creating that outcome,” says Tarah Keech , Founder of Tarah Keech Coaching . 

Finally, follow-up on discussions when you have results so each contributor can see the impact of their input.

3. Set clear common goals 

What makes collaboration different from compromising, for example, is that you get to work toward a common objective . When team members have a shared purpose, they become allies and are more likely to work together to find the best solution possible, instead of trying to be in the right. 

For instance, when you offer profit sharing, people earn more money if the company makes higher revenue. That means if two people work together on finding a solution, they’ll likely decide on the one that’s better for the business—because, in the end, it’ll be beneficial for both.

Also, when you set clear goals for the collaboration, you get more focused answers and help improve team productivity. For example, start a brainstorming session by clearly stating the problem “Sign-ups are down by 1%, we need to come up with ideas to get back to the regular signup rate.” 

Making it clear that you’ve identified a gap and know exactly what you need from others helps them understand why the session is relevant and what they need to do. 

4. Present collaboration as a win-win 

If you don’t set up a collaborative culture, team members will spin their wheels rather than get help to solve a problem. It’s crucial that you explain the benefits of collaboration clearly to your team so you can: 

  • Reach profitable business solutions
  • Make people feel heard and valued 
  • Bring your team together
  • Increase trust in the company’s decisions
  • Make people feel part of something bigger
  • Promote knowledge sharing

It’s your job to help team members understand that collaboration is beneficial for both individual and collective success—and find win-win scenarios.

5. Eliminate silos and solicit diverse opinions

Working in silos can affect productivity and morale as people spend more time coming up with solutions. A way to eliminate silos is by encouraging cross-functional projects and hosting team-building activities for colleagues to get to know each other. 

“The only path that creates positive change is the one you haven't taken yet,” says Tarah. Encouraging teamwork allows you to come up with more diverse alternatives to problems. “And, the fastest way to identify the path that works is by using each other as resources and co-creators,” she adds. 

Gather multiple perspectives on a problem by ensuring everyone shares their thoughts even if they’re introverted. For example, create a Switchboard room and invite everyone to add one or two ideas to the whiteboard either during or before the meeting. Then, go over each one of those ideas and vote on the best ones. This can happen anonymously so people feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts.

This is an easy way to bring diverse people together and see problems from multiple perspectives. “We all have stories from our lives where we pull lessons from. Imagine if we had access to other people's lessons. How much time would that save us?” says Tarah. 

Two people in a Switchboard room writing ideas on a virtual whiteboard

6. Train your team on how to resolve conflicts 

Conflict resolution is a skill all managers should have, so make sure to give training on this topic. Equip your team with problem-resolution skills—for them to find mutually beneficial solutions. This will allow them to address disagreements and conflicts before they escalate to something bigger. Do this by:

Leaving your ego at the door 

Many times conflicts occur when people take things personally or when you enter team meetings with your ego by your side. 

The best advice for learning how to solve conflicts is to leave your ego at the door and assume you all want what’s best for the business. The idea of working together toward a common goal instead of discussing who’s right or which proposal is best helps reach consensus and a better alternative to all ideas.

7. “Yes, and…” every idea

This concept comes from improv and means acknowledging others’ proposals and adding to them. Improv actors use this technique to come up with stories in a group.

For example, someone enters the scene and goes “Help, mother, help!” The next person should say “ Yes , dear, I’m here. And , what do you need?” If they enter the room and say “I’ve told you a thousand times, I’m not your mother,” it’ll neglect the first actor’s proposal and can make the story stagnant. 

You can apply this practice to business teamwork. If during collaborative problem-solving, you suggest an idea and someone neglects that thought, the conversation goes nowhere. 

Instead, try establishing a “yes, and…” mentality to move the conversation forward. This is an example of how this would look in practice:

  • Do: “I think the problem is that users are struggling to find the sign-up button.” “ Yes , that’s a potential issue, and it might also be because the color of the button doesn’t stand out. Let’s look at our web page analytics.” 
  • Don’t: “I think the problem is that users are struggling to find the sign-up button.” “Hmm, not really , we’ve conducted usability testing and that was never an issue.”

This mindset gives space for ideas to grow, even if they seem off the mark initially. Let people explain their thoughts and you'll be surprised how solutions can result. Avoid premature judgment and create a safe space for creativity and exploration.

8. Play to everyone’s strengths 

You can’t expect the same type of insights from all team members. The beauty of having diverse people on your team is that they can all add to the conversation from their unique perspectives. 

Assign roles and responsibilities based on team members' strengths and expertise. Encourage collaboration and reach potential solutions to problems by assigning tasks that require different skill sets. 

For example, let’s say the customer support team’s workload increased in the last month. They don’t know why, but people keep complaining about their orders being wrong. The team is so busy trying to find quick solutions for the customers that they can’t take the time to get to the root cause of the problem. 

You can’t afford to close the online store and decide to host a brainstorming session with one or two key players from each department. Inviting them to this session helps bring their own experiences to the table and will help you find the problem faster. Not necessarily the ones affected by an issue are the most suited to solve it. 

9. Recognize and reward teamwork 

Acknowledge and appreciate collaborative efforts within the team. Recognize individuals who actively contribute to problem-solving and emphasize the importance of teamwork. This will help you keep your team engaged and motivated as well as remind everyone that if they collaborate, they might get rewarded. 

Give negative feedback in private with useful examples, and celebrate successes in public as a team. However, not everyone likes public recognition, so take time to understand what motivates different people from your team and implement it.

Encourage risk taking and turn failure into learning opportunities. Part of collaborating toward solutions is understanding that making mistakes is part of the process, and the faster you get to fail, the better.

The fastest way to succeed is by solving problems in groups

You can make mistakes as a tourist in Rome because the worst thing that could happen is getting lost for a couple of hours (and you can always call an Uber).

It’s different at work. Many people think that making mistakes could cause them to build up a bad reputation or, in extreme cases, lose their  job. However, that mindset is what causes you to get stuck on a problem. And, if you don’t ask others to support you, you might struggle to come up with solutions in a timely manner. 

But asking for help isn’t a mistake. It’s a sign of strength and your company should encourage people to seek different perspectives. To encourage your team to use collaboration to solve problems, build a psychologically safe environment for people to speak openly about their ideas. 

Set common goals, eliminate siloed work, and promote a “yes, and…” mentality. And, along with leaving your ego at the door, you should get equipped with the right team collaboration tools . 

Using a tool like Switchboard makes it easy for your team to work together to solve problems in a shared room. There, everyone can add files, edit content directly from browser-based applications, or include their ideas on a whiteboard to simplify team communication and reach solutions faster.

Work in groups to find the best solution to your business problems. Add a whiteboard to your Switchboard room and collect your worker’s ideas live or async. Learn more

Frequently asked questions about collaboration to solve problems

What is the purpose of collaboration.

The purpose of collaboration is to bring diverse people together to share ideas to work together towards solving a common goal. Teamwork can help organizations:

  • Shorten decision-making loops
  • Solve problems faster
  • Drive innovation
  • Improve knowledge sharing
  • Tighten team relationships
  • Get better at managing conflict
  • Create a sense of belonging

What is the difference between collaboration and compromise?

The difference between collaboration and compromise is that the first one aims to reach a common goal; while compromising, means finding a middle ground. Collaboration presents the opportunity to reach win-win solutions while compromising means someone needs to cede.

What is the difference between brainstorming and collaborative problem-solving?

The difference between brainstorming and collaborative problem-solving is that brainstorming is meant for doing group work to come up with ideas that may or may not solve a problem. Collaborative problem-solving, on the other hand, is much more structured and aims to find practical solutions to a specific problem (brainstorming can be one of the techniques used to reach that solution).

describe the barriers to collaborative problem solving

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describe the barriers to collaborative problem solving

Work together to find the best solutions to your business problems.

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6 Common Problem Solving Barriers and How Can Managers Beat them?

What is the meaning of barriers to problem solving, what are the 6 barriers to problem solving, examples of barriers to problem solving, how to overcome problem solving barriers at work tips for managers, problem solving barriers faqs.

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Lack of motivation

Lack of knowledge, lack of resources, emotional barriers, cultural and societal barriers, fear of failure.

  • Lack of motivation: A person who lacks motivation may struggle to complete tasks on time or produce quality work. For example, an employee who is disengaged from their job may procrastinate on essential tasks or show up late to work.
  • Lack of knowledge : Employees who lack knowledge or training may be unable to perform their duties effectively. For example, a new employee unfamiliar with the company’s software systems may struggle to complete tasks on their computer.
  • Lack of resources: Employees may be unable to complete their work due to a lack of resources, such as equipment or technology. For example, a graphic designer who doesn’t have access to the latest design software may struggle to produce high-quality designs.
  • Emotional barriers: Emotional barriers can affect an employee’s ability to perform their job effectively. For example, an employee dealing with a personal issue, such as a divorce, may have trouble focusing on their work and meeting deadlines.
  • Cultural and societal barriers: Cultural and societal barriers can affect an employee’s ability to work effectively. For example, an employee from a different culture may struggle to communicate effectively with colleagues or may feel uncomfortable in a work environment that is not inclusive.
  • Fear of failure : Employees who fear failure may avoid taking on new challenges or may not take risks that could benefit the company. For example, an employee afraid of making mistakes may not take on a leadership role or hesitate to make decisions that could impact the company’s bottom line.
  • Identify and Define the Problem: Define the problem and understand its root cause. This will help you identify the obstacles that are preventing effective problem solving.
  • C ollaborate and Communicate: Work with others to gather information, generate new ideas, and share perspectives. Effective communication can help overcome misunderstandings and promote creative problem solving.
  • Use Creative Problem Solving Techniques: Consider using creative problem solving techniques such as brainstorming, mind mapping, or SWOT analysis to explore new ideas and generate innovative solutions.
  • Embrace Flexibility: Be open to new ideas and approaches. Embracing flexibility can help you overcome fixed mindsets and encourage creativity in problem solving.
  • Invest in Resources: Ensure that you have access to the necessary resources, such as time, money, or personnel, to effectively solve complex problems.
  • Emphasize Continuous Learning: Encourage continuous learning and improvement by seeking feedback, evaluating outcomes, and reflecting on the problem solving process. This can help you identify improvement areas and promote a continuous improvement culture.

How good are you in jumping over problem-solving barriers?

Find out now with the free problem-solving assessment for managers and leaders.

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What are the five key obstacles to problem solving, can habits be a barrier to problem solving, how do you overcome barriers in problem solving.

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Overcoming Common Barriers to Collaboration, Part 1

Leadership matters, leading ux transformation.

“Organizations…often develop barriers that hinder information sharing and collaboration. … The job of a leader is to spot these barriers and tear them down….”—Morten T. Hansen

Organizations differ in their ability to collaborate within and across teams and business units. A unique combination of organizational, cultural, and interpersonal barriers to collaboration afflicts any organization that is experiencing difficulty collaborating. Therefore, to assess their organization’s ability to collaborate, leaders must first determine what barriers to collaboration exist within their organization. One effective way of doing this is to conduct a survey to identify which of the behaviors that hinder collaboration commonly occur within their organization.

Once leaders understand what dysfunctional behaviors are preventing their people and teams from collaborating effectively, they must tailor solutions to address the specific barriers to collaboration that exist within their organization. They must motivate their people to change the behaviors that are preventing or diminishing the success of collaboration within and across teams and business units.

In this column, I’ll describe some common organizational, cultural, and interpersonal barriers to collaboration and provide solutions for overcoming them. To create a culture of collaboration, an organization must overcome these barriers.

What Is Collaboration?

Collaboration is the act or process of working together with other people or organizations to achieve a common purpose such as creating something or pursuing an intellectual endeavor. Thus, collaboration requires a cohesive team to follow a common process in working toward a shared goal. Typically, the most effective collaborative teams are small —ideally comprising three to six people—whether a team is a cross-functional leadership team, a project team, a multidisciplinary product team, a design team, or some other functional team.

Meetings and collaboration sessions are not the same thing. The purpose of a business meeting is to exchange information, discuss issues, or make decisions. In contrast, the purpose of a collaboration session is to accomplish actual work, working closely with others. To increase the value of the time you spend at work, try to minimize the time you spend in meetings and maximize your engagement in collaboration sessions.

Common Barriers to Collaboration

Some of the most common organizational, cultural, and interpersonal barriers to collaboration include the following:

  • A lack of respect and trust
  • Different mindsets
  • Poor listening skills
  • Knowledge deficits
  • A lack of alignment around goals
  • Internal competitiveness
  • Information hoarding
  • Organizational silos
  • Physical separation

I’ll cover the first four of these barriers to collaboration here, in Part 1 of this two-part series; the remainder in Part 2 .

Barrier #1: A Lack of Respect and Trust

Successful interpersonal relationships and, thus, the ability to collaborate effectively require mutual trust and respect. In today’s diverse workplaces, trust and respect are vital. However, people sometimes lack respect for others who are different from them—whether because of differences in age, gender, race, or ethnicity. Sadly, age, gender, and racial discrimination are endemic in technology companies—perhaps even more so on some UX teams.

Cultural divides may exist between people with different backgrounds, who work in different professional roles. For example, technology companies are often Engineering- or Marketing-driven organizations. Often, the supremacy of the preeminent function results in those belonging to that privileged function—or perhaps even the entire organization—having diminished respect for people working in other roles, making them second-class corporate citizens. In the worst work cultures, this problem can assume the magnitude of a caste system.

The barrier of a lack of respect and trust forms the foundation for many of the other barriers to collaboration. Overcoming this barrier will take you a long way toward overcoming other barriers to collaboration.

The Solution

Fostering increased levels of interaction—specifically, direct and, as often as possible, in-person interactions—between people in different roles can help address issues relating to a lack of respect and trust, as follows:

  • Understand the roles of each other’s teams and the value they provide.
  • Establish open, interpersonal communication with those leading other functions.
  • Develop respectful, trusting relationships with their peers.
  • Share information to develop a common understanding of the problems they face.
  • Align behind their organization’s goals and develop strategies to achieve them.
  • Collaborate to achieve optimal outcomes for the organization.
  • Model collaboration to the entire organization.
  • Establish open, interpersonal communication across teams.
  • Be aware of and understand opportunities for cross-team collaboration.
  • Cross-pollinate ideas from different teams to stimulate innovation.
  • Leverage one another’s work rather than reinventing the wheel.
  • Understand one another’s roles, responsibilities, and work practices.
  • Establish open, interpersonal communication with teammates in other disciplines.
  • Work effectively together, in close collaboration—sometimes even working in pairs.
  • Ensure all of the best ideas get implemented, regardless of their source.
  • Avoid having one preeminent discipline be the final arbiter in all decision-making.
  • Balance decision-making power across key team members, ensuring that whoever is best qualified to make a particular decision is the person who ultimately makes it.
  • Get the entire team to participate in UX research so they can learn from direct experience about users’ needs and challenges.

Barrier #2: Different Mindsets

Diversity of viewpoint is an asset for collaborative teams. People with different perspectives see different dimensions of the problems teams are trying to solve and come up with unique solutions for them.

However, diverse mindsets can also present challenges to teams. Our psychological types, needs, power bases, conflict styles, and stress quotients differ, leaving us open to potential misunderstandings. When teammates’ mindsets feel at odds with one another, these differences can seem threatening and engender fear, resistance, and even anger. For example, people who are biased against creativity may show contempt for or belittle others’ ideas because they feel threatened by them.

Keith Sawyer wrote about these two sides of diversity in his book Group Genius :

“Diversity makes teams more creative because the friction that results from multiple opinions drives the team to more original and more complex work. … Conflict keeps the group from falling into the groupthink trap. But conflict is difficult to manage productively because it can easily spiral into destructive interpersonal attacks that interfere with creativity. Diversity enhances performance only when the group flow factors are present, including some degree of shared knowledge; a culture of close listening and open communication; a focus on well-defined goals; autonomy, fairness, and equal participation.”

Fostering greater understanding between people with different mindsets can resolve conflicts that result from their differences, as follows:

  • Endeavor to understand teammates whose mindsets differ from yours—whether because of their training and role or demographic differences.
  • Determine the psychological types, needs, power bases, conflict styles, and stress quotients of all team members.
  • Appreciate people’s differences and unique strengths.
  • Be open to others’ perspectives, opinions, and perceptions.
  • Positively reinforce everyone’s efforts to contribute ideas.
  • Help your teammates to feel psychologically safe and, thus, free to express their work-related thoughts and feelings.
  • Communicate your work-related thoughts and feelings openly and honestly, while keeping things positive and nonjudgmental.
  • Refrain from negative criticism, especially of a personal nature.
  • Demonstrate trust.
  • Resolve conflicts fairly.

Barrier #3: Poor Listening Skills

The key to good communication is the ability to listen well—accurately receiving and interpreting what people say—and good communication is an essential element of collaboration. Once teammates have accepted the differences in their mindsets and established respect and trust for each other, they are more willing to give one another the space to communicate their ideas and are more open to their teammates’ ideas. However, there may still be some team members with big egos who don’t really value the opinions of their peers and, thus, may be unwilling to listen to others.

Poor listeners seem distracted or inattentive. They don’t look at, make eye contact with, give their full attention to, or engage with whoever is currently speaking. They often interrupt, making comments or asking questions that take the conversation off track. They exhibit bias, jump to conclusions, and finish others’ sentences. They show no empathy for those who are speaking. They provide no encouraging feedback. Their responses to others’ ideas may be judgmental or dismissive.

Note —I also discussed the importance of being a good listener in my article “ 13 Human Qualities You Must Have to Succeed in Work and Life .”

Effective collaboration depends on teammates’ being open to and really listening to each others’ ideas. Encourage teams to listen well during collaboration sessions and do the following:

  • Be fully present and engaged with the team.
  • Keep an open mind and reserve judgment.
  • Practice active listening , making a conscious effort not only to hear other people’s words, but to listen for and receive the real meaning behind them.
  • Show empathy for and reflect other people’s feelings. Pay attention to the use of language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language.
  • Give full attention to whoever is currently speaking.
  • Show that you are listening by turning toward the current speaker, making eye contact, nodding, giving verbal encouragement, smiling, or mirroring his or her emotions.
  • Have only one conversation at a time.
  • Focus on what the current speaker is saying rather than thinking about your reply.
  • Be patient and don’t interrupt.
  • Try to recall key points and reflect them back to the speaker—paraphrasing or summarizing them—or mention them later in the conversation to ensure others feel heard and understood.
  • Let others finish their thoughts before asking clarifying questions.
  • Ask questions only to ensure complete understanding.
  • Be respectful of others’ ideas.
  • Take notes.

Barrier #4: Knowledge Deficits

Knowledge deficits can negatively impact teams’ ability to collaborative effectively. A knowledge deficit can result when any of the following conditions exist:

  • Members of collaborative teams have no basic understanding of the knowledge and practices of their peers who work in other disciplines. Because teammates lack a common frame of reference, they may have difficulty understanding how best to communicate effectively and work well together.
  • A company is so overloaded with information that people are unable to find the information and documents they need. Often, a company’s implementation of knowledge-management systems actually exacerbates the problem of information overload, making information even harder to find.
  • A company is so large, dispersed, or siloed that people cannot find the people who could provide the information and expertise they need—especially when those people work in other business units.
  • People encounter difficulty in transferring their knowledge to colleagues in other business units—especially tacit knowledge about complex technologies and best practices. The weaker the ties between members of collaborative teams, the more difficult it will be for them to transfer tacit knowledge.
  • Strive to learn about and understand other disciplines that play critical roles on your team. For example, on product teams, mutual understanding between product managers, UX professionals, and developers is essential.
  • Study or get training in the language and practices of other disciplines that are core to your collaborative team.
  • Pair with people in other disciplines to accomplish work together. For example, a UX designer might do pair design with a front-end developer, leveraging the strengths of both to come up with an optimal solution and learning in the process.
  • Encourage teammates to share knowledge and documents with one another in a central repository. Reward people for sharing knowledge.
  • Allow all team members to post information and documents to the team’s knowledge repository. This prevents the task of posting information from becoming onerous.
  • Put one person in charge of maintaining the information architecture for the team’s knowledge repository. When people don’t post information in the proper place, this person must move the information and notify the person who posted it.
  • Identify gaps in a team’s informal network of useful relationships across other teams, functional groups, and business units.
  • Encourage people to introduce their teammates to helpful people they know on other teams, in other functional groups, and in other business units. Reward this behavior.
  • Identify people who are bridges between diverse teams, functional groups, and business units and ask them for help in building informal networks of weak ties.
  • Include a directory of contacts within the broader organization in the team’s knowledge repository. Focus on the usefulness and diversity of these contacts, not the size of the directory.
  • Build strong relationships across teams and business units to facilitate the transfer of tacit knowledge.
  • Use these relationships to find resources such as experts, collaboration partners, customers, users, ideas, and technologies.
  • Identify collaboration opportunities outside your team’s own business unit.

Overcoming More Barriers to Collaboration in Part 2

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, in which I’ll cover the remaining five organizational, cultural, and interpersonal barriers to collaboration:

Benfari, Robert C. Understanding and Changing Your Management Style: Assessments and Tools for Self-Development . Second ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013.

Deutschendorf, Harvey. “ 5 Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills .” Fast Company , September 23, 2014. Retrieved October 8, 2017.

Edmondson, Amy C., and Kathryn S. Roloff. “Overcoming Barriers to Collaboration: Psychological Safety and Learning in Diverse Teams.” In Team Effectiveness in Complex Organizations: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives and Approaches . Eduardo Salas, Gerald F. Goodwin, and C. Shawn Burke, eds. New York: Routledge Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2009. Retrieved October 8, 2017.

Hansen, Morten T. Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results . Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009.

Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.

MindTools. “ Active Listening: Hear What People Are Really Saying .” MindTools , undated. Retrieved October 8, 2017.

Mueller, Jennifer. Creative Change: Why We Resist It, How We Can Embrace It. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

Sawyer, Keith. Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration . New York: Basic Books, 2007.

Schilling, Dianne. “ 10 Steps to Effective Listening .” Forbes , November 9, 2012. Retrieved October 8, 2017.

SkillsYouNeed. “ Active Listening .” SkillsYouNeed , undated. Retrieved October 8, 2017.

SkillsYouNeed. “ Barriers to Effective Listening .” SkillsYouNeed , undated. Retrieved October 8, 2017.

The collaboration of the workers in any small or big business is essential for this be successful. Also, it is very important that the leadership and the goals meet. There are also other factors to be considered such as a good environment, communication, respect, training, etc.
Thank you for a valuable article. What, in my opinion, might help to overcome a lot of problems in collaboration is using a good collaboration tool—for example, a It helps to avoid task overlapping. It also helps everyone on the team to know who did what. It simply makes a lot of things much easier.
This is awesome! Thank you for sharing and would love to be a part of this think-tank!

Join the Discussion

Pabini gabriel-petit.

Principal Consultant at Strategic UX

Founder, Publisher, and Editor in Chief of UXmatters

Silicon Valley, California, USA

Pabini Gabriel-Petit

Other Columns by Pabini Gabriel-Petit

  • Overcoming Common Barriers to Collaboration, Part 2
  • Interview with Kurt Walecki, VP of Design at Intuit
  • Book Review: Creative Change
  • Humanizing the Enterprise

Other Articles by Pabini Gabriel-Petit

  • IA, Rosenfeld Media, and EUX: An Interview with Louis Rosenfeld
  • An Interview with Alfonso de la Nuez, CEO of UserZoom
  • An Interview with Mary Treseler, Co-chair of the New O’Reilly Design Conference
  • User Experience, Entrepreneurship, and Redesigning Democracy: An Interview with Dirk Knemeyer

Other Articles on Collaboration

  • Fostering a Collaborative Onboarding Team to Design Better Onboarding Experiences
  • Merging UX Design and Customer Education to Deliver Optimal User Experience Outcomes
  • 7 Ways Web Developers and UX Designers Can Collaborate
  • Forging Successful Partnerships with Software Developers

New on UXmatters

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  • Building a User-Centered Product-Management Culture
  • Designing a Pre-signup Experience Based on User Intent
  • Enhancing Child Safety: Pioneering Child-Safety Features in Smart Devices
  • Personalization in Orthodontic Care: The UX of Customized Treatment Plans

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From Barriers to Breakthroughs: Best Practices for Effective Workplace Collaboration


Nithya Rachel

From Barriers to Breakthroughs: Best Practices for Effective Workplace Collaboration

Collaboration, or the art of working together, is crucial in every aspect of life. From timeless movies like Toy Story and The Avengers to real-world examples like the Wright brothers, we see how amazing things happen when forces combine. Collaboration in a workplace can lead to better communication, increased creativity, and improved problem-solving. In this blog, let’s look at how to improve workplace collaboration. But first, we’ll look at collaboration forms and common barriers. Let’s dive in.

Forms of Collaboration

In a business environment, collaboration can take various forms depending on the nature of work, an organization’s structure, and broader business goals. It can broadly be categorized as collaboration with internal teams and external collaboration. Companies can facilitate collaboration through various means, including face-to-face meetings, virtual meetings, collaborative software, and tools.

Internal Collaboration

Effective collaboration relies on clear communication, mutual trust, respect, and a shared understanding of goals between employees. The foundational components for effective team collaboration include regular meetings and open communication lines that encourage idea-sharing.

Team Collaboration: When team members work together closely towards a common goal, they can accomplish more than they could on their own. They can pool their knowledge and expertise to develop solutions to problems and create more innovative products and services. For instance, a daily standup sales team meetings offers a great opportunity for team members to collaborate and brainstorm solutions to challenges. Effective team collaboration is about sharing best practices and learning from each other’s experiences.

Cross-functional Collaboration: When individuals of different departments or functional areas collaborate, they bring complementary skills and knowledge. It breaks down departmental silos and encourages cross-pollination of ideas, leading to more comprehensive and creative solutions. For instance, while a customer service team is responsible for resolving issues, they may need to collaborate with a product development team to understand the root cause of an issue. Cross-functional collaboration promotes diversity of thought , innovation, and a holistic approach to problem-solving.

Peer Collaboration: Peer collaboration can be a valuable tool for learning and development. For instance, pair programming collaboration occurs when two programmers work together on the same computer, with one person coding and the other person providing feedback. This kind of collaboration improves code quality. By working together, individuals of equal roles can share their knowledge and skills, learn from each other, and develop essential skills such as critical thinking, teamwork, and communication.

External Collaboration

External collaboration is when teams or individuals from different organizations work together to achieve a common goal. This can be done in various ways, such as through joint projects, partnerships, or simply sharing information and resources with an outsourced team. When you collaborate with external partners, you gain access to their knowledge and expertise. It can help you tap into their local market, expand your reach, reduce costs and bring new products or services to the market faster.

describe the barriers to collaborative problem solving

6 Common Barriers to Collaboration

Collaboration is essential for success in today’s workplace, but it can be challenging. Here are a few common barriers to collaboration.

Ineffective Communication: When information is not delivered through the appropriate channel, is ambiguous, or language barriers exist, team members may struggle to understand each other’s goals and actions. This lack of clarity leads to misinterpretation, misunderstandings, and coordination issues. For example, though email is a widely used form of communication , it may not be ideal for scenarios where real-time updates are necessary.

Lack of Trust and Psychological Safety: When trust is lacking, team members may hesitate to share ideas, seek assistance, or take risks. This lack of safety often arises from past negative experiences, strained interpersonal dynamics, or an organizational culture that does not prioritize open feedback loops.

Diversity and Inclusion Challenges: According to a CNBC Workforce Survey, nearly 80% of employees want to work for an organization that values diversity, equity, and inclusion. When employees feel like they don’t belong they’re more likely to feel isolated, disengaged, and unhappy. This can lead to several negative consequences, including decreased productivity and increased turnover. To address these challenges, it is crucial to foster an inclusive and respectful environment where every team member feels valued and comfortable expressing their opinions.

Team Dynamics and Organizational Culture: Unclear team structures, undefined roles and responsibilities, ineffective conflict resolution mechanisms, and strained interpersonal relationships hinder collaboration. For instance, ambiguous team roles lead to confusion and overlapping duties. An organizational culture that lacks emphasis on collaboration, employee recognition, and knowledge sharing can lead to employee disengagement.

Resources and Tools: Lack of adequate resources, tools, and technologies can be a barrier to collaboration. Without the right tools, communicating effectively, sharing documents, and coordinating tasks can be challenging. This can lead to misunderstandings, missed deadlines, and poor decision-making.

External Factors: External factors such as organizational changes, market conditions, and industry dynamics can influence collaboration. For instance, mergers and acquisitions may lead to change resistance or cause several collaboration challenges.

describe the barriers to collaborative problem solving

8 Best Practices to Improve Collaboration

Let’s discuss 8 best practices that can help teams collaborate more effectively and efficiently, leading to greater productivity and success.

1. Promote Open & Effective Communication

Promoting open communication starts with creating an environment where team members feel comfortable asking questions and sharing concerns or ideas. Some strategies to do this include implementing regular check-in meetings or standups, encouraging team members to actively listen to one another, and providing various communication channels to accommodate different preferences and needs. Additionally, you can set clear and specific goals to align team efforts. Communicating expectations regarding individual roles, responsibilities, and deadlines helps establish a shared understanding.

2. Create Collaborative Spaces

Establishing physical or virtual spaces where team members can actively engage and work together is crucial. You can designate conference rooms to encourage employees to brainstorm ideas, discuss projects, and collaborate on tasks. Another effective way to promote collaboration is by establishing a centralized knowledge hub using an intranet and creating collaborative spaces for teams to share knowledge , best practices, and important updates. Having a central knowledge hub, enables team members to access the information they need, encourage cross-functional collaboration, and avoid duplicating efforts.

3. Leverage Technology

You can enhance teamwork by leveraging a range of collaboration tools and technologies. For example, video conferencing platforms enable seamless communication and face-to-face interaction; a collaborative knowledge management hub allows multiple team members to work together simultaneously on a single document. Additionally, project management software can help in task management, progress tracking, and communication within your team.

4. Lead by Example and Inspire Cultural Improvement

Leaders play a crucial role in fostering collaboration within a team. However, a Gallup study shows that only 2 in 10 employees feel that they are managed in a positive way that inspires them to do outstanding work. By demonstrating collaborative behaviors and encouraging others to do the same, leaders can set a positive example and inspire a culture of collaboration. Here’s what leaders can do to improve employee engagement .

5. Recognize and Celebrate Success

Acknowledging and appreciating team members’ collaborative efforts and achievements is key to maintaining motivation and promoting a positive team spirit. For example, you could celebrate milestones such as project completions and cross-functional initiatives through recognition programs on an employee engagement platform like an intranet . Team-building activities and recognition programs reinforce a positive work culture by encouraging collaborative behaviors.

6. Promote Diversity and Inclusion

Embracing diversity within a team contributes to more innovative and effective collaboration. Creating an inclusive environment where every team member feels valued and respected enables diverse perspectives and ideas to flourish. Encouraging diverse participation in decision-making processes and problem-solving activities enriches a collaborative experience.

7. Facilitate Cross-Functional Collaboration

Encouraging collaboration across different departments or teams allows for leveraging diverse expertise and skill sets. Organizing cross-functional projects, workshops, or brainstorming sessions can promote collaboration and innovation. Establishing channels for cross-team communication and information sharing further facilitates effective collaboration.

8. Encourage Work-Life Balance and Well-Being

Supporting a healthy work-life balance is essential to prevent burnout. Offering flexible work arrangements, implementing time-off policies, and providing resources for stress management contribute to a supportive environment. Prioritizing employee well-being enhances engagement and overall collaborative effectiveness.

Measuring the success of collaborative efforts

Establish clear targets and key performance indicators (KPIs) aligned with organizational goals to measure collaboration. Various metrics, such as team productivity, employee satisfaction, and customer satisfaction, can indicate the success of collaborative efforts. The best way to measure this is to collect employee feedback on how they feel about the level of collaboration in their team and what they think could be improved by talking to them in person or collecting feedback via surveys and polls. Views, likes, and comments on a collaborative platform like an intranet can also be a good indicator of whether collaboration efforts are fruiful. By tracking these metrics over time, you can identify trends and make improvements as needed to improve collaboration in your workplace.

PeopleOne – Your Gateway to Effective Collaboration

In conclusion, embracing new ideas and ways of working is crucial for fostering collaboration within your organization. With PeopleOne, our modern intranet platform, you can empower your teams to collaborate seamlessly, share knowledge, and work together more efficiently. Use PeopleOne to bring together your team of superheroes and unleash potential, just like the Avengers. Take the next step towards a more collaborative and productive workplace by implementing PeopleOne.

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The Biggest Barrier to Collaborative Problem Solving

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Do you see it? The biggest barrier is me.

Or whoever makes the problem about them, their agenda or their solution.

Which means that we, too often, approach too many problems . . . backwards. We start with ourselves, not (really) with the problem, which is the gap between what exists and what is needed.

This challenge exists in all problem solving even when it is an individual situation. The challenge is heightened when dealing with a group of people. Now we may have competing agendas, competing perspectives and competing egos.

No wonder group problem solving is so messy.

While it might seem this article is complete, that I’ve already answered the question posed in the title, it isn’t that easy. It is one thing to identify a barrier; it is an entirely different thing to remove that barrier.

So let’s do a little problem solving on collaborative problem solving.

Keep the focus solely on the problem . Remember that a problem is the gap between what exists and what is desired. Once this gap is identified and agreed on, keep people focused on it. One of the problems with group problem solving is people don’t always agree with what the problem is — getting this agreement is a key start, and with that agreement, conversation can be more easily refocused on the problem itself.

Get agreement on why the problem matters . Knowing and agreeing on the problem is valuable, and having a clear vision for how things will be better when it is solved is even more powerful. Help people see the benefits in solving the problem. There are likely situations you can identify with, where even if people say they agree there is a problem, they prefer the status quo. Get people to understand and rally around the why of and benefits to the solution.

Create dialogue about concerns and perspectives . One of the reasons personal agendas become a problem and “mess up” both the effectiveness and efficiency of group problem solving is those agendas aren’t discussed. Create a safe environment to discuss concerns and desired outcomes. Give people space to voice their perspectives. One of the great values of having people collaborate to solve a problem is that they have different perspectives. Let those perspectives be discussed, shared and used and you will advance to better solutions more quickly.

Get everyone on the side of the solution . While this is a summary of the previous three points is it something more. In the end, collaborative problem solving needs to be collective problem solving. Rather than posturing, hedging bets or holding out for individual positions, help and encourage people to fight for the best solution, not what best meets their needs.

Collaborating on anything, including problem solving, is complex. The challenges won’t be completely erased by the four ideas I’ve just shared. However, if you will apply these ideas in a disciplined way for yourself and with others, you will find better solutions in less time, because you will have put the focus where it belongs, on the problem and the best possible solution.

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About Kevin Eikenberry

Kevin Eikenberry is a recognized world expert on leadership development and learning and is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group. He has spent over 30 years helping organizations across North America, and leaders from around the world, on leadership, learning, teams and teamwork, communication and more. Twice he has been named by as one of the Top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World and 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference. The American Management Association named him a “Leaders to Watch” and he has been twice named as one of the World's Top 30 Leadership Professionals by Global Gurus. Top Sales World has named him a Top Sales & Marketing Influencer several times, and his blog has been named on many “best of” lists. LeadersHum has named him one of the 200 Biggest Voices in Leadership in 2023.

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Thanks for another great blog post.

Great believer that by collaborating we can achieve much more.

Keep up the great work.

Duncan Brodie Goals and Achievements

I believe that the environment may be a larger problem to collaborative problem solving than any individual. If the environment creates a mentality of “fire fighting” than it is in the best interest of the individual to first allow the fire to start and then to successfully battle the flames. It is in the best interest of all members of an organization to foster a collaborative environment first and then ask for collaboration.

The role of environment and culture are huge as you identified, for sure. Thanks fr your thoughtful comments.

Great piece, Kevin! In order to tackle any problem, efforts have to be aligned on the common goal. As this video also points out, companies that learn to align efforts tend to succeed –

Hi Kevin: Found this post again through your recent tweet. Vitally important topic and some good thoughts on it. However, I have long thought that the biggest barrier to collaborative problem solving is each participant’s need to be right – this is the core problem that Marshall Goldsmith highlights in his book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” I was coaching an executive a few years ago, encouraging him to be more facilitative by asking more questions along the lines of “What do you think?” He could see the point but felt it wouldn’t feel like he was making a “real contribution” – proving that we like to score goals by making brilliant points. I’ve written about this issue in a number of my own articles, including “A Hero at Work”:

Mitch – Ah, the need to be right is a huge barrier for many, sometimes, me included. thanks for this great insight!

Yes, I have the same inclination! But I’m not sure that this problem is highlighted as much as it needs to be. Think of politicians campaigning to be elected. They are staking their whole future on their claims to have better answers/solutions than their competitors – not much chance of collaboration in that context. Executives are the same. Winning the battle to run things depends on being seen as knowing what you’re doing. Hence why employees are so disengaged, I think, because they are sitting on the sidelines while management fights over who is right about which strategies to pursue. Too much is at stake for them individually to ask others what they think. Until collaboration is rewarded as much or more than individual heroism, not much will change I fear.

Hi Kevin. Let me just say that this post shows that you’ve at least given problem solving some real thought. That’s more than most people who would prefer to jump in without surveying the scene first. Whenever I think I have a solution to a problem, I always stop myself and push my thoughts back to respect first and foremost. Sometimes people aren’t ready for the soultions we present. We have to understand the bigger picture before we can offer constructive support.

P.S. I’m publishing a post about this on my blog tomorrow about this very topic. It basically says the same thing I think you’re going for here. I, for one, can appreciate your considerate attitude.

describe the barriers to collaborative problem solving

Even well-planned studies may need to solve problems. Examples of such problems or challenges include:

  • Changing circumstances. New laws, changes to policies or procedures at the research organization, or changes in team member availability due to personal circumstances can add new challenges to a study.
  • Failure or unintended outcomes. Even well-planned strategies to recruit participants or collect data do not always work as intended. Failure is an opportunity to learn and improve.
  • External events. Events such as environmental or natural disasters can affect the study timeline and how the team works together.

Sometimes, problems suggest that the team is not working well together. Examples include:

  • Personal conflict. Sometimes team members may have a personal conflict with one another instead of engaging in productive disagreement . Personal conflict is based on a negative judgment of someone’s personal characteristics or work style rather than the person’s ideas and perspectives. Team members can reduce personal conflict when they recognize and address biases and stereotypes and commit to team norms of respect and collaboration.
  • Limited productivity. Team productivity—the ability to make decisions and complete tasks as a team—can be affected by a lack of a shared vision or unclear roles and responsibilities . Limited productivity can also result from discussions that are not well-managed.
  • Fading interest and involvement. Long periods of time between team meetings, limited involvement, or a lack of clarity about team member contributions can reduce team members’ interest in the study. Reduced interest often results in inconsistent attendance or participation.

Solving Problems and Challenges Can Lead to Innovations in Multi-Stakeholder Team Research.

Multi-stakeholder team research is relatively new. Understanding or reflecting on the challenges to effective multi-stakeholder teamwork can provide lessons that advance the field. The solutions that you and your team develop will be valuable to other multi-stakeholder research teams in the future.

Resources on Problem Solving

The following provide information and resources on how teams can solve two common issues collaboratively: personal conflict between team members and sustaining team member involvement in a study:

  • Collaborative problem solving. Both leaders and contributors play an important role in solving problems. The process for team problem solving is easy to learn and apply to most situations.
  • Negotiating conflict. Although disagreement can be a positive force that leads to team synergy (where decisions made by the entire team are stronger than those made by any one member), unmanaged conflict between team members can slow down progress and make a team less effective. Understanding personal conflict and how to resolve it is an essential skill for the entire team.
  • Sustaining engagement. Even the most enthusiastic team members can lose interest and commitment to the team. Practical ways exist to ensure that team members stay involved throughout the entire study.

Collaborative Problem Solving

Solving problems as a team is different than solving problems as an individual. Collective problem solving can benefit from multiple perspectives and opinions that lead to a broader range of solutions. To realize that benefit, two factors are critical in team problem solving: cognitive diversity across the team and a sense of psychological safety among all team members.

What is a Cognitively Diverse Team?

Cognitive diversity is not the same as demographic diversity. Research suggests that a demographically diverse team may not also be cognitively diverse. Both cognitive and demographic diversity are important aspects of effective multi-stakeholder teams.

The cognitive diversity of a team refers to how members of the team think differently from one another. A cognitively diverse team is made up of people who process information and draw conclusions in various ways.

How do people think differently from one another? Some people like to think about the big picture while others like to focus on the details. Some people view information using logic while others focus on their emotions. Some people need to read an idea to process it, while others need to talk about it and ask questions. Some people find clarity in numbers, while others prefer words.

No one person on a cognitively diverse team is right or wrong in how they think about any topic, and so far, research has not found that one way of thinking is better than any other. Together, a team of cognitively diverse people can view a problem from multiple angles, creating broader insights and better solutions. In the example below, team members are designing a study comparing treatments for depression. Each team member thinks differently about how to identify the research questions.

Example of a Cognitively Diverse Team

Example of a Cognitively Diverse Team

What is Psychological Safety?

Psychological safety is believing that you can share your thoughts or ideas without feeling criticized or dismissed. Although few people intend to make another person feel badly, they may do so without knowing it through certain verbal and non-verbal responses to other peoples’ ideas. For example, looking uninterested, rolling your eyes, or sighing may communicate disdain for someone’s ideas, or worse, disdain for the person themselves. In addition, making judgmental comments rather than acknowledging the idea and then explaining why you disagree can also make people feel psychologically unsafe.

How can teams create an environment where all team members feel psychologically safe?

  • Pay attention to and control verbal and non-verbal responses to suggestions and ideas.
  • Revisit team norms often, especially those that focus on establishing psychological safety such as showing all team members respect and trying to understand ideas before commenting on them.
  • Share your opinion of the idea, not the person.
  • Give positive feedback and reactions before expressing disagreement.
  • Be specific when disagreeing with an idea.
  • Check in with team members outside of team discussions to see if they feel psychologically safe. If they do not, ask them what would increase their sense of safety. Attempt to address their concerns or make changes to team norms as appropriate to help the team member feel psychologically safe.

Reducing the Impact of Hierarchy in Team Problem Solving

Hierarchy refers to people’s position in a team or organization. Most often, titles indicate an individual’s level of power or authority. For example, a chairperson or director has more authority and power than an administrative assistant. Credentials, such as a medical degree, can also indicate hierarchy.

Most people respond to hierarchy in one of two ways. One response is to accept the opinions of people with professional degrees (such as an MD) or titles (such as president). Another response is to question their opinions and distrust their motives. Teams that identify members by their degrees or titles may undermine the full participation of the entire team. Using titles and degrees or only acknowledging team members in positions of authority can alienate others. To limit the effects of hierarchy, many teams use only first names during discussions; they don’t use formal titles or degrees. This practice helps everyone to feel like they are on equal ground.

Establishing a Process for Collaborative Problem Solving

Using a formal process can help guide problem-solving discussions. At each step in the process, the team should raise several questions to help focus team members’ comments and responses and keep the discussion moving forward.

  • What is happening?

Common team error

  • What is the cause of the problem?
  • What is contributing to the problem?
  • How can we brainstorm solutions that address the root cause?
  • What criteria should we use to evaluate different options?
  • Using the criteria, what are the benefits and drawbacks of each solution?
  • What solution(s) should we choose?
  • Who is responsible for implementing the plan?
  • What progress are we making?
  • What additional challenges have we encountered?
  • Did the solution solve the problem?
  • What, if any, unintended consequences emerged?
  • What have we learned from this process that can inform future efforts?

Learning Resources

Provides a list of suggested questions that team members can discuss to solve problems together.

View Discussion Guide

Provides an opportunity to consider how to use a formal process for collaborative problem solving and how to encourage full participation from the team in problem-solving.

View Scenario

Provides links to publicly available resources on best practices to engage in collaborative problem solving.

View Further Reading List

Negotiating Conflict

The importance of a healthy team culture.

Regular and in-depth exchange of ideas, conveyance of respect even within difficulties, and ongoing investments in building personal relationships and trust are essential to navigating conflict, as are the ability to manage one’s emotional reactivity and to either resolve or put aside difficult disagreements. —Bennett and Gadlin, 2019

To help avoid personal conflicts between team members, team organizers and leaders can create a culture of mutual respect and understanding. To do this, they should follow the steps below.

  • Help team members get to know one another. Have team members talk about their background and interests, what motivates them, how they think about things, and their communication style. Taking time to build positive relationships among team members is worth the investment.
  • Establish valuing and respecting differences among team members as the norm. Leaders can regularly highlight the benefits of having a diverse team . They can make it clear that having different experiences, perspectives, and ways of expressing themselves is a good thing.
  • Model productive disagreement. It is important for team members to see productive disagreement in action, where two people can disagree with each other’s opinions or ideas while showing mutual respect.
  • Hold individuals accountable for disrespectful behavior. Not holding someone accountable for being disrespectful only enables and reinforces the behavior while undermining team norms. Team members can hold each other accountable by providing feedback. Team members can also make clear requests for behavior change and establish a clear set of consequences for unproductive behavior. It may also be helpful to offer support through training or coaching. If a team member’s behavior continues to violate team norms or codes of conduct after several attempts have been made to address the behavior, then you may need to think about asking the person to leave the team.

The information below describes what personal conflict is, causes of personal conflict, and strategies to address it.

What is Personal Conflict?

Personal conflict between team members involves negative feelings and judgments about another team member. Personal conflict is an emotional reaction that can range from discomfort to disdain and even to hostility. Often, personal conflict comes from a judgment one team member may have about the character, intelligence, personality, or worthiness of another team member. When expressed, personal conflict can lead to tension, arguing, and criticizing others in meetings, which can make team members feel uncomfortable and undermine the team’s cohesion and productivity. Personal conflict can also affect individual member commitment and involvement as members grow uncomfortable and feel psychologically unsafe interacting with other members of the team.

What Causes Personal Conflict?

  • Biases and stereotypes. Individuals may have negative feelings about other people based on their biases . These biases may involve a person’s race, gender, education, profession, ethnicity, age, choice of clothing, or any number of personal characteristics. In other words, conflict can start simply because, on the surface, one team member does not view the other person in a kind way.
  • Emotional hot buttons. A hot button is an area of sensitivity someone may have that makes them more likely to have a negative emotional reaction. For example, someone who is insecure about their technology skills may have a negative emotional reaction when someone laughs at them because they are having trouble accessing an electronic document. The hot button in this case is the insecurity in weak technical skills. Team members may or may not be aware of this insecurity or the need to avoid behavior that might “ push the button” . Sometimes, team members may push the button on purpose. We all have different hot buttons. It is important to remember that other team members may be completely unaware that someone has a hot button.
  • Power differentials. The perceived imbalance of power or privilege can create personal conflict. For example, team members may compete against each other for attention, acknowledgment, or influence on the team. A team member may react to a lack of respect for their title or credentials, or to a team member exercising power based on their position of authority.
  • Different work or communication styles. Team members may have different work or communication styles that result in conflict. For example, a team member may assign a motive or a character flaw when they see a team member who communicates more directly than they do, or who waits to start a task.

You can use several strategies when you feel a negative emotion about another team member.

Some degree of self-awareness and emotional intelligence contributes positively to successful participation in collaborative ventures. One needs to be aware of one’s impact on others as well as of one’s own areas of sensitivity and vulnerability.

-Stipleman, Rice, Vogel and Hall, 2019

  • Try to understand the emotional reaction and its cause. Understanding what is making you feel the way you do can help you find solutions to change your emotions. Identify the specific behaviors that are causing the emotion. In some cases, you may adjust how you feel by gaining a new perspective about the person or your interactions. One way to do this is to identify one positive aspect of the person for every aspect that causes a negative reaction.
  • Get to know the person better. Some negative reactions are caused by a lack of understanding about who someone is and why they think or act the way they do. Spending time with the person and getting to know more about their background, experiences, and culture can often create more accurate perceptions and soften negative emotions and reactions.
  • Openly express your feelings with the intent to resolve them. Sharing how you feel gives you a chance to clarify the other person’s motives or intentions or identify a different way of interacting with each other. It is important to separate their behavior from your emotions. A common technique to do this is called “When you/Then I.” This technique lets you identify and describe a person’s behavior while owning your reaction to the behavior. They can change their behavior, or they can explain their intent or reasons for the behavior so you can react differently. For example, you may want to express how you feel disrespected when another team member checks their phone while you are talking during a meeting. Using the “When you/Then I” technique, you might say something like this: “ When you check your phone while I’m speaking in the meeting, I feel disrespected .” You can then follow up this statement with a request: “ I would appreciate it if you would put your phone away during meetings so you can make eye contact with me when I am speaking .” The other person can then explain why they checked their phone in the meeting and clarify that they did not mean to disrespect you. You may choose to state that you understand but ask that they check their phone less often. In this way, you can arrive at an agreement that works for both of you along with a new understanding of each other’s feelings and behaviors.
  • Manage your reactions. Both verbal and nonverbal behaviors can increase personal conflict, so be aware of how you react around the person. Sometimes people avoid talking about the conflict directly, but passively, they still show their disapproval. This passive aggressive communication often looks and sounds friendly but can increase the conflict without resolving the problem.
  • Negotiate boundaries. Sometimes you can’t avoid a negative emotional response. For example, the other person may be unable or unwilling to change their behavior. Negotiating your boundaries—deciding when and how you will interact with the other person—can limit your exposure to the person and the triggers to your emotions.
  • Have no relationship or an equal relationship with both parties and not show favoritism.
  • Guide the conversation rather than answer for either party.
  • Not express preferences or opinions about the conflict or the people.
  • Keep what is discussed confidential.

Presents insights from researchers and stakeholders from PCORI-funded teams – in their own words – about how they have successfully negotiated conflict within their teams.

View Quotes

Explains how personal conflict between team members is different than personal disagreements and provides ways to help minimize personal conflict.

View Tip Sheet

Provides an opportunity to consider how to identify and negotiate personal conflict with other team members.

Sustaining Engagement

Maintaining and growing stakeholder engagement.

Enthusiastic and lasting participation among stakeholders is often a sign of successful teamwork. Sometimes keeping stakeholders engaged in long-term projects can be a challenge. Understanding the reasons for decreased involvement can help reduce these challenges.

Reduced involvement due to changes in personal circumstances may be unavoidable. For example:

  • Increases in workload or changes in employment status may make the stakeholder less available.
  • Changes in health status may make it hard for stakeholders who are patients or caregivers to continue their involvement.
  • Life events—such as births, deaths, or other life changes—can affect availability.

When personal circumstances affect availability, it may be helpful to adapt current responsibilities or assign them to others. Discuss what would work best for the person and the team.

Other reasons for reduced stakeholder engagement may be signs that the team is not functioning well. Common problems that may lead to low interest or participation—and that can be avoided—are:

  • Limited communication for long periods of time between study activities, such as during data collection.
  • Lack of meaningful involvement in study activities or team discussions.
  • Limited acknowledgment of individual contributions.
  • Lack of interpersonal or social connection with other team members.
  • Unresolved negative experiences or personal conflict.
  • Too much communication, too many meetings, or too many requests for input.

The information below provides strategies to maintain and grow stakeholder engagement.

Strategies to Maintain Engagement

Strategies to help sustain interest and engagement include the following:

  • Communicate regularly and set expectations. During lulls in study activities, update stakeholders on progress or connect them to another aspect of the study. Being up-front about lapses of time between team interactions can help set expectations so that stakeholders don’t feel forgotten.
  • Connect stakeholders with activities that match their interests and reasons for involvement .
  • Lead and contribute to productive meetings and discussions.
  • Acknowledge the impact of stakeholders’ contributions on the study. For example, a team may record and share the results of all stakeholder contributions between meetings. Other teams may include stakeholder contributions as an agenda item at every meeting.
  • Foster interpersonal or social connections among team members. Team-building activities are one way to do this.
  • Check in regularly with stakeholders . One-on-one meetings with stakeholders are a chance to strengthen relationships and identify and resolve potential negative experiences and conflicts with other members.

Don't Just Sustain Stakeholder Interest, Grow It.

  • Give stakeholders opportunities to learn more about research by attending trainings, seminars, and workshops.
  • Trust stakeholders to take on certain roles in the study—even leadership roles—such as recruitment, enrollment, or data collection.
  • Involve stakeholders and other team members in conferences, presentations, and publications about the study, as well as efforts to share results with research partners and patient support groups.
  • Find opportunities for experienced stakeholders to recruit and mentor new stakeholders.
  • Make engagement as easy as possible for stakeholders by eliminating barriers and providing the necessary resources.

Provides tips to keep team members engaged throughout the study and ensure that the study benefits from contributions of all members.

Provides stakeholders with real-world illustrations and strategies of how to sustain stakeholder engagement across an entire project.

Provides links to publicly available resources on ways to motivate team members and build commitment within teams to sustain engagement.

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Barriers and enablers to effective interprofessional teamwork in the operating room: A qualitative study using the Theoretical Domains Framework

Cole etherington.

1 Department of Anaesthesiology and Pain Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

2 Clinical Epidemiology Program, The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Joseph K. Burns

Simon kitto.

3 Department of Innovation in Medical Education, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Jamie C. Brehaut

4 School of Epidemiology & Public Health, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Meghan Britton

5 Main Operating Room, The Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Sukhbir Singh

6 Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Sylvain Boet

7 Francophone Affairs, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

8 Institut du Savoir Montfort, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

9 Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Associated Data

All relevant data are within the manuscript and its Supporting information files.

Effective teamwork is critical for safe, high-quality care in the operating room (OR); however, teamwork interventions have not consistently resulted in the expected gains for patient safety or surgical culture. In order to optimize OR teamwork in a targeted and evidence-based manner, it is first necessary to conduct a comprehensive, theory-informed assessment of barriers and enablers from an interprofessional perspective.

This qualitative study was informed by the Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF). Volunteer, purposive and snowball sampling were conducted primarily across four sites in Ontario, Canada and continued until saturation was reached. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and de-identified. Directed content analysis was conducted in duplicate using the TDF as the initial coding framework. Codes were then refined whereby similar codes were grouped into larger categories of meaning within each TDF domain, resulting in a list of domain-specific barriers and enablers.

A total of 66 OR healthcare professionals participated in the study (19 Registered Nurses, two Registered Practical Nurses, 17 anaesthesiologists, 26 surgeons, two perfusionists). The most frequently identified teamwork enablers included people management, shared definition of teamwork, communication strategies, positive emotions, familiarity with team members, and alignment of teamwork with professional role. The most frequently identified teamwork barriers included others’ personalities, gender, hierarchies, resource issues, lack of knowledge of best practices for teamwork, negative emotions, conflicting norms and perceptions across professions, being unfamiliar with team members, and on-call/night shifts.


We identified key factors influencing OR teamwork from an interprofessional perspective using a theoretically informed and systematic approach. Our findings reveal important targets for future interventions and may ultimately increase their effectiveness. Specifically, achieving optimal teamwork in the OR may require a multi-level intervention that addresses individual, team and systems-level factors with particular attention to complex social and professional hierarchies.


Effective teamwork is essential for safe, high-quality healthcare [ 1 , 2 ]. It is particularly important in the operating room (OR), where professionals of different disciplines, educational backgrounds, and experiences must work interdependently in a dynamic, high-stakes environment [ 3 – 10 ]. Studies have documented that OR teamwork “failures” (i.e. suboptimal practice) are very common: some indicate that teamwork issues happen to various degrees in every surgery [ 6 , 11 , 12 ] while others observe the rate of suboptimal teamwork practices to be as high as 17.4 per hour [ 13 ]. The odds of surgical complications are approximately five times higher when interprofessional teamwork is ineffective [ 6 ].

Although many studies have explored various facets of OR teamwork [ 14 – 16 ], there has yet to be a systematic assessment of teamwork barriers and enablers that can directly inform behavior change interventions. Instead, there has remained a gap between observational studies of teamwork offering in-depth accounts of practices within a particular context and interventional studies that aim to improve teamwork. For example, most interventions involve team training to improve some element of teamwork (e.g. communication) [ 17 ], yet observational research indicates that teamwork is a complex phenomenon influenced by multiple factors across multiple levels (i.e. individual, team, organization) [ 14 , 18 ]. A single-faceted strategy such as team training is unlikely to address the multilevel factors required for a substantial and sustainable improvement in OR teamwork as a whole. Not surprisingly, most teamwork interventions result in a limited effect on teamwork and associated outcomes [ 17 ]. In addition, there has not been any substantial reduction in patient safety events in recent years [ 19 , 20 ].

The Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF) is a tool used in the field of implementation science to close the gap between research and practice. It was specifically developed to elicit determinants of clinical behaviour and to inform the design of behaviour change interventions [ 21 , 22 ]. As a comprehensive framework comprised of key psychological theories and constructs, the TDF has been applied in a variety of healthcare settings to understand the factors driving current practice in order to change clinician behaviour [ 23 – 30 ]. Applying the TDF to behaviour (e.g. teamwork) allows its determinants (i.e. barriers and enablers) to be mapped to specific behaviour change techniques and modes of delivery [ 31 , 32 ]. This approach increases the likelihood of influencing healthcare professional behaviour in a meaningful and clinically significant way [ 23 , 32 , 33 ]. This study therefore aimed to identify factors that facilitate or impede OR teamwork from an interprofessional perspective using the TDF in order to inform future evidence-based, actionable interventions.

This study is reported in accordance with the Standards for Reporting Qualitative Research checklist [ 34 ]. Ethical approval was obtained from the Ottawa Health Science Network Research Ethics Board (#20170875; coordinating site) and the Unity Health Toronto Research Ethics Board (REB #18–396).

Study design

We conducted a prospective, multicentre qualitative study using semi-structured interviews, either in person or over the telephone, with OR healthcare providers. Participant informed consent was obtained from each participant by the study interviewers (JB, NE). For interviews conducted in person, the interviewer obtained informed written consent. For interviews conducted over the telephone, verbal consent was documented by the interviewer on the participant master list.

Setting and context

Recruitment primarily took place across six sites: one academic hospital located in Toronto, Canada and three academic hospitals located in Ottawa, Canada, one of which had three campuses. Each hospital performs a large volume of a wide range of surgical procedures, such as general, gynecological, trauma, pediatric, and cardiac surgeries, and both oncological and non-oncological surgeries. Participants at each site were invited to refer colleagues to the study as well, creating the possibility for representation of additional sites.

Sample and recruitment

All healthcare professionals working in the OR were eligible to participate, including scrub and circulating nurses, anaesthesiologists, perfusionists, anaesthesia assistants, surgeons, and anaesthesia and surgical post-graduate trainees. Across the six primary recruitment sites, there were over 1000 eligible healthcare professionals. Healthcare professionals not part of the OR team at these or referred sites were not eligible to participate. We used volunteer, purposive, and snowball sampling to optimize recruitment [ 35 ]. An invitation to participate in the study was emailed to the perioperative departments of each participating hospital site. Individuals participated in the study on a “first come, first served” basis, unless data saturation had occurred within their particular professional group. Participants were also invited to refer their colleagues from outside their centres to the study. Purposive sampling was used to obtain representativeness among professional groups where it was observed necessary (e.g. to obtain both male and female nurses). Participants were offered a gift card for participation upon completing their interview. Representativeness of the sample is limited, however, to OR team members at academic hospitals in Ontario, Canada, as this is where our primary recruitment took place.

Theoretical framework

A modified version of the Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF) [ 23 , 36 ], guided interview guide development, data collection, and analysis. The TDF is a validated framework for ascertaining barriers and facilitators to behaviour change among healthcare professionals [ 23 ]. It consists of 14 theoretical domains ( S1 Appendix ) derived from 128 theoretical constructs from 33 theories of behaviour and behaviour change relevant to determinants of behaviour and intervention development in healthcare [ 23 , 36 ]. The domains were derived through a systematic expert consensus process and provide a basis for understanding the broad set of factors that may influence behaviour. Although the TDF has been used to examine barriers and enablers to various behaviours across many healthcare settings [ 23 ], it has yet to be used to study interprofessional teams in the OR.

Interview guide

The semi-structured interview guide ( S2 Appendix ) developed by the co-investigator team comprised of practicing OR clinicians from anaesthesia, nursing, and surgery as well as researchers with backgrounds in medical education, qualitative research, implementation science, psychology, and sociology. The interdisciplinary background of the team helped to ensure the interview guide was comprehensive through inclusion of anaesthesia, nursing, and surgical perspectives as well as educational, sociological, and psychological considerations.

The guide included open-ended questions based on the TDF domains along with additional questions to explore aspects of social identity (e.g. gender, age, ethnicity) and teamwork for a separate study. The questions covered experiences and perspectives of teamwork according to participants’ professional contexts and explored factors influencing teamwork at the individual and team level. We pilot tested the interview guide with two OR clinicians (one physician and one nurse) to provide feedback on clarity of questions and revised the wording of several questions accordingly. The guide was iteratively revised throughout the interview process to better capture new themes introduced by participants and to remove or rephrase questions participants had difficulty answering, as per best practices in qualitative research [ 37 ]. Examples of questions asked include “How would you define teamwork?” ( knowledge ); “As a [profession], is there anything that influences your approach to teamwork in the OR?” ( social/professional role and identity ); “Do your emotions every influence whether or not you engage in good teamwork in the OR?” ( emotions ); and “Would any other team member influence whether or not you engage in good teamwork in the OR?” ( social influences ).

Interviewer training

Interviews were conducted in English by two research team members (JKB, NE) with no previous relationships to participants. The research team members were each trained in qualitative research methods and experienced in working within sensitive healthcare environments. Prior to conducting the interviews, the research team members familiarized themselves with the interview guide and conducted a practice interview. The interview guide was then further refined to facilitate conversation flow by adding several broad introductory questions (e.g. “What does teamwork mean to you?”) and re-ordering some of the other questions.

Data collection

Interviews were scheduled with interested participants over a four-month period (January to April 2019). Demographic information was collected from all participants (e.g. profession, years of experience, age, sex) at the time of their interview. Interviews continued until data saturation was reached, which was defined as conducting three interviews within each major professional group (anaesthesia, nursing, surgery) without the emergence of any new themes (after a minimum of 10 interviews per group) [ 38 ]. The interviewers met regularly to discuss themes emerging from the interviews and assess whether data saturation had been met.

Data analysis

Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and de-identified. De-identified transcripts were imported into NVivo 12 (QSR International, Doncaster, Australia) for analysis. Deductive directed content analysis was conducted by two research team members (JKB, NE) using the TDF as the coding framework. To establish consistency between coders, three interviews were first coded independently; after which the two coders met to review their coding, resolve discrepancies, and determine a coding strategy. All remaining interview transcripts were then divided equally between the two coders and coded using the agreed upon coding scheme. The coders met frequently to triangulate the data and maintain reliability, with 10% of the remaining interviews coded in duplicate.

After data were coded into the TDF domains, data units (i.e. several lines of text) were labelled with codes according to the key concept represented within the data unit by one coder (NE). These codes were refined whereby similar codes were grouped into larger themes within each TDF domain. Findings were summarized within and across each main professional group (i.e. nursing, anaesthesia, surgery) and verified by a second coder (JKB). TDF domains were classified as relevant to intraoperative teamwork (i.e., more likely to influence teamwork) based on: the frequency of specific beliefs across interviews (four or more clinicians identified the belief in their interview), the number of beliefs in each domain (more than two), the presence of conflicting beliefs signaling variation in beliefs and attitudes, and evidence of strong beliefs that could directly influence teamwork performance [ 23 ]. Based on all these factors, we concurrently established domain relevance.

Participant characteristics

A total of 66 healthcare professionals who currently practice in the OR were interviewed ( Table 1 ). Of these, 19 (29.9%) were Registered Nurses (15 female, 4 male), two (3%) were Registered Practical Nurses (1 female, 1 male), 17 (25.8%) were anaesthesiologists (9 female, 8 male), 26 (39.4%) were surgeons (10 female, 16 male), and two (3%) were perfusionists (1 female, 1 male). Approximately one third of participants (n = 23 [34.8%]) were anaesthesia or surgical trainees (i.e. residents or fellows). Most participants practiced in Ottawa (n = 55 [83.3%]). Among surgeons (n = 26), 54% reported general surgery as their specialty (n = 14). The median age of participants was 35 years (IQR = 29–43).

N (%) or Median (IQR)
 Registered Nurse (RN)19 (28.8%)
 Surgeon (Post-graduate trainee)14 (21.2%)
 Surgeon (Attending)12 (18.2%)
 Anaesthesiologist (Post-graduate trainee)9 (13.6%)
 Anaesthesiologist (Attending)8 (12.1%)
 Perfusionist2 (3.0%)
 Registered Practical Nurse (RPN)2 (3.0%)
 General14 (53.8%)
 Orthopedic3 (11.5%)
 Urology3 (11.5%)
 Gynecology/obstetrics1 (3.8%)
 Neurosurgery1 (3.8%)
 Otolaryngology1 (3.8%)
 Plastic1 (3.8%)
 Thoracic1 (3.8%)
 Trauma1 (3.8%)
 Toronto9 (13.6%)
 Ottawa55 (83.3%)
 Other2 (3.1%)
35 (29–43)
 Female36 (54.5%)
 Male30 (45.5%)

*applies to surgery only (n = 26).

Overview of barriers and enablers identified within relevant domains

Barriers and enablers were identified across eight relevant domains ( behavioural regulation ; emotions ; environmental context and resources ; knowledge ; reinforcement ; skills ; social influences ; social/professional role and identity ). Fig 1 summarizes all of the barriers and enablers identified by participants across all relevant domains, with further details provided in S3 Appendix . The most commonly identified behavioural domains and themes are highlighted in Table 2 .

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DomainThemeFrequency of theme n participants (%)
Anaesthesia (n = 17)Nursing (n = 23) Surgery (n = 26)Total across professions (n = 66)
Behavioural regulationCommunication practices or strategies (+)12 (71.0%)17 (73.9%)18 (69.2%)47 (71.2%)
People management (+)17 (100%)10 (43.5%)26 (100%)65 (98.5%)
EmotionsPositive/negative emotions (+ -)15 (88.2%)18 (78.3%)22 (84.6%)55 (83.3%)
Environmental context and resourcesSeverity or type of case (+ -)12 (70.6%)5 (21.7%)23 (88.5%)40 (60.6%)
On-call/night shift (-)10 (58.8%)9 (39.1%)15 (57.7%)34 (51.5%)
Resource-related challenges (-)8 (47.1%)23 (100%)22 (84.6%)53 (80.3%)
KnowledgeLack of awareness regarding best practices (-)10 (58.8%)15 (65.2%)14 (53.8%)39 (59.1%)
Shared definition of teamwork (+)15 (88.2%)15 (65.2%)24 (92.3%)54 (81.8%)
Social influences(Un)Familiarity with team members (+ -)10 (58.8%)10 (43.5%)18 (69.2%)38 (57.6%)
Hierarchies (-)13 (76.5%)17 (73.9%)24 (92.3%)54 (81.8%)
Others’ personalities (-)14 (82.4%)22 (95.7%)24 (92.3%)60 (90.9%)
Social/professional role and identityGender (-)13 (76.5%)21 (91.3%)25 (96.2%)59 (89.4%)
Teamwork is part of professional role (+)10 (58.8%)13 (56.5%)13 (50.0%)36 (54.5%)
Conflicting professional norms/values/goals/perceptions (-)10 (58.8%)9 (39.1%)18 (69.2%)37 (56.1%)

*Theme identified by 50% or more of all participants and/or 50% or more of one professional group.

a Perfusionists (n = 2) were grouped with RNs (n = 19) and RPNs (n = 2) for the purposes of this summary.

(+) = enabler; (-) = barrier; (+ -) = viewed as enabler by some participants and barrier by others.

Cell frequency colour legend: darker to lighter shading = higher to lower frequencies

Most commonly identified themes within relevant domains

Key themes, domains and illustrative quotes are summarized in Table 3 and discussed below, in order of most to least frequently discussed.

Theme (domain)Illustrative quote
(+) People management (behavioural regulation)“I, like some of my colleagues, probably resent a little bit being called, “Hey, anaesthesia,” you know? I have a name too and I think people just respond better to that”—Anaesthesiologist 1.
(-) Others’ personalities (social influences)“…I mean, it’s hard to take your personality out of it, right? There’s one or two nurses, for example, who really rub me the wrong way. We just… we have personalities that, you know, we’d never be friends outside of work. Let’s just say that.”—Surgeon 22
(-) Gender and other social identity factors (social/professional role and identity)“…you know, strong female personalities are often perceived differently than strong male personalities. You know, whereas I think a man who has a really strong personality who’s, you know, maybe a little bit more rigid and not quite as flexible… which is often viewed as, you know, being themselves and, you know, they’re kind of a tough guy but they’re a leader, whereas I think where women demonstrate some of those same behaviours, they’re thought of as bitchy or difficult and it’s just that same behaviour be framed in a different context. So, I think in some ways it can be a little bit harder to be a woman and be respected as a leader without coming across as being difficult.”–Surgeon 9
“Being Asian, you know, being an Asian girl, and I look young. Definitely, I’m not treated the same as other people… I just… so I know what I’m walking into, and I’m not going to get upset about it, because it’s just a fact now that’s what I’m going to get most of the time…”–RN 1
(+ -) Emotions (emotion)“I remember working with one of the surgeons who was just very demeaning and very demanding… it’s hard to put into words but I found that that was really hard because everyone was kind of scared all the time, and tiptoeing around… that’s not great because people are kind of in an environment of fear and that’s not the best for the patient, right?”–Surgeon 2
(-) Hierarchies (social influences; environmental context and resources)“…the stereotypical situation is you have a medical student or a PGY1 who’s like, five minutes into their training, and they sort of walk in like, ‘I’m the doctor, you’re the nurse!’ And you have a nurse that’s been in practice for 30 years and is fantastic and really knows their stuff. And there’s a bit of a power struggle there because, I mean, technically, the doctor is, quote unquote, ‘in charge’. But, that being said, that nurse knows a whole lot more. And so, when you have people that feel the need to exert their expertise or sort of show their position in a social hierarchy, I think that makes the team dynamic much more difficult.”–Surgeon 18
“[our breakroom is] more around the OR, but I find that we don’t really have one common space where we all hang out before or after or in-between ORs… in general anyways. There’s the surgeon’s area and then there’s a separate nursing area. I don’t necessarily know why there is or needs to be that distinction. And where does housekeeping hang out? You know what I mean?”–Surgeon 5
(-) Resource-related challenges (environmental context and resources)“So lately we have a lot of equipment issues, for example, so when the equipment’s missing, the surgeon’s pissed because they don’t have the right things they need and who are yelling at you, “hey, Barbara, where’s the blah blah.” And it’s not Barbara’s fault that she doesn’t have it but… so yeah… You can have a great team that’s really working hard and really rolling well, the atmosphere’s great but if there’s a whole bunch of equipment problems, that can have a huge impact on the day and people’s morale and then all of a sudden you see the teamwork getting a little shakier and a little more rocky and all the pieces aren’t playing quite as well.”–Surgeon 6
“They [surgeons] often think it’s more related to incompetency but they also don’t realize that, at least in my current place right now, our training is very bad. Our orientation is really short because we’re short staffed, so they’re cutting our training in half. You know, it takes time to be familiar with a procedure. So, if you’re new in the OR it’s going to take a number of years. So, I think for them to be empathetic and realizing that and not raising their voice and understanding, okay well this is what I need next, then it’s fine, just communicate that. You know, all you got to do is just communicate it.”–RN 5
(+) Shared definition of teamwork (knowledge)“I would [define teamwork as] everyone working towards a common goal and a common goal being a good outcome for the patient.”–Surgeon 7
(+) Communication practices or strategies (behavioural regulation)“I like to ask a lot of questions… So, when I see people, I like to clarify things. I like to repeat things to make sure that there’s no errors. And I like to include people when decisions are made. And sometimes you have to go out of your way to do some of those things.”–RN 15
(+ -) Severity or type of case (environmental context and resources)“Yes, actually it’s funny. When it is an emergency situation, I find the communication’s a lot better because I think the surgeon realizes we don’t know exactly what they need. And, for some reason, for elective cases they have this impression that we know exactly what they want at all times. It’s like they’ve written down like a detailed instruction booklet for the case and we’re kind of confused and… I mean I think there needs to be more current communication each day. Like but for emergency situations, I think it’s actually a lot better.”–RN 6
(-) Lack of awareness of best practices (knowledge)“… sorry I’m not really aware of what’s best practice.”–RN 17
(+ -) Familiarity (social influences)“I would add a little insight into saying that I think it’s easy now because I’ve been here for six years and I know everybody. And I work at the [campus name], very rarely I take call at the [campus name] and there I actually find it a little bit challenging because I don’t know people. People don’t know me. So it’s hard when you don’t… and people kind of inherently trust you as the surgeon but it’s not really the same when they don’t know you, you know, or… so I think in those moments it’s actually quite challenging when you don’t know your team members quite as well.”–Surgeon 1
(-) Conflicting professional norms/values/goals/perceptions (social/professional role and identity)“I think everyone has the same global objective, but people might have different attributes of what they think makes an effective team. But that might almost be like the discrepancies in what their individual agendas are. Like, for example, like a surgeon might be really concerned about like doing something a particular way but maybe the anaesthetist is more worried about their time under GA being shorter. Overall both of them care about the patient’s well-being but because they have different specific agendas they might not share like the same focus as their own. Things could kind of misalign there.”–Surgeon 4
(+) Teamwork as part of professional role (social/professional role and identity)“I think because it’s just so ingrained in you as a nurse in general, like even from your training in nursing, like in university or college, it’s ingrained in you that, you know, nurses are teams, you work as a team..”–RN 9
(-) On call/night shift (environmental context and resources)“…on the day you’ve been up all night, and still working the full next day, you’re not as enthused with teamwork, you’re more just trying to survive through the day and then go”—Surgeon 13

People management (n = 65 [98.5%]; behavioural regulation )

The most common theme identified across participant responses was the role of “people management” in facilitating teamwork. Managing the people in the room was reported by 100% of anaesthesiologists and surgeons (n = 17, n = 26) to facilitate teamwork compared to less than 50% of nursing staff (n = 10). Participants identified a variety of strategies that they would often use in this regard, ranging from simply “being nice” to others to actively building relationships. As part of these strategies, participants emphasized the importance of using everyone’s names (e.g. writing down everyone’s name on a piece of paper in order to remember it).

Others’ “personalities” (n = 60 [90.9%]; social influences )

The influence of others’ “personalities” was frequently cited by participants as a barrier to teamwork in the OR. Participants acknowledged that there are certain team members who do not always work well together on a personal level. Faced with these situations, many participants expressed that they would try to adjust their behaviour or approach in the OR according to the “personalities” on the team that day. This could be challenging, however, when working with “difficult personalities” and participants expressed that there are certain individuals who are “just difficult to work with” (Anaesthesiologist 8) and who “don’t play nice with others” (Anaesthesiologist 15). Personality was also spoken about as a factor separate from skill level or professional role, which “spills over into every aspect of care” (Perfusionist 2).

Gender and other social identity factors (n = 59 [89.4%]; social/professional role and identity )

The third most common theme highlighted by participants was gender. The role of gender in the OR appeared to be particularly recognized among surgeons, with all but one discussing the influence of their own gender on teamwork or their observations about how others experience challenges related to gender (n = 25 [96.2%]). Several participants also acknowledged the “privilege” they experienced as white male physicians, whereby they often reported that they had an “easier” time in the OR in terms of obtaining respect, demonstrating leadership, and maintaining positive interactions. Conversely, team dynamics could be different when a female physician asserts leadership, and this was recognized by both male and female physicians. Many female participants also expressed how other elements of their social identity intersected with gender to shape their experiences in the OR (e.g. being female and Asian). Based on their social identity characteristics, participants expressed that they were often perceived by others as less competent and this placed strain on relationships within and across professions. Frequently, communication practices, perceptions of leadership, and acts of followership were reported by participants to vary depending on the social identities of the individuals in the room.

Emotions (n = 55 [83.3%]; emotions )

Emotions were described as both potential barriers and enablers of teamwork. In particular, several negative emotions associated with fear were noted to impede teamwork. Among the emotions discussed by participants, stress, being in a “bad mood”, or feeling scared of others, were indicated as barriers to teamwork while positive emotions were viewed as enablers of effective teamwork by participants. Participants also noted that the actions of others could influence their own emotions. One Registered Nurse shared that if a surgeon was yelling at them, it would cause them to feel afraid and subsequently withdraw from effective teamwork behaviours. Of note, 18 (27.3%) participants explicitly mentioned feeling scared, fearful, or intimidated with regard to interpersonal interactions in the OR, and this was primarily in reference to the dynamic between nurses and surgeons or between surgical residents and staff surgeons. Overall, these emotions were felt to be detrimental to patient care.

Hierarchies (n = 54 [81.8%]; social influences; environmental context and resources )

Participants described how various social hierarchies could affect teamwork, including conflicts between professional status and years of experience, such as a first-year resident challenging a nurse with 30 years of experience. Related to hierarchies, participants discussed how physical separation of professions outside of the OR (e.g. having separate lounges) further impacted interprofessional relationships and could reproduce interprofessional distinctions.

Participants also identified that hierarchies could be maintained within professional groups. One example was provided by an RN who described a new checklist introduced by management that “totally segregated” the nursing team by specifying “lead nurse, nurse number 2 and then RPN… [with] rules for each person.” (RN 6). Different meetings between different nursing and support team members (e.g. RNs, RPNs, orderlies) were also reported to cause divisions.

Resource-related challenges (n = 53 [80%]; environmental context and resources )

Resources, such as staffing and equipment issues, were identified by participants as barriers to teamwork. Notably, 100% of nursing staff (n = 23) and 85% of surgeons (n = 22) considered resource-related challenges to be a barrier to teamwork compared to 47% of anaesthesiologists (n = 8). Many tensions between nursing staff and surgeons were attributed by both groups to these issues.

Shared definition of teamwork (n = 54 [81.8%]; knowledge )

A key enabler for teamwork identified from participant responses was that most team members defined teamwork in the same way. Specifically, teamwork as spoken about as “working toward a common goal”, with the common goal being patient safety or a good outcome for the patient.

Communication practices or strategies (n = 47 [71.2%]; behavioural regulation )

Participants discussed a wide variety of communication practices or strategies which they used to facilitate teamwork. Examples included: asking questions, explaining actions out loud, expressing concerns in advance, including all team members in communications, speaking loudly, and calling for a pause or time-out.

Severity or type of case (n = 40 [60.6%]; environmental context and resources )

Participants highlighted clinical acuity as influencing teamwork, but there was variation in whether this was viewed as a barrier or enabler to teamwork. Some participants reported that teamwork improved during emergent cases, while others indicated that teamwork deteriorated with heightened urgency.

Lack of awareness of best practices (n = 39 [59.1%]; knowledge )

Nearly 60 percent of participants reported that they were not aware of any best practices for teamwork in the OR. Participants reported that teamwork “was not emphasized at any point” (Perfusionist 1) during their training and that they had not experienced anything “structured or formulated” (Surgeon 5). Teamwork was also spoken of as learned “on the job” and from mentors, rather than as a trainee. Participants expressed the desire for continuing professional education related to teamwork that would specifically bring the different OR professions together. As one surgeon explained, “you never really know” how you are perceived by others, and it is important to have feedback from other team members in addition to having simulation sessions with “the whole team practicing”.

Familiarity (n = 38 [57.6%]; social influences )

For effective teamwork to occur, over half of participants cited the importance of knowing other team members. Participants reported challenges when working in an OR with unfamiliar team members and revealed that there are different levels of trust depending on whether team members know each other or not.

Conflicting professional norms/values/goals/perceptions (n = 37 [56.1%]; social/professional role and identity )

Participants discussed how different professional socialization experiences and structures could pose challenges for teamwork. For example, “what would be leadership from a nursing perspective would be very different than leadership from a physician perspective, based on their roles and their training.” (Anaesthesiologist 2). Participants also acknowledged that there are “conflicting benefits” for each sub-team, such as the pressure for surgeons to move on to the next case while “from a union perspective” nurses are entitled to “breaks and lunches”, and that can put a case on hold (Surgeon 4).

Teamwork as part of professional role (n = 36 [54.5%]; social/professional role and identity )

Many participants reported that they viewed teamwork as part of their professional role. Surgeons reported that teamwork was important to them because they are “leaders within the room” whereas anaesthesiologists viewed teamwork as important based on their simulation and crisis resource management backgrounds. Nurses reported that “you cannot really do your entire job without having your team with you and guiding you and helping you” (RN 17).

On call/night shift (n = 34 [51.5%]; environmental context and resources )

Many participants viewed being on call or working a night shift as challenging for teamwork Participants expressed that the dynamic changes between team members during these shifts, where the focus becomes more on getting through the case rather than trying to be a good team member.

Key themes in less relevant domains

Most participants reported that they made a conscious effort to engage in good teamwork ( intentions ) and that effective teamwork promoted positive outcomes for both patients (e.g. reduced complications) and clinicians (e.g. job satisfaction) ( beliefs about consequences ). Participants also generally viewed teamwork as important or desirable ( goals ) and reported that teamwork was something they put effort into and eventually became automatic over time ( memory , attention and decision processes ). The domains of optimism and beliefs about capabilities were not observed among participant responses.

This study identified barriers and enablers to effective interprofessional teamwork in the OR based on theoretically-informed interviews with a large sample of practicing OR healthcare professionals across several sites and specialties. Specifically, we obtained an interprofessional perspective of teamwork for surgical patient safety, which is important for taking a comprehensive approach to improving performance and outcomes in the OR. This sets our work apart from other studies of OR teamwork, which have been largely atheoretical, providing broad observations or suggestions for improving teamwork rather than specific and actionable information [ 14 , 18 ].

In this study, personality conflicts across the professions were often cited as a barrier to teamwork and participants acknowledged the difficulty of working with individuals that they would not associate with outside of the OR. Although personality conflicts were discussed within professions, they were most apparent across professions, with one group perceiving another as “difficult” (e.g., surgeon-nurse conflicts). This finding is consistent with other studies showing discrepancies in perceptions of teamwork quality and team members’ roles among participants of different professions [ 39 – 42 ]. We also found that despite sharing a common overall definition of teamwork, participants often revealed how the norms and structures of their individual professions conflicted, straining interprofessional relationships in the OR, and posing a risk to patient safety. It may be that while OR clinicians agree on the concept of “teamwork”, the concept of “team” may be different. As Frasier and colleagues found, different OR professions offer a different definition of who they considered to be on their “team” for a given operation [ 43 ]. For example, nurses considered other nurses and technologists to be on their team and anaesthesiologists considers anyone involved in the provision of anaesthetic care to be on their team [ 43 ]. Consequently, a key challenge with OR teamwork may be its conceptualization as profession-specific rather than truly interprofessional.

Elements of power and hierarchy appeared to be at the centre of these issues, and participants often referred to the challenges associated with their position within the OR hierarchy. It was evident that profession is just one aspect of status in the OR, as participants explicitly discussed how various social factors (e.g., gender, profession, level of experience) worked together to shape perceptions and experiences of teamwork in the OR. Consequently, teamwork interventions may need to consider the simultaneous influence of multiple hierarchies rather than solely addressing interprofessional relations. A recent systematic review of interventions to improve OR culture reported that improvement strategies could be categorized as briefings/debriefings, team-building exercises, educational campaigns, and checklists [ 44 ]. Addressing social hierarchies, such as those related to gender or race, was not described in any of these intervention strategies. This may help to explain why there have been only moderate gains in patient safety in recent years despite the proliferation of teamwork interventions [ 45 – 48 ] given the significance of several types of hierarchies reported by participants in our study. Promoting inclusive leadership from an equity and diversity perspective [ 49 ] may therefore be an important consideration for future teamwork interventions.

The physical separation of professions outside of the OR was pointed out by several participants in our study. Familiarity was also frequently discussed by participants as critical for effective teamwork and has been reported on in other studies. For example, Reeves et al . found that, often in the perioperative environment, hierarchy and separateness between physicians and nurses is “compounded by their spending periods of time in separate spaces completing profession specific tasks or engaging in conversations with members from their own professional group” [ 50 ]. Others noted that relationships between healthcare providers, however, can change in different times and places [ 51 ]. For example, evidence shows communication patterns between physicians and nurses varies by where it takes place and is often more effective in more casual areas [ 52 ]. Therefore, one way to reduce the complex and intersecting hierarchies within the OR environment is to increase familiarity with team members [ 53 ]. An interprofessional lounge may be one component of a future intervention which could allow healthcare providers of different professions to interact with each other more frequently outside of case-related group tasks in the OR, facilitating a collaborative team culture [ 54 ]. Creating a collaborative culture is not just about exchanging information, but also fostering collaborative interprofessional working relationships [ 53 ]. This is often best accomplished in more “neutral” areas, such as an interprofessional lounge, where hierarchy can be alleviated as providers engage in collegial, casual social interactions [ 55 ]. Overall, putting in place organizational structures that require interprofessional interaction and reduced hierarchy, where providers can get to know each other “as people”, is a recommended best practice for teamwork in healthcare organizations [ 56 ] resulting in better patient care [ 57 ] and improved well-being for staff [ 58 , 59 ]. In fact, a recent experimental study found that once clinicians were taken out of the workplace and put into a controlled setting, professional tribalism, hierarchical and stereotyping behaviours largely dissolved [ 60 ]. Yet, previous teamwork interventions for the OR have often overlooked the fundamental aspects of building collaborative relationships across social and professional and boundaries to overcome unconscious biases and professional silos [ 59 , 61 ].

Along with increasing familiarity among team members, it may also be valuable to teach team members strategies for recognizing and challenging unconscious biases related to gender, ethnicity, and additional social identity factors [ 62 ]. This could be accomplished through trainee education and continuing professional development curricula [ 62 ]. Teaching team members specific strategies to assist individuals in speaking up or challenging authority when needed [ 63 ], along with conflict and emotion-management techniques [ 64 ], could also be valuable. It is important to note, however, that whether individuals feel able to use these strategies and skills may depend on their social position (e.g. gender, level of experience, profession). Future research may wish to examine whether intervention effectiveness varies by these characteristics. In any case, it is clear that addressing multiple aspects of power and hierarchy will be important to the success of any teamwork intervention.

Quantitative research suggests that equipment-related issues are correlated with higher stress and lower teamwork, particularly for nurses [ 65 ]. Equipment issues were particularly relevant to nursing staff and surgeons in our study, further supporting the relevance of these issues to interprofessional teamwork. Participants in our study also revealed that resource-related challenges (e.g. equipment and staffing availability) could further create tension between professional groups. These system-level factors should be considered in intervention development in order to promote sustainability. Even if teamwork practices can be improved and hierarchies reduced among OR teams, teamwork issues may be likely to still arise if staffing and equipment needs are not addressed.

A lack of knowledge and training regarding best practices for teamwork was identified as a barrier to teamwork across professions. To overcome this barrier, it may be useful to create a teamwork protocol, drawing upon strategies identified by OR team members. For example, participants in this study identified numerous strategies they used to facilitate communication, to manage their own behaviour, and to manage interactions with others. Of course, it is important to note some professional variation was observed regarding people management, whereby physicians appeared to engage in this strategy more frequently than nurses. This may reflect perceived differences in role, power, and influence among these two groups [ 41 ]. Once again, a teamwork protocol may help to overcome these discrepancies and empower all team members to engage in specific behaviours and actions to facilitate teamwork and patient safety. In any case, enhancing knowledge and training regarding best teamwork practices may also help to reduce some of the other barriers identified by participants. For example, learned teamwork skills may be used to navigate personality conflicts or the presence of negative emotions and ultimately lessen the impact of these barriers.

Emotions were also reported to be a key factor influencing teamwork in the OR. Each of these themes may be useful starting points to explore in moving toward enhanced teamwork education, training and guidelines. Addressing these considerations may also be a useful aid to teams during high acuity cases and call shifts, which were challenging times for teamwork identified by participants.

Strengths and limitations

Although we achieved saturation, not all surgical specialties were represented, and most surgeons who participated practised general surgery. It will be important for future studies to determine whether there are variations in the themes reported here depending on the particular surgical specialty. Similarly, OR support staff, such as attendants, did not participate in the study and only two perfusionists participated. Consequently, this study cannot draw conclusions based on the experiences of OR professions outside of nursing, anaesthesia or surgery. Nevertheless, our study did include a balance of trainees and non-trainees and female and male healthcare professionals across these three professions. Most participants, however, were from an Ottawa-based hospital. Results may therefore not be representative of teamwork experiences in other hospitals or geographic locations. For example, there may be different norms and practices in different places related to power and hierarchy. These should be examined in future work.

Unlike other studies [ 20 , 18 ], we did not aim to understand teamwork in one specialty, but teamwork in general. A key strength of our study is its large interprofessional sample, comprehensive and theory-informed interview guide, and conceptual generalizability and transferability [ 66 ]. Not only were we able to obtain important insights about teamwork from participants of different OR professions, but also, we were able to identify how numerous factors work together to shape barriers and enablers. This includes the finding that power and hierarchy in the OR exist along numerous social lines. It will be important for future work to further explore the larger social and structural factors influencing what is experienced as a barrier or enabler, by whom, and why. Although the TDF is useful for identifying specific influences on healthcare professional behaviour in order to inform intervention development, there may be other models, theories and frameworks that may be applied in future work to better understand broader cultural and contextual influences on teamwork and the inter-relationship between individual, team, and environmental factors. Nevertheless, this study reprsesnts a first step toward providing the type of data needed to move toward more effective interprofessional teamwork interventions for the OR.

Our study identified key determinants of OR teamwork from an interprofessional perspective using a theoretically informed and systematic approach. Results suggest that achieving optimal teamwork in the OR may require a multi-level intervention that addresses individual, team and systems-level factors with particular attention to complex social and professional hierarchies.

Supporting information

S1 appendix, s2 appendix, s3 appendix, acknowledgments.

Sandy Lam, Karthik Raj, and Ilinca Dutescu for their assistance with coordinating the study.

Dr. Boet was supported by The Ottawa Hospital Anesthesia Alternate Funds Association and the Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa with a Tier 2 Clinical Research Chair.

Funding Statement

This study was supported by a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR): #384512. Dr. Boet was supported by The Ottawa Hospital Anaesthesia Alternate Funds Association.

Data Availability

Aaron Hall Attorney

Unleashing Collaborative Leadership: Breaking Barriers for Team and Company Success

Collaborative leadership, an essential element in achieving strategic objectives, acts as a catalyst for team and company success. By facilitating connections among diverse groups, collaborative leadership fosters innovation, problem-solving abilities, efficiency, and productivity. It breaks down silos and addresses cultural and organizational barriers to collaboration, promoting cross-functional communication and trust. This article explores the power of collaborative leadership, strategies for effective collaboration, and the benefits of extending collaboration beyond organizational boundaries. Embracing collaborative leadership is crucial for organizations to overcome barriers and unleash their full potential.

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Collaborative leadership is essential for achieving strategic objectives and is a fundamental differentiator in organizations.
  • Collaboration enhances innovation, problem-solving abilities, efficiency, and productivity by leveraging diverse perspectives and pooling resources.
  • Collaborative leadership helps break down silos within organizations, promotes cross-functional communication and trust, and addresses cultural and organizational barriers to collaboration.
  • Collaborative leadership extends beyond teams and includes collaboration with external partners, enabling organizations to leverage external expertise, foster innovation, and promote strategic alliances and partnerships for mutual benefit.

The Power of Collaborative Leadership

Collaborative leadership plays a significant role in unleashing the potential of teams and organizations by breaking down barriers and promoting effective communication and collaboration. The advantages of collaboration are numerous and impactful. Collaboration enhances innovation and creativity by bringing together diverse perspectives and ideas. It improves problem-solving abilities by leveraging the knowledge and expertise of team members. By pooling resources and expertise, collaboration increases efficiency and productivity within organizations. Furthermore, collaboration fosters a sense of ownership and commitment among team members, leading to increased engagement and motivation. Collaborative leadership also has a positive impact on organizations by overcoming silos and barriers. It promotes cross-functional communication and collaboration, encourages the sharing of information and resources, and addresses cultural and organizational barriers to collaboration. Overall, collaborative leadership is essential for harnessing the full potential of teams and organizations and achieving strategic objectives.

Overcoming Silos: A Path to Success

Overcoming organizational silos requires fostering a culture of open communication and trust, promoting cross-functional collaboration and the sharing of information and resources across teams. This is essential for breaking down barriers and facilitating collaboration within organizations. Collaborative leadership plays a crucial role in addressing resistance to collaboration and promoting a culture of openness and trust. By establishing clear goals and objectives, providing necessary resources and support, and encouraging diverse perspectives and ideas, organizations can effectively foster collaboration. This will help in overcoming the cultural and organizational barriers that hinder collaboration. Additionally, collaborative leadership extends beyond teams and includes collaboration with external partners. This enables organizations to leverage external expertise and resources, fostering innovation and market competitiveness. Overall, collaborative leadership is key to overcoming silos and achieving success in teams and companies.

Building Trust and Openness in Teams

Establishing a culture of trust and openness within teams is crucial for fostering effective collaboration and achieving shared goals. Building trust and fostering openness in teams create an environment where individuals feel comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions, leading to better communication and collaboration. It also promotes a sense of psychological safety, where team members feel supported and valued, enabling them to take risks and contribute their unique perspectives. Trust and openness facilitate transparency, honesty, and accountability, allowing teams to address conflicts and challenges openly and constructively. Furthermore, they encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing, as team members are more likely to share information and resources when they trust one another. Overall, building trust and fostering openness in teams are essential for creating a collaborative and productive work environment.

Resources and Support: Keys to Effective Collaboration

Resources and support play a crucial role in facilitating effective collaboration within organizations. Adequate resources enable teams to access the tools and technology necessary for collaboration, while support from management ensures that teams have the necessary guidance and encouragement to work together. By providing resources, such as meeting spaces, technology platforms, and funding for training and development, organizations can create an environment that fosters teamwork and collaboration. Additionally, support from leaders and managers helps to create synergy among team members, as they provide guidance, feedback, and recognition for collaborative efforts. This support also helps to break down barriers and overcome challenges that may arise during the collaboration process. Overall, resources and support are essential in creating an environment that encourages effective collaboration and fosters teamwork within organizations.

Embracing Diverse Perspectives for Innovation

Embracing diverse perspectives fosters a culture of innovation within organizations. This culture of inclusivity and openness allows for the exploration of various ideas and approaches, leading to enhanced creativity and problem-solving. By embracing diverse perspectives, organizations can tap into the wealth of knowledge and experiences that different individuals bring to the table. This fosters a collaborative environment where individuals feel valued and empowered to contribute their unique insights. It also helps to break down barriers and biases that may hinder innovation. Embracing inclusivity not only promotes a more diverse workforce but also encourages individuals to challenge existing norms and think outside the box. This ultimately leads to the development of innovative solutions and a competitive advantage for organizations.

Communication and Decision-Making: Essential Elements

Effective communication and decision-making are critical elements in facilitating collaboration and achieving organizational goals. Communication strategies play a crucial role in establishing a culture of open communication and trust among team members. Clear and frequent communication promotes understanding, alignment, and coordination of efforts, thereby enhancing collaboration. Decision-making processes are equally important as they provide a framework for making informed and effective decisions. Implementing structured decision-making processes ensures that decisions are made based on relevant information, analysis, and evaluation. This helps in avoiding potential conflicts and ensures that decisions are aligned with the overall goals and objectives of the organization. By incorporating effective communication strategies and decision-making processes, organizations can unleash the full potential of collaborative leadership and break barriers for team and company success.

Extending Collaboration Beyond Organizational Boundaries

Extending collaboration beyond organizational boundaries enables organizations to tap into external expertise, resources, and knowledge exchange. In a digital age, there are global collaboration opportunities that organizations can leverage to enhance their competitiveness and innovation. The benefits of extending collaboration beyond organizational boundaries include:

  • Access to external expertise: Collaborating with external partners allows organizations to benefit from the knowledge and experience of others who possess specialized skills and expertise.
  • Resource pooling: By collaborating with external partners, organizations can pool resources and share costs, leading to increased efficiency and productivity.
  • Knowledge exchange: Collaborating with external partners facilitates the exchange of ideas, best practices, and industry insights, enabling organizations to stay updated and adapt to changing market conditions.
  • Market expansion: Collaborative efforts with external partners can help organizations enter new markets and expand their reach, leading to increased market competitiveness and growth.

Overall, extending collaboration beyond organizational boundaries in a digital age offers organizations unique opportunities to enhance their capabilities and achieve strategic objectives.

Leveraging External Expertise and Resources

Leveraging external expertise and resources allows organizations to tap into a broader pool of knowledge and capabilities. Accessing external resources provides organizations with the opportunity to benefit from the expertise and experiences of individuals and organizations outside of their own. By collaborating with external partners, organizations can access specialized knowledge and skills that may not be available internally. This can lead to enhanced innovation, problem-solving, and efficiency. Additionally, accessing external resources can provide organizations with a fresh perspective and diverse viewpoints, enabling them to approach challenges and opportunities from different angles. Collaborating with external partners also opens up the possibility for strategic alliances and partnerships, which can further enhance an organization’s competitive position in the market. Overall, leveraging external expertise and resources is an effective way for organizations to expand their knowledge base and capabilities.

Strategic Alliances: Fueling Market Competitiveness

Strategic alliances play a pivotal role in enhancing an organization’s market competitiveness.

  • Strategic alliances enable organizations to leverage external expertise and resources, leading to increased innovation and market competitiveness.
  • Collaborating with other companies fosters the exchange of knowledge and ideas, providing organizations with a competitive edge.
  • Strategic alliances facilitate the pooling of resources, allowing organizations to access new markets and customer segments.
  • By forming strategic alliances, organizations can share risks and costs, leading to improved financial performance and market position.

These alliances enable organizations to tap into complementary strengths and capabilities, creating opportunities for growth and expansion. By joining forces, organizations can overcome market challenges and gain a competitive advantage. Collaborating with external partners through strategic alliances is an effective strategy for organizations to enhance their market competitiveness and achieve long-term success.

Learning From External Sources: a Competitive Advantage

Learning from external sources provides organizations with a competitive advantage by expanding their knowledge base and accessing new insights. Collaborative leadership facilitates this process through external partnerships and knowledge exchange. By collaborating with external partners, organizations can tap into a wider range of expertise and resources that may not be available internally. This allows them to gain fresh perspectives and innovative ideas, leading to improved problem-solving and decision-making. Furthermore, knowledge exchange with external sources enables organizations to stay updated on industry trends, emerging technologies, and market dynamics. This information can help organizations adapt to changing environments and identify new opportunities for growth. Overall, learning from external sources through collaborative leadership enhances an organization’s ability to stay competitive and thrive in a dynamic business landscape.

Unleashing Collaborative Leadership: Breaking Barriers for Success

To foster effective collaboration, organizations must create an inclusive environment that encourages open communication and trust among individuals. Breaking down barriers is essential for unleashing collaborative leadership and achieving success. The following collaboration success factors can help organizations overcome barriers and create a conducive environment for collaboration:

  • Foster a culture of psychological safety, where individuals feel comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions without fear of judgment or repercussion.
  • Implement effective communication and feedback mechanisms to ensure clear understanding and alignment among team members.
  • Encourage diversity and inclusion by valuing and respecting different perspectives, backgrounds, and expertise.
  • Provide necessary resources and support for collaboration, such as technology tools, training, and mentorship programs.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can collaborative leadership enhance problem-solving abilities within an organization.

Collaborative leadership enhances problem-solving abilities within an organization by fostering open communication, diverse perspectives, and efficient processes. It leverages the collective knowledge and expertise of team members, leading to innovative and effective solutions.

What Are Some Strategies for Fostering Open Communication and Trust Among Team Members?

Strategies for fostering open communication and trust among team members include building relationships, establishing clear communication channels, encouraging active listening, providing feedback, and promoting a culture of respect and collaboration. Effective communication is essential for team success.

How Does Collaborative Leadership Facilitate Knowledge Sharing and Learning Within Organizations?

Collaborative leadership facilitates knowledge sharing and learning within organizations by promoting innovation and encouraging knowledge exchange. It fosters a culture of open communication, trust, and diverse perspectives, resulting in enhanced problem-solving abilities and increased efficiency.

What Are the Benefits of Extending Collaboration Beyond Organizational Boundaries?

Extending collaboration beyond organizational boundaries offers significant benefits and impact. It enables organizations to leverage external expertise and resources, fosters innovation and market competitiveness, facilitates knowledge exchange, and promotes strategic alliances and partnerships for mutual benefit.

How Can Strategic Alliances and Partnerships Fuel Market Competitiveness for Organizations?

Strategic alliances and partnerships can fuel market competitiveness for organizations by leveraging external expertise and resources, fostering innovation, and enabling knowledge exchange. Collaborative leadership plays a crucial role in facilitating and managing these collaborations for mutual benefit and sustainable growth.


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    Dispersed teams. Since remote work is growing in popularity, apart from the numerous benefits of the solution, there are also barriers to collaboration. Teamwork in dispersed teams is challenging and requires a clear set of rules and appropriate tools to increase efficiency. It might be the case that the flow of information is not working ...

  6. 4 Collaboration Barriers—And How To Overcome Them

    Access to People. b. Access to Information. c. Outdated Technology. d. Distractions. From the layout of an office to the methods of communication, these barriers take many different forms and ...

  7. How to overcome the nine most common teamwork barriers

    Teamwork can have great benefits, but several predictable challenges can negatively impact team performance. In this paper, we examine these challenges, and summarize nine of the most common barriers to effective teamwork (i.e., competing demands, undervaluing teammates, power differentials, a leader not promoting collaboration, inexperience ...

  8. Collaborative problem solvers are made not born

    How it should work. At the most general level, collaborative problem-solving requires team members to establish and maintain a shared understanding of the situation they're facing and any ...

  9. How to ace collaborative problem solving

    To solve any problem—whether personal (eg, deciding where to live), business-related (eg, raising product prices), or societal (eg, reversing the obesity epidemic)—it's crucial to first define the problem. In a team setting, that translates to establishing a collective understanding of the problem, awareness of context, and alignment of ...

  10. The Six Main Barriers Against Problem-Solving And How To ...

    Double loop always to make sure that you are not patching over the symptoms but getting to the heart of the matter. 6. Failure to identify the involved parts. Take time to figure out and consult ...

  11. 9 Collaboration techniques to solve problems: A guide for leaders and

    Benefits of collaborative problem solving. Solving complex problems in groups helps you find solutions faster. With more perspectives in the room, you'll get ideas you'd never have thought of alone. In fact, collaboration can cause teams to spend 24% less time on idea generation. Together, you'll spark more ideas and reach innovative ...

  12. 5 Common Collaboration Problems and How To Manage Them

    Here are some common collaboration challenges you might encounter when working with a team: 1. Communication. Communication is an essential aspect of collaboration. When teams communicate effectively, they can better share important project information, build rapport and complete assignments successfully. Sometimes, ineffective or incompatible ...

  13. 6 Common Problem Solving Barriers and How Can Managers Beat them

    Fear of failure. One of the most common barriers to problem solving is fear of failure. Fear can prevent us from taking risks and trying new things, preventing us from achieving our goals. Overcoming this fear is vital to success. Several ways to reduce or eliminate fear include practice, visualization, and positive self-talk.

  14. Overcoming Common Barriers to Collaboration, Part 1

    Common Barriers to Collaboration. Some of the most common organizational, cultural, and interpersonal barriers to collaboration include the following: A lack of respect and trust. Different mindsets. Poor listening skills. Knowledge deficits. A lack of alignment around goals. Internal competitiveness.

  15. From Barriers to Breakthroughs: Best Practices for Effective Workplace

    Creating an inclusive environment where every team member feels valued and respected enables diverse perspectives and ideas to flourish. Encouraging diverse participation in decision-making processes and problem-solving activities enriches a collaborative experience. 7. Facilitate Cross-Functional Collaboration

  16. Collaboration.3 -- 7 Barriers to problem-solving skill development

    Two friends who solved a problem effectively may fail to address a more straightforward problem when they come together next week. Interconnecting their minds and thus creating collaboration ...

  17. The Biggest Barrier to Collaborative Problem Solving

    No wonder group problem solving is so messy. While it might seem this article is complete, that I've already answered the question posed in the title, it isn't that easy. It is one thing to identify a barrier; it is an entirely different thing to remove that barrier. So let's do a little problem solving on collaborative problem solving.

  18. Solving Challenges and Barriers to Teamwork

    Resources on Problem Solving. The following provide information and resources on how teams can solve two common issues collaboratively: personal conflict between team members and sustaining team member involvement in a study: Collaborative problem solving. Both leaders and contributors play an important role in solving problems.

  19. Barriers and enablers to effective interprofessional teamwork in the

    In any case, enhancing knowledge and training regarding best teamwork practices may also help to reduce some of the other barriers identified by participants. For example, learned teamwork skills may be used to navigate personality conflicts or the presence of negative emotions and ultimately lessen the impact of these barriers.

  20. Unleashing Collaborative Leadership: Breaking Barriers for Team and

    Collaborative leadership, an essential element in achieving strategic objectives, acts as a catalyst for team and company success. By facilitating connections among diverse groups, collaborative leadership fosters innovation, problem-solving abilities, efficiency, and productivity. It breaks down silos and addresses cultural and organizational barriers to collaboration, promoting cross ...

  21. PDF 5 Challenges for the Collaborative Classroom and How to Solve Them

    Collaborative learning doesn't just benefit students. Teachers benefit as well. For instance, collaborative learning makes classroom management easier. When teachers assign tasks to students in groups, they can monitor progress by checking in on five or six different groups instead of 25 individual students. "This gives

  22. Overcoming Barriers to Collaboration Among Partners-in-Teaching

    Barriers to effective special education consultation. Remedial and Special Education, 9, 41-47. Google Scholar. Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological analysis ... A Qualitative Study of Student Teachers' Experiences with Collaborative Problem Solving. Show details Hide details. Cynthia C. Griffin and more ... Teacher Education and ...

  23. Describe two barriers to collaborative problemsolving What

    Describe two barriers to collaborative problem-solving. What techniques can an educator employ to keep blame from entering problem-solving meetings? ... Answer. 3 months ago. Barriers to Collaborative Problem-Solving. Lack of Trust: Trust is a fundamental component of any collaborative effort. If team members do not trust each other, they may ...