The Major Reasons Collaboration Fails

The Major Reasons Collaboration Fails

locking out teams

When I received advice from 100 peers in five nations, a key question I asked (and the question that received the most responses) is “What is the number one reason that collaboration fails?” As you read the responses, consider what is needed to turn a negative into a positive.


Alissa Amos—Egos

Amy Fox—Ego. If I spend my time comparing and contrasting my gifts and skills to the person I am working with and going either one up or one down to them I miss the abundance of the situation and the opportunity to ignite and stretch each other to greater heights.

Brad Clarke—Ego

Herky Cutler—Pride/Ego – When one or more members let their pride/ego get in the way of trying new things, being open to new ideas and/or accepting that what has worked in the past may not work any longer, that’s usually when collaboration fails.

Michelle Phaneuf, P.Eng C.Med—Egos and fears often get in the way during the collaboration process.  My inside voice is always popping up and asking,

“Are you sure you are getting as much as the other person?” I have learned to ignore it and work towards an open outcome—which usually get us both more than we thought possible.


Andrew J. McQuiston—Lack of “buy-in” from one or more of the participants.

Bernie Fitterer—Collaboration fails because individuals are more focused on their vested interests or what is in it for themselves than a greater good. Sadly, when individuals focus exclusively on self-interest, the outcome is less than it can be.

Kevin Barg—Pride, Selfishness, Greed, Immaturity, Ignorance, Lack of

Knowledge, Lack of Desire for Knowledge (many of these are related to each other and can be either a root issue or a surface issue).

Lee Wahl—Only worried about your own interests versus joint.

Lynda MacNeill—Personal agendas or objectives.

Mary Ellen & Lorraine Richmond—When the ego or pride is too attached to a particular portion of the process or outcome. When an individual or group of individuals begin to act in a hording manner, rather than with the spirit of generosity for the greater benefit of all, collaboration is awkward and can cease to be productive. Working, thinking and creating together is a discipline of generosity in time, energy and skills.

Rick Hatala, BSc, P.Eng, PMP—Self-interest grounded in fear and a sense of separation.


Carrie Shafer—Competition: community groups compete for funding while businesses compete for business. Lack of Trust – Change in partner manager or unsuitable personality. One or more groups not wanting to let go of control. Lack or loss of a champion.

Cinnie Noble – Competitive behaviors, poor communications, lack of commitment to or sharing the purpose, internal conflict that remains unresolved, lack of a sense of belonging, lack of motivation, cynical, pessimistic, lack of trust, historical experiences that preclude positive and active participation.

Jeffrey M. Cohen, Esq – Collaboration fails when individuals refuse to subordinate their self-interests to the collective consciousness of the group. Refusal to give up one’s “turf” is counterproductive to achieving a group’s shared vision.

Lack of Trust:

Colin Campbell—Lack of trust. A desire on the part of the politicians to be first or to make a profit over the expense of the other guy. Partnerships in business seldom work and I think it is because the partnership is often formed for economic reasons and the parties being individuals who tend to get things done don’t know how to collaborate with someone else.

Dr. Nancy Love—Collaboration fails when the trust in each other is marred by past or present actions, perceived or real, that do not allow the collaborators to be honest with each other. It is vital in business, as it is with astronauts in space, that everyone say what they are thinking. That is the only path to sustainable decisions. When people do not SHARE everything they are thinking or concerned about then the collaboration is based on false information and false relationships. If it is not grounded in open and honest dialog then it can go very wrong. First-time collaborators have not developed a trust in the process to create the best decisions. We know the process allows the kind of input and caution to create not only sustainable but regenerative relationships and GOOD decisions but until someone has seen that happen there is skepticism and concern. I have found two kinds of concerns. There is the “BUT I’m the expert…” concern and there is the “Why should I help them…” concern. Either will get in the way of the deliberately gentle, honest, open and specific talk necessary to ensure results and success from collaboration.

Garth Wiggill—Trust

Henry Mead—The collaboration is not genuinely open to new ideas, and the element of trust is missing.

Pat Van Hesteren—Trust is required to insure that both parties’ interests are being addressed and that information shared works to advance all involved. If it is a take-take approach then the collaborative efforts will be for none.

Also the inability to express an idea or thought in the way that it was intended can lead to misinterpretation and break down the process. Clarity is critical.

Sherry Matheson—Members of the team not feeling free to express their thoughts, feelings and make mistakes.

Ron Salt—One or more of the participating parties isn’t trusted and wants more than their fair share.

Lack of Clarity:

Douglas Stone—Because people are different or they are not good at communicating or aren’t clear on their purposes at the outset, or unexpected stress sets in and each person has a different way of coping with it—similar to a marriage.

Susan Brady—Lack of clarity around decision-making/who does what.

No Agreement:

Geoff Greenwell—Lack of solid written agreements. People make the mistake of verbalizing commitments without documenting them and having both (all) parties sign.

Too Hurried:

Gary Ockenden—Not enough conversation before intention formed. Iris English—When we get into a “me first!” mindset; when we take the way of grabbing the first “right” answer, of not thinking through to outcomes that benefit ALL of the “us,” rather than just the singular “us”; when we think only with our wallets, and not with our hearts and logic and ethics; when we fail to listen so that we hear what is being said—and not said; when we choose to feel that anything we want/need is, by definition, more important that what anyone else might want/need; when we fall into the mindset that if “they” get something, it will mean “I” get less… ; when we forget that generosity of action and spirit always pays dividends. Maybe that is all summarized by the word “greed”?

Expectations Not Shared:

James Heilman—A lack of a truly shared goal.

Jason Donev—Unreasonable expectations around everyone being on the same page; people often don’t have the same goals, methods, values and desired outcomes.

Janice Sommerfeld—Lack of honest, open communication; unequal efforts and/or benefits.

Jodie Kekula—One party is not personally vested in an outcome.

Justin Brown—When there is no defined set of goals or a solid agenda.

Stakeholders Excluded:

James Muraro—Lack of integration or contribution of all individuals in the community.

Incomplete Authority:

Paul Blakeney—Poorly defined decision-making authority. Are we really collaborating, does someone (usually a government, board or legislation) have a trump or impede our work together? The wrong people in the room. Inability or unwillingness to add, exclude/excuse or modify those people in the room overtime as the collaboration moves forward and interest are more fully understood. Choosing to collaborate when another process is more appropriate (arbitration, conciliation/shuttle mediation, authoritative decision making, do nothing, positional bargaining etc.).


Kristine Skogg—Not listening effectively and/or having the ability to vocalise effectively.

Nick Rubidge—Inequality between partners, or unequal sharing of benefits.

Pete Cheesbrough—Finding the right balance between staying open minded to everything, and sticking to what one believes is right. Compromising with other people’s views and perspectives in service of a desired outcome requires humility, confidence and faith.

Peter K. Hisch—Failure to plan, and communicate the plan on how we will collaborate efforts.

Philip H. Shecter, P.C.—Someone, whether a party participant or professional creating a split between the parties and creating entrenchment with certain positions; usually occurs when one or more professionals in the process either fails to develop necessary skills or allows him or herself to align with one party’s position instead of encouraging remaining open to discussion of all possible outcomes.

Ray MacEachern—Participant(s)’s unwillingness to compromise.

Richard Schultz—My sense is that collaboration fails when there is a “misalignment” of the purpose, vision and values driving the collaboration. When there is clarity and agreement of these fundamental factors, then the probability of success improves. These become guiding principles to focus intention toward an outcome.

Scott Meakin—Lack of alignment with line of sight to agreed objectives or goals. If there isn’t a clear line of site between the project’s objectives and the organization’s strategic objectives, then even in the event of apparent success of a project it won’t have lasting impact as the project will fall by the wayside for not providing the necessary value add and link to strategic line of sight. Think of this as producing a better loaf of bread when the company’s business is only donuts.

Shawne Duperon—When your integrity and values are not aligned. When you have different goals, ideas and values, you clash and you can’t deeply cause something. Collaboration requires authentic transparency. One of those transparencies includes a clear idea of who you collaborate with and why. The “how” naturally takes care of itself. Deep collaborators become aligned.

Stephen Hobbs (DrWELLth)—Being out of balance between assertiveness and cooperation. Too much assertiveness, slip towards conflicted challenges

with others. Too much cooperation, slip towards compromised settlement for you. To collaborate you cannot have assertiveness without cooperation and cooperation without assertiveness. In other words, to have assertiveness you need cooperation and to have cooperation you need assertiveness.

Trish Barnes—Frustration: “Hell is other people!” Viki Winterton—It must be a win-win.

Dr. Hedy Bach—distorted sense of altruism.

Keith Laws—The drive of humans to attempt to control their environment.

Ken Cloke—

  • Neglecting to involve those who are most immediately impacted by the problem
  • Not making collaborative improvements in the design of systems, processes, relationships, communications, and technology
  • Not reducing or eliminating bureaucratic work that takes time and energy from collaboration efforts
  • Inability to visualize what collaboration is intended to achieve, or using it to pursue unclear priorities or vague objectives
  • Lack of clarity about how to put it into practice
  • Failing to transform existing cultures, processes, and relationships, and significantly alter day-to-day behaviors.

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David B Savage

David B Savage