Top Barriers to Collaboration and How to Overcome Them

An undeniably common trend these days is collaboration. Web collaboration, audio collaboration, document sharing, the list goes on. Everywhere you look collaboration tools are poised to assist us in project management, communicating with one another or sharing information.

Of course, collaboration isn’t a new concept. As humans, we’ve been developing collaboration techniques since the days of using grunts and finger points to get two hunters’ arrows into the same wildebeest. The arrows may be IPO’s now, and the wildebeest our competitor’s market edge, but collaboration is just as crucial as it ever was.
Just as collaboration is not new, neither are the barriers to collaboration that we are faced with every day. There are four common barriers that are easily identified:

1) DISTANCE – Our intended partners may be separated by distances of hundreds or thousands of miles. This barrier is probably the most easily understood, as well as the easiest to overcome.
Today, we have the ability to communicate over vast distances not only by voice, but also text, email and video without leaving our desk or even our home. Cell phones, tablets, web, VoIP and video are all merging together (and with the advent of uMobility technologies, practically interchangeable). Nearly ubiquitous device and network access means that we are more connected and capable of being in touch than ever before. At no time in history has distance been as little a consideration as it is now.

2) LANGUAGE and CULTURE – Being able to hear or even see someone a thousand miles away is all well and good, but doesn’t help much if neither of you understands the other’s language. This may be one of the most vexing barriers, because, whether it be software driven or people managed, simple translation cannot always help us navigate the differences inherent in a multicultural business.

New software such as Google Translate has made it possible to get extremely fast and reasonably accurate translations for common phrases, words, and sentences. Putting those in context and building the foundation of trust and understanding that is necessary for efficient collaboration may be something that takes years, however.

3) FUNCTION/EXPERTISE – Have you ever witnessed a discussion between your company’s CIO and Marketing Director about the pros and cons of a particular piece of technology or software? Not only may they not have any common ground for understanding, the terms and background training that each would expect from a peer may be completely absent.

Even though they’re speaking the same cultural language, they are not able to effectively collaborate because there is just too great of a gap between the viewpoints and knowledge base that the other takes for granted and necessary for their daily work.

4) ORGANIZATIONAL/BEAURACRATIC – Even if you are in the same building, floor or room, collaborating with someone of a different department or level might be difficult. Failing to make the shift from a bounded, within-group mindset to a boundary spanning, cross-group mindset can mean the demise of your chances to excel, both for your organization and personally.


Organizational issues are some of the most difficult boundaries to remove. It’s the “unseen line” that many individuals and companies don’t even realize is there. If middle managers aren’t able to look up, and senior managers don’t bother to or are incapable of seeing down, mission-critical decisions are made without a clear understanding of the business impact. The same is true of managers who are unable to cross lateral departmental boundaries. The inability to understand the motivations and needs of other areas in the same organization, or feeling uncomfortable discussing current projects and initiatives with them can create a huge disconnect.

The ways in which we collaborate today are extensive and varied. With hosting and webinar style solutions practically ubiquitous, Microsoft’s Sharepoint and other document storage services are achieving enterprise maturity. Even comprehensive audio/video/web systems such as NEC’s Meeting Center are making their mark on the business world – learn more about the power of collaboration within UC.