Interpersonal Edge: Collaboration trumps independence in the workplace
Sunday, September 6, 2015

By Dr. Daneen Skube

Tribune Content Agency

  Q: I’m hard-working, thorough and extremely competent, so it frustrates me how often co-workers drop the ball. My boss says I need to work with my team better, but they don’t know as much as I do. How can I can improve teamwork and still maintain my productivity?

  A: Our society believes strongly in the Cult of the Individual. We genuinely think great things get done by great people who work alone. The truth is, everyone who achieves anything of value learns to collaborate and doesn’t insist on independence.

  Clients I’ve known who think like you often have good reasons to be frustrated when working with others. Team members can be slow, lazy and incompetent. Such smart, competent clients don’t realize, however, that they tend to suck up all the responsibility in the room.

  There’s an art to sitting in a meeting and not jumping in immediately when a task needs to be done. Work hard at breathing deeply and watch who jumps in if you can control your impulse to do it all.

  Co-workers of super competent-teammates often tell me they feel inferior around such driven, demanding colleagues. After a while, they avoid doing anything because their brainy colleague keeps grabbing all the work.

  To learn collaboration, you must first learn to tolerate more anxiety than do when handling everything yourself. You’ll find that others will make mistakes, be surprised you aren’t jumping in, and finally increase their competency.

  As you get more help, your resentment about your team will decrease. You’ll be more willing to mentor co-workers in areas where you have expertise, without making them feel stupid. As you mentor more people, they’ll be able to take more tasks off your plate - which benefits you.

  You must also embrace the fact that human beings are pack animals. We have the longest dependency period (babyhood) of any mammal. We should graduate from childhood relatively comfortable with the necessity of relying on others. Instead, most of us find dependency a sign of weakness.

  Research shows that one of the top child-rearing values for Western parents is independence. Parents brag about how fast a child was toilet-trained, walked, or gave up a pacifier. In truth, whether a baby learned a skill early or late makes no difference in their life success.

  In adulthood, this parenting priority can carry over and limit our capacity for productivity. We often don’t see others as resources to help us achieve goals, but as speed bumps in the way of our efficiency.

  For my dissertation, I gave individuals a test for independence. I then placed participants into three groups; high, medium and low independence. Next, I gave each group a test to measure productivity. The highly-independent people couldn’t even complete the productivity test. Those with a low independence quotient did superbly. The medium independence folks completed the task, but not well.

  The truth is, greatness in and out of the workplace requires others. Your ability to get work done with and through people will be the greatest determinant of whether your job is profitable and fun. 

  The last word(s)

  Q: I have some goals at work this year, but everything I want to do seems really complicated, so I do nothing. Is there a way to break through my inertia?

  A: I teach my clients to ask themselves what the lazy person’s route to a goal might be. Realize that you earn no points in life for level of difficulty. Simplify and you’ll reach those goals!

 Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel’s “Workplace Guru” each Monday morning. She’s the author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.



 This was printed in the September 6, 2105 - September 19, 2015 edition.


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