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Nine Scary Collaborators: The Behaviors of Some Colleagues Can Be Unnerving

A Personal Perspective: In the spirit of the season.

Created on Canva by Deb Mashek
Scary Collaborators
Source: Created on Canva by Deb Mashek

Let’s face it, some individuals are better collaborators than others. They engage shared work with curiosity, care, connection, commitment, and competence. Other collaborators? Well, their behaviors can be downright scary. In the spirit of the season, here are nine scary collaborators. Do what they do if you want to scare others away.

  1. Frankenstein. This project has been bolted onto Frankenstein’s already complex frame of commitments and responsibilities. Though they have zero capacity to give to the project, they take on action items anyway. Those action items never get done. Frustration mounts as the project lumbers along.
  2. Ghost. Was it a figment of your imagination, or was Ghost once actually on this project? Ghost hasn’t been to a meeting in weeks. All their action items remain incomplete, and they haven’t replied to any of the team’s emails either.
  3. Goblin. When Goblin arrives at meetings, you know participation will be wildly imbalanced. You see, Goblin gobbles up the airspace, hogging all the attention. According to them, their ideas are the only ones that warrant consideration. They yammer, interrupt, and feel somewhat slimy.
  4. Headless Horseman. Headless Horseman forgets what they are supposed to do between meetings and, judging from their off-topic “contributions,” it’s pretty clear they’re unsure what we’re trying to accomplish anyway. Yet again, they didn’t read the agenda or complete the pre-work.
  5. Jack-o-Lantern. To keep that toothy grin carved on their face at all times, Jack-o-Lantern doesn’t raise concerns or introduce constructive conflict when doing so would serve the group’s goals. They should enjoy the treat of Liane Davey’s work on teamwork in The Good Fight.
  6. Skeleton Cousins. One of the skeleton cousins has a bone to pick and sure knows how to hold a grudge. Rather than focus on the here and now, they already have proof–skeletons in the closet, in fact–that there’s no way a collaboration like this could possibly work because “we tried it 40 years ago, and it failed.” Never mind the current talents, resources, and context! John Brewer, The Conference Bard, introduced me to another skeleton cousin. He wrote, “This skeleton only does the bare-bones minimum required of them. Not going to go out of their way to help, just enough to get by. There ain’t no meat on these bones.”
  7. Vampire. Sunjay Kelkar (Technical Project Manager at NCC Group) and Jason Siegel (Professor of Psychology at Claremont Graduate University) reminded me of yet another collaboration monster: Vampire. Sometimes, Vampire sucks all the fun out of collaborating. Other times, they fly into meetings, steal everyone else's blood, sweat, and tears, and take all the credit for themselves.
  8. Werewolf. Werewolf shows up as a totally different person from one week to the next. They seem to suffer from context-dependent amnesia, unable to remember what exactly it is we’re trying to do together, what decisions were made, or what action items they were supposed to have completed.
  9. Zombie. Zombie is at once present, and not. They are there physically, but not mentally. They sit passively, contributing nothing. They seem distracted by something—oh, it’s another urgent email with the subject line “brains.”

Which of these collaboration monsters do you work with? How do you navigate the challenges they present? What other gremlins have you encountered in your collaborative work?

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