Barriers to Internal Collaboration

Q. What are some of the possible barriers to internal collaboration in organizations.

The success or failure of internal collaboration seems tied to an organization’s culture. I’ve read elsewhere organizational culture defined as “The way we do things around here.” At one extreme, if an organization’s management works using Theory X, internal collaboration is not going to work.

Less extreme, the internal collaboration technology could be brought in as something for people to try, as an experiment, as described by Carpenter (2009). In this case, things could go either way. Some employees will continue with the old approach, either because they are comfortable with it or because they’re busy with their jobs and don’t feel that they have time for “playing around.” If enough employees stick with the old approach, then internal collaboration won’t work there. It might also make adopting it later more difficult because people will feel that it has already been tried and found wanting.

Reading about these possible problems didn’t surprise me. The article by Hansen (2009), which described how internal collaboration might not work, did surprise me. The barriers here are more subtle. When a unit put effort into collaboration, there is an opportunity cost as the unit can’t put as much effort into its normal activities. If the benefit gained from collaboration is less than the benefit from working all out on the normal activities, the unit will make less money than usual. If the unit realizes what happened, the employees could become angry and embittered.

Also, the goals of the collaborating units might not be aligned. Yes, they all want to make money but they might have different approaches or different groups of customers. If this is the case, the units won’t work together well because they will really be working at cross-purposes, trying to get the most benefit for themselves. At the very least, the units will be holding back and not committed to working together as they pursue their own goals.


Carpenter, H. (2009, July 10). Enterprise 2.0: Culture Is as Culture Does. Retrieved from

Hansen, M.  (2009). When internal collaboration is bad for your company. Harvard Business Review, 87(4), 82.

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