Yes, You Can Be Too Cooperative

Being called a collaborative team player is a legitimate mark of good performance. A cooperative approach helps any group improve the quantity and quality of work done. So can you really overdo it? Surprisingly, yes, and here’s why….

Being very accommodating to the requests, suggestions and implicit demands of others often involves serious trade-offs that may not result in a net gain. Some examples from my clients:
When a less informed manager proposes an ill-advised plan of action, but in deference to her seniority, you do not make a case for a preferable alternative.
When you try to educate your boss about an imminent decision but do so with such an accommodating touch that you sound ambivalent and are not truly heard.
When someone (intentionally or not) deflects your concerns by inappropriately joking about them and you go along, maybe even encouraging them with friendly laughter.
When team members complain about their work, and in order to keep them happy, you let them off the hook, crowding out your own important work to do theirs.
Each example reveals opportunity costs of some kind – around decision-making, productivity, and team norms more generally. If any of them resonate with you, keep an eye out for your own tendency to overdo accommodation. If appropriate, recalibrate how accommodating you are by considering both the degree of “cooperation” you expect from others and the value of asserting your own views. This should help you balance a healthy cooperative outlook with your own grounded stance from which you add value.

[Side note: Not everyone needs to watch out for the tendency to “overachieve” in accommodation. Some folks gravitate too far in the other direction.]

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