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Success Syndrome – The Downside of Collaboration (and How to Avoid It)

Too much collaboration or being always available can lead to a sense of overload, a phenomenon known as success syndrome.

The invitations to videoconference hit you while you’re in New York, with no allowance made for it being 4:00 AM, the midnight messages which arrive after a webinar looking for quick responses, someone in your team asking for your input into a huge document – and the deadline is today!

Does this sound familiar? (Go on, be honest.)

If so, you’re not alone. “Success syndrome” is a chronic condition among top performers: the more valuable you are to your company, the more demands are made on you. It’s the theme of an issue of Harvard Business Review, the gold standard of business thinking – which suggests professionals today spend 50% more time on collaborative tasks.

Working together is good. It shares knowledge, connects individuals, and builds organisational learning. In fact, 65% of British workers claim that collaborative sessions, such as brainstorming, are not only effective methods to bouncing ideas around but also significantly decrease their stress levels. A further 86% of employees claim that they learn what they need to know for work through collaborating with others.

But working to burnout is a negative result all HR professionals should be aware of. Here’s are three key factors in recognising it…and address it.

1. Are a few people carrying most of the collaborative load?

HR believes 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees. So first up, see if you can find out who those 3-5% are.

They may not be managers. Perhaps one’s the I.T guy who can never say no to a problem; another may be the Sales guy who (unknown to others) handles most customer service too. Particularly, look for people who’ve been promoted but haven’t left their old job behind.

So, how do you start? One great way to start is to assess your workplace. A simple survey of the styles and types of work can reveal a great deal. If there’s a discrepancy between team members the chances are some may be suffering from collaboration overload.

RESOLUTION: Don’t criticise; recognise. Tell the individual what a great worker he/she is, but also, share your concerns about burnout. Always frame your approach in terms of how you want to help them perform even better… not as if you’re “taking a load off their shoulders”, just let them know it is ok to be offline sometimes!

2. Is the go-to-person actually the show-stopping person?

Listen to office chatter around various projects. If there’s a lot of “We can’t move forward without Bob”, or “We need Sue’s input on this” but Bob and Sue aren’t formally on the project team, you may have challenges with responsibility.

Sometimes, people suffer from meeting paralysis! Briefing colleagues is essential but not everyone has to be involved in approvals. Pick your audience wisely! Gaining buy-in is key but use this when you need it most. After all, just 5% of the workforce handles 40% of collaboration demands.

RESOLUTION: A culture of approval can be a time killer for everyone. Empower people to make their own decisions and discourage collecting vast numbers of approval sign-offs – and make it clear that mistakes, if honestly admitted and resolved, are more likely to lead to a promotion than a P45!

3. Compare need-to-be-there to want-to-be-there

How many people end up in the average meeting across your company? The ideal meeting is just two people with one decision to be made, if your boardroom is booked solid throughout the week with packed-out meetings, you’ve got collaborative overload.

The real problem may be “want-to-be-there-ism” – people attending meetings not because they’re essential to a positive outcome, but because they just want to be involved. Staying in the loop on company affairs is generally a good thing though and you don’t want to lose it, so – here’s how to solve it.

RESOLUTION: Time-shift and share! In virtual meetings the process can be recorded automatically for later consumption. Use a system which documents and shares in a dynamic way so everyone can be kept up to to date – without blocking up the pipes.


If they are not used in the right way communication and collaboration technologies can hinder as well as help. So make sure your solutions promote the latter and not the former. You’ll keep employees a lot happier and less prone to the burnout of Success Syndrome.


  • Over-collaboration can be as much a business killer as under-collaboration.
  • Success Syndrome can put your top performers on the fast track to burnout.
  • Technology can be an enabler or a hindrance – use it the right way

Make sure your flexible workers are empowered, enabling them to be productive and innovative in a way that meets their needs and yours, download HR’s Connected Business Bundle now.


About the author

Annemarie, leads and implements the HR strategy across northern Europe at Arkadin Collaboration Services. She is passionate about the role of unified communication in company communications and employee recruitment and retention.

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