Part 5 Barriers to Collaboration


The Road to Responsible Collaboration



By Robin Hornby

Alberta, Canada

Summary:    In this series, Robin Hornby argues that the effectiveness of project management is improved by driving project responsibility into the organization and creating conditions favorable to ‘responsible collaboration’. But this collaborative environment will not naturally fall into place without the support of senior management and the adoption of enabling frameworks, guidelines, and techniques. In this fifth article, Robin itemizes the obstacles to collaboration that seem to arise naturally in too many corporate structures and how our existing project management solutions are frequently inadequate.


In my enthusiasm for the collaborative project model, I don’t wish to appear dismissive of the genuine difficulties faced by many organizations when building this productive environment. Because the modified techniques and methods required by the model are not inherently difficult, I believe the source of difficulty lies not in the methods but in our organizations. This conclusion is supported by observations from the analogous world of individual project execution. A large body of survey research into causes of project failure has consistently shown technical issues are not the primary reason, but spring from specific organizational and managerial problems.   I will apply this logic to identify the global resistance our collaborative model might encounter and will conclude with an assessment of the damaging consequence – a serious lack of balanced project integration.

Obstacles to Achievement

The goal described in the introductory article1 is to build a Delivery Organization and to achieve this primarily by constructing project delivery mechanisms based on owner/provider collaboration. But experience has shown that, despite the evident benefits of such an approach, support is not universal.  An analysis of possible reasons for this suggests the following:

  • Project and Functional Organizations are Incompatible: Corporate units tend to be highly specialized and preoccupied with efficiency. A management hierarchy is inevitable and works well for functional coordination and decision-making. However, managers become possessive of their staff and may be reluctant to assign resources and take on the Collaborative StakeHolder3 role if this impacts work for their unit.
  • Objectives Framed in Narrow Terms: Anxious to boost their own internal productivity, managers emphasize group objectives to the extent that their workers lose sight of the common goal of the larger organization.
  • Disproportionate Functional Team Identification: Too much fostering of group identification and solidarity may result in viewing those not part of the group as ‘outsiders’.
  • Excess Internal Competition: Some corporations establish working conditions or management policies that result in excessive internal competition. Some businesses benefit from the entrepreneurial culture this generates, but collaborative working becomes more difficult.
  • A Culture of Blame: Unfortunately, a competitive culture can sometimes take a negative turn and lead to a habit of blaming other groups if things go wrong. This can arise when accountabilities are unbalanced, and erodes the trust needed for collaboration outside one’s group.


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Editor’s note: This series of articles is by Robin Hornby, author of four books including A Concise Guide to Project Collaboration: Building a Delivery Organization (Routledge 2023) and Ccommercial Project Management: A Guide for Selling and Delivering Professional Services (Routledge 2017). Learn more about the author in his profile below.

How to cite this paper: Hornby, R. (2023). Part 5 Barriers to Collaboration, The Road to Responsible Collaboration, series article, PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue IX, September. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/pmwj133-Sep2023-Hornby-part-5-barriers-to-collaboration-series-article.pdf

About the Author

Robin Hornby

Alberta, Canada


Robin Hornby worked in Information Technology for over 40 years, taught project management at Mount Royal University for 12 years and maintained a consulting practice. He worked across Canada and internationally, was a long-time holder of the PMP designation, and presented frequently at PMI symposia. He pioneered many delivery management practices and is the author of four books. His latest book titled A Concise Guide to Project Collaboration: Building a Delivery Organization was published in 2023 by Routledge.  For more information, visit www.tmipm.com. Robin Hornby can be contacted at rchornby@shaw.ca

To view other works by Robin Hornby, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/robin-hornby/