The Lone Genius. Why some people just can’t hack working with others.

Back in pre-kid days my husband and I went on a trip to Thailand for a friends wedding. What we thought was going to be an epic trip ended up being full of turmoil, frustration and let’s say some very memorable late night events. The wedding, not being one of them.

With a group of over 25 friends with singles, newly divorcees and couples the simplest of plans became a nightmare.

There was differing opinions, ego’s, conflicting priorities and varied levels of dedication to etiquette.

Any bells ringing yet?

Kinda sounds like the workplace? There’s someone always turning up late to meetings, taking phone calls or text, debates that relentlessly keep circling, someone always pushing their own agenda.

Deciding on where to go for dinner on this trip required a midday committee meeting and at least a couple of Mai Thai’s…. just to artificially evoke some remnant of patience.

Unfortunately, the midday Mai Thai, to nut things out doesn’t fly too well in the workplace.

No amount of alcohol could ever hide the fact that perhaps there are one or two people at work that you just struggle to work with. The majority of people adapt or revert to muzzling themselves in the name of peaceful working conditions.

Eventually, we come to a moment of acceptance and realise some interactions are going to be an ongoing act of tolerance.

Over my own career I’ve worked with a few prickly types. Who hasn’t?

One thing I’ve never been able to hide is that I have an intolerance for individuals who shut down the voices and ideas of others.

I won’t deny collaborating is harder in some settings than others but this comes down to the individuals involved.

Some individuals have an intolerance for working with others. Often because they are so focused on the end game. They’re action orientated. They’re driven.

Their default phrase to inspire others is let’s ‘get sh!t done’ and patience, you guessed, it isn’t their virtue. Their success is reflected by making things happen.

Let’s pause for a second here though. I love action orientated people. They’re drive is often contagious but in some people this becomes an overused skill. What do I mean by that?

It’s like having blinkers on. When you are so focused on the drive and getting to the destination like a race horse to the finish line your peripherals become limited. That is if you need to get to the destination ‘at all costs’ this is where the positive driver, the doer ends up burning people along the way.

True high achievers and any great leader that I’ve ever come across can temper themselves. Whilst the above might be their default they realise the true path to success is the ability to take people on the journey with them.

Yes, they want action but they realise there’s a ripple effect or inspiring others to join you which is greater than their effort alone. True success lies through others.

It’s taking time to ensure the journey to the finish line is rewarding enough for those around you to want to run another race. And at work, there’s always another race.

Let’s take a look at why ‘win at all costs approaches are adopted.

Shutting down any one else’s perspective and ideas is done at times to preserve an individuals status. Down deep they might feel inadequate or insecure so they compete with everyone around them, including their own team.

It’s often easy to spot these individuals. Perhaps they’re too hard to work with, too demanding, too cynical, too disempowering, too condescending.

These individuals who shun the efforts and voices of others are survivors of stern hierarchal structures. They got to where they are focused on their individual achievements and so continue to focus on this to maintain their rank.

Those who can evolve, however, see that a higher rank means its even more important to empower others and the achieve through the efforts of others.

But let’s look at more general terms of why working with others can be tough for people.

Speed of Decision Making

The first one is an obvious one. Hence the reason for the opening story on committee meetings on the smallest decision.

For anyone that want to make an impact the more people that are involved and the more people who have offer their perspective the more it slows downs progress.

We’ve all been there. There might be that one person in the room who doesn’t quite have the same grasp as everyone else, yet has to have their perspective heard.

We all have that right but when this happens ask yourself if their perspective isn’t contributing and building on solutions then let’s be frank they don’t belong there.

Inclusion for the sake of inclusion

Decision making slows when you feel like you need everyone in the room. You don’t. I am an advocate for gathering varying perspectives but when we have too many people we get what I like to call the ‘chime in affect’ where people want their voice heard, even if its a little “off topic”.

Decision making also slows right down when you have a top heavy executive structure. With many department leaders all sitting on the same line on the org chart the act of being excluded is a hit to individuals status and ranking.

Everyone ends up chiming in on things that they don’t even need to be involved in.

I had an amazing compliment from a client who told me I have an “inclusive spirit” after she saw me facilitating a series of collaboration sessions.

The truth is I AM inclusive but before you start envisioning me with a floral headpiece and barefoot dancing in the fields on sunlight let’s take a moment.

My vision is to “Help people have a fulfilling work life so they can do their best work”. This is my filter. Therefore, I’ll always respect the time of those in the room and I’ll always prioritise the result and impact that needs to be made.

This is ultimately what drives a fulfilling work life!

Status, egos and individualism don’t feature.

I’ve experienced what its like to feel like everyone is going through the motions. It can be frustrating at best and disengaging at worst. Disengagement is the reverse effect of what we need at work.

Ensuring the right people are in the room is vital. Narrowing involvement and ensuring only those that need to be involved, are involved, takes some thought.

EXCLUSION can be just as important as inclusion. That’s it, I’ve said it.

Brutal sounding to some, perhaps and tough in the real world realm of internal politics, absolutely. But it needs to be done.

Involving people for the sake of involving people has a direct bearing on the experience of working with other people and it can affect outcomes dramatically.

Trust me. Start down this track and you’ll find a whole heap of people thanking you for giving them time back in something they didn’t need to be involved in.

If we want to do our best work we have to recognise that we can’t do and be involved in everything. Involvement to be strategic and even time lined. (That’s a whole other blog post).


There’s a lot that can come under this heading of working with others. Unfair workloads on those involved, depending on other people and lack of control. All points that could be there own headings but they all come back to the one big thing highlighted in black text. That’s why its the heading.


If a lack of trust exists anyone who is driven to action is going to get frustrated. They’ll hit a couple of updates where boxes haven’t been ticked, timeframes haven’t been met and unfortunately they’ll take it upon themselves. This fractures relationships as one person takes the load.

In collaborative efforts its known that only 5% of participants often end up doing all the work.

Rememeber that group assignment at uni where you got away with just chipping in? No. Ok maybe you were on the otherside doing the all heavy lifting while the rest of the group coasted in and were able to focus on their other units. How’d that relationship fair afterwards? Not great I bet.

No one wins either way in this scenario.

Those who get lumbered with the work or seek control by taking in on themselves won’t get the solo credit they deserve. At uni this is a one and done.

At work the game is a little different. The lessons are learnt for next time which means any new project that comes after this experience is already off to a bad start.

So what can we do to avoid this.

This is an easy one. Spend time up front really making key decisions and designing who needs to be involved, when and in what way. Identify key decision makers and what the process is for making the calls.

Once you’ve confirmed this then build in some time to build trust with your team and discuss things like ways of working, team agreements and individual strengths.

Your project will get better outcomes in the long run if you take it slow to begin with and be INTENTIONAL!

Planning a new project? Not sure where to start…. check out The Collaboration Project

This article was written by Olivia O’Connor from Liv By Design and founder of ‘The Collaboration Project’. If you’d like to look at ways to improve your organisations customer experience or employee experience, let’s chat.

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