Whether you run a small business that's growing or you are just starting up, collaboration has become a hallmark of today's workplaces. According to research by Babson College's Rob Cross, the time we spend collaborating has ballooned by more than 50 percent over the past two decades. 

As collaboration has secured a foothold in businesses large and small, so too has the number of teams your employees are assigned to--and the number of responsibilities they assume. According to research by the Center for Creative Leadership, 95 percent of people work on more than one team at the same time--and this can quickly lead to collaboration overload. The last thing you want in your business is to have a team that's so overwhelmed that their performance takes a nosedive. 

Here are three strategies to unlock the potential of collaboration without burning out your employees.

1. Clearly identify and communicate priorities for each team.

When you have employees wearing many hats, they often lack clarity on which area or team to tackle first--and when to move on. How can your employees manage time effectively across teams if they don't have crystal-clear direction on where to focus their efforts? A recent study by Asana (full disclosure: I work for Asana) based on a 2019 survey of 10,223 workers found this lack of clarity affects most businesses, large and small. Less than half (48 percent) of the surveyed workers said they were clear on their objectives at work. 

Are your employees clear on their priorities? Do you have a system in place for tracking these across multiple teams? Priority clarity is table stakes for effective collaboration.

2. Track employee workloads--and adjust when needed.  

According to research by Insead professor Mark Mortensen and Harvard Law professor Heidi Gardner, you may not even realize the toll that being part of multiple teams is having on your employees and your company's bottom line. It's easy for your team to become overloaded if you don't have a clear grasp of the work they're doing. Are you tracking how many hats your employees are wearing--or how many teams they are actively engaged in? These are important questions that are often overlooked because of the day-to-day grind of running your business.

As a business owner, if you don't make it a priority to track your employees' workloads, it will be nearly impossible to evaluate where your team is strapped and when they are susceptible to overload and burnout. 

3. Make sure employees are in sync.

When employees are overloaded, they are susceptible to what's called temporal misalignment--essentially, falling out of sync with one another--and that can be extremely stressful. This risk escalates when information lives in silos and teams don't know the status of the other teams' work. 

How can you avoid misalignment?? Create a system in which everyone knows where they are and what they are doing. With clarity on the status of work, it's much easier to determine where teams are out of sync, and streamline processes so everyone is in lockstep.

Your reliance on collaboration is only going to increase as your business grows. It's worth the effort to set up yourself and your organization for success now. Clarity, transparency, and alignment are critical to unlocking the value of collaboration, while avoiding overload and burnout.