Collaborative Teamwork and 3 Ways to Succeed with It

Collaborative teamwork joins the concept of teamwork (working in a team) with the concept of collaboration (helping each ot her)

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Collaborative teamwork is the future, and it is not just normal teamwork. Teamwork is a buzzword in the corporate world, and as many buzzwords it is often misunderstood or given as a solution to an unlimited number of problems (that often do not exist). Collaboration is another key term, which is gaining popularity as inclusiveness becomes more important. Collaborative teamwork is the junction of both, and it is what a company really needs.

In this guide, we will cover:

We are going to divide the content into two main parts. The first two chapters are grouped together and aim to explain collaborative teamwork in general. The last three sections will also be grouped together, explaining how to implement collaborative teamwork, how to make it real.

Let’s dive into it!

What is Collaborative Teamwork?

What is Collaborative Teamwork?

First things first. As you can imagine from the name, “collaborative teamwork” is a special form of teamwork, which is collaborative. So, we need to understand teamwork first.

Teamwork is the individual effort of multiple people, put together toward the same goal.

No surprise, teamwork is about working together, working in a team, having a shared goal or objective. Yet, it does not imply much interdependencies between team members. Everyone should do her or his part, and in the end when we put everything together you will see the result. Responsibilities can be made clear, and everyone knows what to do (in general).

This approach can have some limits, and this is where collaborative teamwork comes in. Often, goals are not clear, and the capabilities of team members overlap in such a way that not everyone is independent on every activity. In fact, each activity that needs to be done may require special skills that different members have, while no member has them all.

In such a fluid context, where responsibilities overlap and change with time, it is not enough to distribute works among different team members. People must come together to perform certain activities jointly. This is where collaborative teamwork comes in.

Collaborative teamwork is the joint effort people in a team put together toward the completion of an activity. This activity is then combined with other activities toward the same goal.

As you can see, the definition of collaborative teamwork puts much more emphasis on working together on the same activity, rather than just working toward the same goal but one on his own. We can imagine teamwork like assembly-line work, where you rely on others but do not work with them, and collaborative effort like dancing with your coworkers.

Teamwork happens when everyone knows what to do, and it is at the basis of collaborative teamwork
With teamwork, everyone has a clear role and all roles are needed for the overall goal.

Now that you have a general idea of collaborative teamwork, we can dive deeper into the two concepts that lead to it: teamwork, and collaboration.

What Are the Differences Between Teamwork and Collaboration?

Teamwork and collaboration are not the same thing. In short, teamwork is about working in a team, while collaboration is about supporting each other. Only when you do collaborative teamwork you can merge the two.

Teamwork literally puts together two words: “team”, and “work”. It means working in a team. The word by itself does not provide any indication on how this work should be performed, or what “being in a team” implies. As a result, the corporate world started to associate to “teamwork” what made sense. If you are capable of teamwork, you will be able to do the following things:

  • Maintain a good social etiquette, don’t be disrespectful or rude toward other people
  • Keep your promises, allow other people to rely on you without surprises
  • Communicate what you do

As you can see, teamwork is somewhat passive. It represents the good norms of working in a team. Most organizations work with teams because virtually no problem is small enough to be addressed by a single individual. Hence, everyone is expected to show teamwork, because that is the bare minimum to work in a team. It is like knowing how to read, it is almost assumed, and if you can’t do that it will be so awkward, and you would not fit in the organization.

Instead, collaboration does not relate to a specific team, or to work even. The world literally means “to do something jointly”, and the word “jointly” is the key here. It means doing something together, and this word didn’t have a special meaning casted onto itself by the corporate world. If you collaborate, you:

  • Have a bidirectional discussion with the person you are collaborating with (that is, you speak, but also listen)
  • Proactively realize someone else needs your help or your specific skillset and jump in to support him
  • Seek feedback from others on your work

Unlike teamwork, collaboration is much more proactive. It is about taking the initiative and interacting with others. Collaboration places a great emphasis on coming together to solve a problem. It even ignores if we have a shared goal or not, it is about helping each other.

Collaboration is about helping each other
Collaboration is about helping each other.

Collaborative teamwork is teamwork done with a “collaboration mindset”. Not only you have a shared goal, but all team members support each other, collectively enabling greater things. Isn’t it fantastic? But how do you go about it, how do you make it real in your organization? Just keep reading.

Making Collaborative Teamwork Real

How Can Collaborative Teamwork Improve the Performance in Your Organization?

Collaborative teamwork improves the performance in your organization on so many levels. Before we can start to discuss any “improvement”, we need to define a baseline where we can benchmark our improvements against. The benchmark will be an organization with no collaborative teamwork in place, the average enterprise where teamwork is expected but collaboration is not fostered by any initiative.

An organization that relies exclusively on teamwork, but not on collaborative teamwork, can keep itself afloat and even thrive. However, collaborative teamwork increases the likelihood of success, whatever success may mean to you.

All the improvements of collaborative framework are possible because it changes your organization (or, at least, your team) in two main dimensions. On one side, collaborative teamwork increases risk tolerance and resilience to failure, while on the other hand it enables complex problem solving.

Increased risk tolerance and resilience to failure are the biggest benefit of collaborative teamwork. If you are in an environment where you feel people do not trust your judgement, and do not support you (or even blame you) if you fail at something, you are less likely to take risk. It is much more convenient to stick to what you always did, in a safe gray area where there is no possibility of failing. This stifles innovation and tend to hurt the organization over time.

If you are in a team that supports you, that is open to discussion and can listen to new ideas without bias, you are welcome to experiment. If you take a risk and then that results in a failure, people can understand the reasons behind it, see if they were solid, and support you even if the ultimate outcome is a failure. (Note: we are not talking about reckless risk-taking. Rather, taking reasonable risk that may result in an acceptable failure, and embrace such failure if it were to happen).

Complex problem solving is the other side of the coin. When people collaborate, they share more information, so their brains are better connected with each other. Just like a rail network is more effective if the tracks reach more cities, a team is more effective if you can easily tap into other people’s brains. Since your team is more effective at thinking, you can solve problems you would not otherwise solve. You are faster, nimbler, and more effective.

There are also other side benefits to collaborative teamwork, even if not as evident as the others on performance. This approach to work tends to strengthen bonds between colleagues, increase cohesion and mutual trust, and as such reduce turnover and make the workplace feel less stressed, or at least capable to deal with any amount of stress.

If you are like me, you would be interested in bringing all this goodness to your organization. Well, just keep reading to learn how you can do it.

How Do You Create an Environment That Fosters Collaborative Teamwork?

Collaborative teamwork is something that happens spontaneously. You can’t force or train a team to perform collaborative teamwork. However, what you can do is create an environment that fosters collaborative teamwork, so that over time it will evolve naturally inside team’s dynamics.

This environment can be constructed at department level or, ideally, at organizational level (for everyone in the company). Of course, the larger the number of people you want to involve, the more it will take time, especially if you come from an individualistic company culture where collaboration is not accepted, or even rejected.

Like any transformation, a good approach is to select a few champions. Champions are people who already share the collaborative teamwork mindset and can act as sponsors within the organization for this new approach to work. Ideally, you would want to have one for each team, but this is not often possible. You will need those people to ensure people do not break the social etiquette of collaborative teamwork. Of course, a champion is someone already well engrained into collaborative teamwork, but you might not have all those people. If you don’t, identify at least someone who is open to try collaborative teamwork.

Collaborative Teamwork teaks the best out of both teamwork and collaboration
Collaborative teamwork can get good things done.

Once you have your champions, provide them with some basic training on collaborative teamwork: what it is, how does it work, what are the terms and lexicon to use (e.g., teamwork vs. collaboration). In this way, you ensure everyone understands what we are talking about and speaks the same language. Share with them this article, it would be a terrific start.

Then, have your champions monitor their teams and notify if someone is making something that makes the environment non-supportive. The first thing to eliminate are negative challenges made to other in public, especially if they do not spark a constructive discussion. Then, the champion should also push people to share information with others proactively. This can be done with a round-table meeting. In such meeting, the champion should act as a facilitator. If the team member A is struggling with something where B is an expert, the champions should ask “Hey B, why don’t you go help A?”.

At an organizational level, you should also try to eliminate “winner takes all” logics with bonus, prizes, or recognition (yes, the employee of the month prize must go).

The truth is, building a collaborative teamwork environment takes time. If you apply these simple principles consistently, you will create the perfect environment where collaborative teamwork can flourish.

What Are the Limits of Collaborative Teamwork?

Okay, collaborative teamwork is fantastic, but it has some limits, like any other approach to work. In this section, we briefly discuss those limits and the reasons or situations where you should not pursue collaborative teamwork.

One thing that I found online is that collaborative teamwork is great for brainstorming. False, collaborative teamwork does not improve brainstorming performance. This false benefit is approaching the question in the wrong way. It is true that collaborative teamwork improves brainstorming because people are more willing to speak their ideas as they are not afraid that they will be rejected. However, it is like going from 1 to 2 in a scale that goes from 1 to 10. It is not a game changer. When people brainstorm, they are less creative than if they came up with ideas separately and then shared those ideas later. That is called Delphi group technique, and ideas are also anonymized for privacy. With brainstorming, it has been proven that the sum of individual efforts taken separately yields way better results than the same effort applied jointly. So, collaborative teamwork is not the solution here.

Collaborative teamwork is also not a solution to every problem your organization has. If your organization has a toxic culture where people are always ready to stab each other in the back, maybe it is not the right time to implement collaborative teamwork. If your organization is in disarray, you may want to fix the overall culture of the organization first, or at the same time as you implement collaborative teamwork.

In Summary

In short, collaborative teamwork having a team where everyone works toward the same goal and where people are open to help each other, candid with reciprocal feedback, and willing to take risks and embrace failure if that is the result.

Collaborative teamwork is a great asset for your organization at the social level. If you want to gain another valuable asset at a more analytical level, I strongly recommend learning about Net Present Value with this fascinating guide.

Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.
Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.

Alessandro Maggio


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