“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.”
- H.E. Luccock.

Collaboration vs Teamwork

It’s a question that can strike sheer terror into the heart of even the most seasoned professional…

“And now, we’re going to have a group exercise…”

But despite the fear factor, working in a group situation still tends to get the best out of people.

That’s exactly why we do it.

As management consultants, we work across a wide range of industries with a wide range of individuals varying in age, ethnic background, religion, cultural beliefs and sexual orientation.

But no matter who our stakeholders are, we are faced with the need to add value and deliver on our engagement by working in a collaborative manner.

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.”
- H.E. Luccock

What exactly does ‘collaborative’ mean, though?

Is this another trendy, meaningless term?

Because many of us still don’t seem to understand the differences between collaboration and teamwork.

People like to think of themselves as ‘collaborative’ and of course it’s been a cliche for years to call yourself a ‘team player’.

But while the end result of collaboration and teamwork are often the same, how you get there is very different.

When groups function as a team, they work as individuals to achieve the end goal, everyone has their identified role to play which contributes to the outcome.

But to achieve this outcome you need a leader…or a ringmaster depending on how intense the project is!

In teams, leaders pull everything together and make sure each individual is hitting their targets so the larger goal can be achieved.

Without a leader, the team will struggle to meet their goal.

But how is a collaboration any different?

Within a collaboration, the group not only has to work together – they have to think together to deliver the project or activity.

The end product comes from the efforts of the group.

Collaborators really are equal partners – there is no leader.

Collaboration in the true sense allows employees to share knowledge and influence, discuss ideas, develop and combine skill sets and create a more rounded organisation.

Increasing collaboration across entities and locations is a top priority for global firms to help grow revenue and improve skill set.

A recent study between the Institute for Corporate Productivity and Professors Rob Cross and Edward A. Madden found companies with collaborative working cultures were five times more likely to be high-performing.

Knowing what makes organisations successful, though?

That’s harder to isolate.

No two companies are alike and even companies who may be classed as similar will have different approaches.

So how do you become “collaborative”?

A Collaboration Maturity Model allows organisations to measure how collaborative they are as a business.

The model highlights the five stages of building a collaborative environment.

  • Goals and Objectives
  • Culture
  • Processes
  • Technologies
  • Governance

Each area needs to be addressed and invested in to create a truly collaborative environment.

As the model moves from Unaware to Adaptive, the organisation becomes more conscious of their collaborative techniques, planning, communicating and driving continuous change with clear oversight, direction and lessons learned.

How to FAIL at collaboration

There are a few sure-fire ways to kill the spirit of collaboration, of course…how many of these do you recognise?

Overload of tools, channels and platforms
An overload of tools can lead to a chaotic environment - keep it simple!

Goal overload
Are the goals group goals or ones driven by an individual on a mission? Always separate individual tasks from goals.

Too many leaders
Too many cooks spoil the broth - avoid dysfunction and discord by making roles clear and communicating and feeding back often.

Egos and personality clashes
Whether you’re a type A or a type B, the composition of the collective is important. Use the Pomodoro Technique – a time management method – to keep structure and order in meetings and create a ‘praise’ environment to celebrate wins.

Timezone twilight zone
While remote working and the advent of Skype have been a great asset, they can create roadblocks for teams with scheduling difficulties. Use the time zone setting on group meeting apps to avoid unwelcome calls!

So the question lies, if you’re looking to realise the benefits of being collaborative, how many of the above success factors are you focusing on within your firm?

Or have you fallen victim to some of the collaboration pitfalls outlined above?

We’d love to find out.