Collaboration among employees is the cornerstone of all successful businesses.
Think of today’s popular startups, or the booming restaurant down the street, or perhaps a global enterprise. None of these businesses would thrive without collaboration. Even if you’re running a one-man show, you still need to work with other people to get things done.
When talking about collaboration, you can’t avoid teamwork.
You need teamwork to finish a project requested by your client at the last minute and to ensure everyone can work with each other with zero problems.
So, does collaboration and teamwork mean the same thing?
The outcome is the same—that is to achieve business objectives—but both of them carry different meanings and purposes.
Let’s dive further into this to understand why collaboration is essential to your business.
The Difference Between Teamwork and Collaboration
In teamwork, everyone works together with a specific role and task to achieve a goal.
Think of a football team. You have the goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders, and forwards—each with their responsibilities—who need to play well together to win.
The players on the football team don’t have to like each other to play well. They don’t even need to follow tactics if they have the individual brilliance to carry the team. A team only needs a strong leader to steer the ship and lead the team through ups and downs.
This is the same in the business world. Having an excellent manager or supervisor in place is often enough to establish good teamwork.
Collaboration, however, does not focus solely on teamwork.
A collaborative team not only has to work well together, but it also has to adopt a shared set of beliefs and values among team members. Every member needs to think and feel the same. There is also no fixed leader, which means everyone has equal importance in the success of a project.
Collaborators must respect each other and maintain trust in their teammates in the absence of a leader.
They must be flexible since plans change all the time due to team members having the freedom to suggest ideas.
Collaborators also require high independence as there is no defined work on a taskboard, unlike teams with leaders.
Collaborative Teamwork: The Key Driver of Business Success
To get optimal results, you should merge teamwork with collaboration—enter collaborative teamwork.
Collaborative teamwork takes the best of both worlds to boost productivity and performance. It improves on traditional teams by sharing goals, resources, and values among team members of varying expertise. With such a diverse team adopting the same mindset, the collaborative team can solve problems with greater success thanks to better collaboration, teamwork, and flexibility.
Leaders play a crucial but different role in collaborative teams.
Collaborative leaders move away from the authoritative style of old into more of a mentorship role. They still have control, but they are focused on influencing the team’s processes, not the team members themselves.
For example, instead of micromanaging employees, collaborative leaders can revamp their Agile phases to match their team’s abilities.
Leadership can also shift in collaborative teamwork. Every employee can lead the team in different scenarios and timelines. This is an advantage since each individual has his or her strengths, which can be amplified for the benefit of the team through flexible leadership roles.
Not only do you rely less on one figurehead to coordinate every task, but there is also greater equity among members—an important trait to have to sustain happy teams.
However, there is one downside to collaborative teamwork. Tempers can flare when employees fail to communicate effectively. This is common in organizations practicing collaborative teamwork for the first time.
Another area where clashes of heads can happen is when high ranking employees (executives or the C-suite) get involved.
Even in highly successful companies, disagreements are bound to happen, so it’s best to address them as soon as they arise.
One way to overcome this problem is with proper coordination. Coordination works by determining first—as a group—what each member is responsible for.
A marketing executive, for example, is more than welcome to suggest ideas to the sales head, but it’d be inefficient to let him or her work on sales-related tasks. As a result, there will be fewer differences to deal with, as each person knows their role and boundaries.
Now that you know the difference between collaboration and teamwork let’s look into how they benefit your business.
Why is Collaboration Important?
1. For Businesses
Improved Problem Solving
Businesses come across a plethora of problems every day. Your customers may ask for something you’ve never done before. Products—both digital and physical—may break anytime. The big project the client paid $50,000 for is nowhere near to being completed with the deadline coming in a week.
This is where collaboration helps.
Studies have proven time and time again that collaborative problem solving is effective in overcoming organizational barriers in companies of all sizes. Employees who mesh well with each other can bounce ideas between themselves to solve business problems.
By combining the knowledge and experience of team members, you’re likely to come up with crafty solutions to get your tasks back on track.
Better Team Communication
Good communication is essential for the success of any business. You can use collaboration as the catalyst to strengthen your employee relationships, thus boosting communication.
It doesn’t take an expert to figure out why communication is important. Better problem solving, more productive work, and fewer fallouts are just some of the benefits you get from strong employee communication.
Greater Employee Engagement
Happy employees will perform better at work. Not only is this great for your business, but it also promotes a jovial work culture that extends across the entire organization.
Your people will be productive at work and willing to help your company strive towards its objectives, no matter what’s in their way.
Highly engaged companies earn 21% more than the average company while also enjoying higher retention and lower turnover rates. More and more businesses are realizing this advantage and are revamping their processes in response.
If you want to stimulate employee engagement, aim for greater collaboration, and the rewards will come sooner than later.
More Efficient Work
There are many working styles to experiment with within the business world. For most projects, however, collaborative teamwork is the best choice in terms of efficiency. It also shines in difficult tasks since you can spread heavy workloads and assign members to tasks they excel at.
Collaborative teams can also come up with innovative ideas as creativity is correlated to collaboration. Since everyone has their strengths, team members can chime in with suggestions that build-up to one creative solution.
This prevents the dreaded project plateaus often seen in teams that depend on one person or department to come up with useful ideas.
2. For Employees
Better Colleague Relationships
Unsurprisingly, teams with harmonious relationships perform better at work. For starters, they enjoy coming to work since they’re surrounded by friends and warm acquaintances.
A study conducted by Virgin discovered that 70% of employees say having friends in the office is the most important contributor to their work satisfaction.
Collaboration builds loyal friendships when employees overcome challenges together. The occasional bitterness does happen, but for the most part, you can expect the bond between your employees to tighten the more they work together.
Having teams with different skill sets and expertise can do wonders for your employees’ growth.
Team members can pick up new knowledge from their colleagues and apply it to their work. For instance, software engineers can digest customer purchase behaviors from the marketing team, leading to the development of features that perfectly meet user needs.
An environment that encourages learning also contributes to the wellbeing of your employees and future talents looking to join your company. Not only do you improve your staff, but you also attract top candidates who are enticed by your organization’s work culture.
As the relationships between your team members grow stronger, employee morale increases as team members trust and like each other more.
Morale is linked to work satisfaction, which lends itself to higher employee retention. This is because employees are less likely to seek new opportunities when they are happy at the office.
It makes sense when you put yourself in the shoes of your staff. You want to work with people you like, people you can discuss work with and grab a coffee at the end of the day with zero animosity.
Lower turnover is a blessing for company finances as you save money from not having to pay hiring costs, more so when you consider the fact that, according to Forbes, the average turnover cost is 33% of an employee’s annual salary.
How to Increase Collaboration Among Employees
1. Establish a Shared Vision
What keeps your employees’ spirits up each morning? Are they excited to go to work? Are your business goals and activities aligned with a strong purpose?
The answers reveal a lot about how you run your company.
Passion is the invisible force that drives businesses to success. However, it’s not enough to be passionate. You need to share your vision and drive with your team. In other words, they need to know why collaboration is important not only for your company but for them as well.
So, how do you embody the same vision? Start by establishing a vision that motivates your employees by highlighting why they’re important to the company.
By creating meaning and direction behind every task, you fuel your employees to reach their maximum potential, which in turn benefits your company. When times are tough, your employees will not be swayed, and they’ll remain loyal to you in helping your business overcome its challenges.
2. Communicate Expectations and Set Clear Boundaries
Effective communication is essential in any collaborative work environment. If you don’t lay out factors like job roles, expectations, and limitations, employees are vulnerable to clashing with each other’s roles, which can create conflict.
Don’t let your employees work with blindfolds on. Instead, be transparent when communicating roles and your expectations. By doing so, you set boundaries to help them work with and not against each other.
3. Reward Collaborative Efforts
You might be the brains behind your company, but your employees are the ones helping you move forward. Rewarding collective efforts can boost morale as it mitigates egos and individualism in the office.
Celebrating collaborative behavior and maintaining a reward system for teamwork sends the right message to your employees as well as potential candidates looking to join your company.
4. Encourage Risk-Taking
Your company should always be innovating, with trends and business landscapes continually evolving by the day. Collaboration is important as it spurs innovation and creativity among employees.
However, you can’t innovate if you adopt an unadventurous, can’t-say-yes-to-change attitude. Your organization can only grow when you quench your team’s thirst for risk-taking.
By creating a work environment that welcomes and nurtures creativity, you can elevate innovation efforts since employees are not afraid to suggest ideas and take risks.
The main takeaway: don’t hold back. Book think tank sessions, brainstorm as a group, allow employees to voice out, and see how far your ideas will go.
5. Don’t Focus Solely on Work
We all need breaks to pause and reconnect. After all, we’re only humans. Corporate events are fine, but you can do more by celebrating small wins as a team and socializing outside work hours.
By bonding after work, team members can build close-knit relationships with their colleagues and even employees outside of their departments. This breaks down walls and promotes a healthy workplace—two benefits that go a long way in improving collaboration.
6. Recognize Your Employees’ Strengths
Working around your employees’ strengths and accepting their limitations can help you manage your expectations and reduce stress in the workplace. No two people are alike, and you should emphasize that point among team members.
While it is impossible to get to know everyone on a personal level, you can use personality tests like the Caliper Profile and the Myers-Briggs test in the hiring process to get an overview of their working style and preferences.
By recognizing individual differences and allowing employees to work on tasks they excel at, you can improve productivity and intensify your employees’ sense of purpose in your company.
7. Lead by Example
Your team is not just a reflection of your company. They also reflect you. Many businesses with promising ideas fail early due to poor leadership. History has shown that no matter how successful you are, things will fall apart if poor decisions are made time after time.
As a group, you don’t just act and win as one; you also lose as one. A collaborative environment always starts with you, the leader. By demonstrating good leadership as your business goes through ups and downs, you solidify your team’s confidence in your decisions and guidance.
What makes a good leader? Good leaders walk the talk. They don’t just command their employees to collaborate. They are the first ones to initiate and demonstrate cooperative behaviors.
More importantly, they don’t blame others when things go awry. This is crucial as mistakes are inevitable when team members pursue a glut of new ideas driven by collaboration.
By owning up to your mistakes, you set an example for employees, which eliminates the blame game in the workplace, fostering happiness and satisfaction.
8. Invest in Collaboration Tools
Establishing teamwork in today’s digital age can be challenging, especially for remote employees who may not meet their colleagues daily. 17% of employees place collaboration as the biggest obstacle to remote work, according to an in-depth survey by Buffer.
You can use technology to your advantage by investing in digital collaboration tools to support remote workers and make work more efficient in general.
Online Kanban boards, digital time trackers, and meeting software are tools you can use today to enhance collaboration even if your employees are not physically connected.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of collaboration software to use, which can be confusing for first-timers. If you’re not sure where to begin, it doesn’t hurt to start with popular tools used by leading companies in your industry.
Some examples of these include:
Common Collaboration Challenges to Avoid
1. Overly Large Teams
An overload of feedback in one team can do more harm than good. Team members may be overwhelmed by opinions that they lose track of the main objective.
It’s best to keep team sizes below ten people for optimal results. Anything more and you risk lowering productivity instead. This is known as the Ringelmann Effect or “social loafing”, where everyone assumes that some other team members will work harder than the rest.
2. Working Style Mismatch
Lack of involvement is one of the biggest contributors to project failure. Often, non-involvement happens when employees are matched against colleagues who have different working styles and behaviors. If your team cannot adapt to each other’s personalities, they’ll never achieve efficient collaboration.
Make sure to delegate carefully when splitting teams. Team members should iron out their differences but don’t expect them to be all buddy-buddy if one works fast, and the other has a carefree attitude in the office.
3. Forced Collaboration
Following the point above, forcing collaborations is not ideal, no matter how good the idea sounds on paper. Instead, focus on grouping like-minded employees together and avoid the common mistake of fitting a square peg in a round hole.
If a forced collaboration is necessary, consider easing members to avoid conflict. Rather than working immediately, you can take a week or two to strengthen teammate bonds through group activities before performing any real tasks.
4. Lack of Top-Level Support
Collaboration does not happen only among low-level employees. The C-suite, executives, and department heads are just as responsible for establishing a collaborative culture across the entire organization. Executive support is important in helping employees accept new ideas, and it’s no different when it comes to collaborative teamwork.
Your company should also treat collaboration as a must, not as a nice-to-have. When collaboration is ingrained in your organization’s culture, employees will learn to work with colleagues regardless of their differences.
5. Poor Task Ownership
Everyone knows what to do, but no one knows what they should be doing. Sounds familiar? Poor task ownership is a real problem in organizations practicing collaborative teamwork for the first time.
To reduce confusion, schedule tasks for the first few projects to give team members an idea of how they should collaborate. After several rounds of successful collaborative projects, you can give employees the freedom to decide their tasks and responsibilities.
It’s also important to foster accountability in your organization. Having job autonomy does not mean your employees can get away with taking the easy route every time. Everyone needs to pull their weight to help your company overcome its greatest obstacles.
Again, leaders need to demonstrate accountability first to inspire their juniors to do the same.
6. Unnecessary Meetings
Meetings are overvalued in the business world. An hour-long board discussion sounds nice, but it often achieves little in comparison to the time used up.
In a survey consisting of 182 senior managers, 62% say meetings stop teams from achieving any meaningful work, which also impacts collaboration.
Many meetings can be skipped with a simple text or email to the right people. The time and energy wasted on unnecessary meetings can be spent better on improving teamwork.
Before you hit the schedule button, ask yourself, is this urgent? If not, you’re better off doing something more productive than looking at presentations all day.
Don’t Wait to Collaborate
Creating a collaborative work culture is important for the success of any business. Increased productivity, happier employees, and faster work cycles are just some of the advantages your company gains from strong collaboration.
The tips mentioned above can aid your collaboration strategies, and when implemented correctly, don’t be surprised to see your organization’s teamwork and performance skyrocket.