Building teamwork has long been a focus in most organizations. Many groups have made inroads in establishing teams to focus on specific projects, new technology implementations, and quality improvement initiatives as well as in using committees for various company events.
Still, teamwork across functions in performing the work of organizations seems to fall short, due to conflicting goals and priorities. One typical example is Sales vs. Production, with Sales pushing for faster delivery to win new business or increase customer satisfaction while Production pushes for more realistic delivery commitments to be made to customers.
Often this could be addressed by leadership shifting departments’ attention to the higher goal: the organization’s purpose, its differentiation. Another strategy to help generate more win-win outcomes is to build and strengthen Collaboration across functions.
“Teamwork” and “Collaboration” are everyday terms in many organizations. In fact, we often see these two terms used interchangeably, although there is a clear, distinguishable difference between them. Not only is each a different work process, but knowledge and skills that drive success in each can be quite different.
The purpose of this article is to compare collaboration with teamwork and offer insights that can help you and your organization to leverage each for greatest results and benefits.
What is the difference between Teamwork and Collaboration?
I found excellent definitions at team-building-bonanza.com, where they wrote:
“Teamwork is a group of people working together to make one goal or one project happen, but each individual within the team may be doing a different type of work to help the group as a whole.” If we take a moment to watch the video, we see the Ohio State University’s Marching Band’s amazing 2012 half-time show with its video game theme. This is truly an exciting performance, isn’t it? It’s a compelling example of excellent teamwork.
Let’s look at the team-building-bonanza.com definition of Collaboration: “Collaboration is also a group of people working to make one goal or one project happen, but they are working together and feeding off one another. They are making decisions together and working jointly rather than separately completing their own tasks.”
Let’s think about this. Collaboration can occur when people are together either physically or through technology i.e. Zoom.
One less known fact about the OSU 2012 half-time show is that, before it became a teamwork event on the football field, the design of the show itself was the product of collaboration between students, Interim Band Director, Jonathan Waters and his staff.
So, in one example, we have a compelling, live demonstration of what can be achieved when collaboration and teamwork both occur. In business, the power of combining collaboration and teamwork can be game-changing.
The process of collaboration and its face-to-face dynamics require people to fully engage with one another, to respect one-another’s knowledge and skills, and to interact respectfully as partners, as they share ideas, discuss pros and cons of different approaches, give and receive feedback and jointly make decisions. Teamwork is often successful without the presence of these particular dynamics and skill levels, we can see in the OSU video.
The good news is that today, children are developing collaboration skills in daycare and educational environments under the guidance of skilled leaders. This type of early experience will ensure our children will likely have strong skills in both teamwork and collaboration by the time they enter the workforce in the years ahead. An especially good example of what schools can do to reinforce an attitude of collaboration among children is provided in another video, in which young students participate in an iterative process and practice constructive, caring interpersonal skills: Austin’s Butterfly https://youtu.be/hqh1MRWZjms
By now, you’re wondering about the second video on the right above, an outstanding short but highly enlightening Ted Talk that provides a very meaningful, useful and enjoyable demonstration of collaboration with relevant examples. Will you watch that short video now? We think that, like us, you’ll especially value the learning potential of The Marshmallow Challenge.
In this 7-minute Ted Talk, we found several key points:
- Conducting a workshop using The Marshmallow Challenge helps create an actual experience that quickly gets adults collaborating effectively
- Collaboration is the very essence of applying an iterative process
- Facilitation skills and specialized skills relative to the work are both critical to successful collaboration
- Reward/incentives are actually counter-productive to generating success in collaboration
Our last point of discussion is an interview by Simon Barton in Chief Strategy Officer, ‘Collaboration: An Interview with Lisa Renner, Author of ’1+1=3 The New Math of Business Strategy’, in which Lisa, an expert in collaboration, states: “In the new working environment, leaders have to do more than set direction and drive execution, they have to take on this third role of building and enabling employee networks”.
In today’s socially connected environment, more and more, companies are using internal blogs, conference calls and video conferencing to enable employee collaboration. Many are now enabling employees to build connections and relationships from the time they are hired through enriched onboarding processes. Lisa states leaders need to do three things to build collaboration:
1. “Focus on being an active model for network building and spend time on connecting individuals
2. Align and direct their network through communication
3. Enable autonomy throughout the network”
To accomplish these three actions, the organization needs to model and prioritize the relationship building and inter-personal skills required for people to engage with one another and to work together in collaborative efforts. As leaders, we can do this by ensuring collaboration shills are among the key competencies established for the organization, and that our training and development initiatives include those skills as well as other knowledge and capabilities required to achieve the business strategy.
Of course, the human networks that leaders create need to have high confidence in their understanding of the company’s purpose and differentiation strategy including strategic goals. In order to innovate and execute value for the organization with autonomy, the people need to have certainty that their innovations, changes, zigs and zags tie directly to these strategic cornerstones.
Many of us have already learned through experience about the criticality of relationships to successful and satisfying living, both in and out of work. With our world moving more and more deeply into social connections and business networking, it’s clear that organizations will need to establish their own such networks to thrive into the future. This means, to me, that collaboration capability is becoming increasingly essential to achieve new heights of performance. And, new heights of performance can take us into the future.
In summary, organizations today can jumpstart and make quantum leaps in growth and innovation by developing company-wide capability for and unleashing the powerful combination of collaboration and teamwork.
What is your organization doing to build and foster collaboration? What tools are being put in place to enable participation across your organization functionally and geographically? What could be done that hasn’t already been put in place? Please share your opinions, ideas and experience.
“1+1=3 The New Math of Business Strategy: How to Unlock Exponential Growth through Competitive Collaboration,” book by Lisa Renner
Update/Revision Date: June 6, 2021; original publication May 8, 2014
Article content, with the exception of the videos sourced at YouTube, Copyright August 20, 2021 by Rosanna M. Nadeau
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