Teamwork and Collaboration

Learn how to enhance collaborative teamwork in your group.

Explore Team Collaboration Software

Teamwork and collaboration have always been vital ingredients for success in any enterprise, particularly in professional services organizations engaged in project management.

Whether scurrying from one deadline to the next or juggling several tasks at a time, there is a reassuring comfort in knowing that you don’t have to go it alone.

Working within the context of a group means there are more hands on deck to get the job done.

It also provides a spirit of camaraderie, mutual support, and a sense of belonging that help alleviate work-related stress and have proven to contribute greatly to both physical and mental well-being.

Teamwork or collaboration: What’s in a name?

The words ‘teamwork’ and ‘collaboration’ are often used interchangeably, and while they have many similarities they also have differences. The importance of understanding their distinctive qualities goes way beyond semantics. Knowing the unique features of both teamwork and collaboration helps project managers apply the appropriate group strategy they need for a particular undertaking.

Two fundamental elements shared by both teamwork and collaboration is that they both involve (1) a group of people assembled together in order to achieve (2) a common goal.

On the other hand, their key differences have to do with who comprises each group and how they approach their cooperative efforts.

While teamwork builds its strength in combining the individual efforts of all team members in order to attain their common goal, collaboration requires group members to combine their diverse and specialized skills in order to complete a collective endeavor.

Still vague? Let’s break it down.

How to differentiate between teamwork and collaboration

When we talk about teamwork, we are looking at a group where members usually have similar skills but are given specific roles or assigned tasks that they can fulfill independently in order to contribute to the shared objective. Basically, a good team is the sum of all its members doing their delegated parts.

Working within the context of a team, there is always a designated authority figure or "team leader" who sets the group tactics, resolves conflicts, and assumes responsibility for the final outcome. At the same time, the team leader exercises a certain amount of control over the members and holds them accountable for their individual responsibilities to the team. Teamwork skills are usually developed through team building exercises that raise the members’ awareness of the importance of their individual contribution to the collective effort.

To illustrate, in a basketball team, for instance, each player has similar skill sets and are all eyeing a shared purpose, which is to win the game. However, the team members also have their own assigned positions (i.e. forward, center, guard) which defines their individual roles in the group. Leadership is provided by the coach, who directly instructs the team on how to achieve their overall goal.

Meanwhile, in collaboration, the members all have different skill sets, functions, and areas of expertise. However, they still share a common goal and are expected to use their unique capabilities and pool their resources to deliver a collective project. Compared to teamwork, collaboration is more of a synthesis rather than a summation.

In a collaborative team, there is no leader to speak of. The group is typically self-managed and relies mainly on brainstorming sessions and group discussions to arrive at a plan of action. Decisions are usually made by reaching a consensus and members are expected to join forces when finding solutions to problems. Working in collaboration, it is very important that members trust and respect each other, and can openly share their insights, opinions, and knowledge with the group. The absence of a designated group leader also compels everyone to be flexible and ready to assist anyone who is falling behind in order to complete the work on time and within standards.

A good example of collaboration in the workplace is when a project pools together resources from across different units, functions, or even organizations. In the event that a “collaborative leader” is assigned to orchestrate efforts, that person is mainly involved with facilitating the group’s process and acting more like a task manager rather than a superior telling members what to do.

Collaborative teams in the "new normal"

With the unprecedented shift to remote working brought about by COVID-19 health protocols, the definition of collaboration in the workplace is changing and becoming more complex. Traditional offices are gradually being replaced by distributed workspaces where coffee break chats, conversations by the water cooler, or walking up to someone’s desk for a quick discussion are no longer possible.

Once considered mainly as viable options for remote work, online platforms have now become crucial, indispensable hubs for group communication and collaboration. Years before the physical restrictions caused by the pandemic, remote working had begun gaining ground with the availability of project management solutions and cloud technology that have allowed work to be done from anywhere and at any given time, breaking the limitations of geographical boundaries and different time zones.

Today, working from home has become essential not only to keep economies from collapsing, but more importantly, to protect individuals from contagion. And with these restrictions, the nature of teams and collaborative work continue to evolve and adapt with societies that become more accustomed to social distancing.

Surveying the impacts of the new "work from home" economy, results from a recent Stanford study reveal that 42% of the US labor force have been working from home since the pandemic – a figure twice as much as those who continue to report to their business premises and are mostly essential service workers.

Remote working, it seems, is becoming a more permanent reality moving forward. According to the same article, most of the companies surveyed are considering plans where employees "will work from home one to three days a week, and come into the office the rest of the time" if this kind of arrangement proves to be sustainable in the "new normal."

Given this scenario, how can professional services organizations continue to develop high performing collaborative teams, cultivate a vibrant company culture, and promote collaborative effort in the best possible way, while adapting to a rapidly changing work environment?

Skills for collaborative teamwork

Whatever the situation, collaborative teamwork is a delicate balancing act. While all the team members are bound by a common goal, they also bring with them different personalities and professional abilities. Like an orchestra conductor, the project manager or collaborative leader has to be able to bring out the best in every individual while creating a harmonious relationship within the group, allowing them to reach their targets as seamlessly as possible.

Most of you already know from experience that technical expertise is not enough to get members to work efficiently as a group. Developing social skills is also necessary because it creates greater awareness of how one’s actions affect the entire group, and helps improve how individuals relate to one another in the context of achieving a common goal. Without applying the appropriate social skills, cooperation will be impossible.

Whether members report to office or are part of a distributed workforce, there are basic interpersonal skills that can help people engage more productively in collaborative teamwork.

These include:

A. Communication Skills

The success of any project relies on good communication skills among all team members and stakeholders, whether internal or external. The ability to communicate with clarity and purpose is the glue that keeps everyone together. It should also be remembered that building strong communication channels is not just about developing one’s ability to speak to people but also – and most importantly -- encouraging all the members to connect with each other.

Some of the most relevant group communication skills are:
  • Active listening or paying close attention to whoever is speaking
  • Courtesy in allowing others to speak without interruption or derision
  • Coherence and clarity in presenting your ideas
  • Respect in giving and receiving feedback
  • Responsiveness and alertness in keeping communication threads moving
  • Sensitivity to non-verbal cues from group members
  • Providing correct information or concrete data to the best of your ability

B. Collaboration Skills

In collaborative work, it is vital that all members are on the same wavelength and are committed to focusing all their efforts towards a common goal. Developing the right collaboration skills makes active engagement and creative synergy possible when working in a group.

Some of the most important collaboration skills are:
  • Setting clear and measurable goals
  • Brainstorming and problem-solving as a group
  • Healthy, inclusive, and open communication
  • Accountability and willingness to take responsibility for mistakes
  • Empathy in processing both verbal and non-verbal cues from others
  • Recognizing good work and celebrating successes together
  • Commitment to success

Collaborating via Online Project Management Software

Bringing teams together on the same page is critical to the success of any collaborative project. Whether working in one location or remotely, the same processes are followed: allocating resources, organizing workflow, overseeing tasks, keeping track of files, managing expenses, among other operational activities.

One of the best ways to unify your team and make sure they stay aligned during the entire project lifecycle is to use a project management solution that supports real-time, tightly integrated project collaboration.

A top choice for organizations that want to achieve their business targets faster and more proficiently, Mavenlink’s award-winning project collaboration software features "contextual collaboration," which helps your workforce make the most of their time within a project by quickly surfacing relevant and task-critical information.

With a centralized communication platform, Mavenlink optimizes project efficiency by having all project-based collaboration done in the same place -- streamlining communications for maximum productivity and profitability.

Moreover, Mavenlink enables your clients to join the project with a unique client view, allowing for greater visibility and better team alignment for creating higher quality projects and raising levels of client satisfaction.

And with Mavenlink M-Bridge -- the industry’s only OpenAPI-based, services-centric integration platform – you can connect other collaborative communication apps and extend your tech stack to the extent of your imagination.

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