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Communication and Collaboration

What collaboration really means

The definition of collaboration is “two or more people working together towards shared goals.” Dive deeper into learning what collaboration really means, the benefits of collaboration, successful examples of collaboration, collaboration tools, and more.

11 minute read
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In today’s interconnected world, collaboration has become more than just a buzzword; it’s a critical component of success across industries and endeavors. Remote and hybrid workplace environments have made concepts like “virtual collaboration” more popular, but also highlights the significance for effective collaboration, especially when many of us jump around the various synchronous and asynchronous collaboration tools; but do we truly understand what the term collaboration means? 

In this article, you will learn what is the key meaning of collaboration, as well as:

What does collaboration mean? A useful definition for collaboration

The word collaboration is so commonly overused and overhyped nowadays that it’s starting to lose some of its meaning. We crafted a definition of collaboration to inspire a more holistic, useful, and simpler perspective:

Two or more people working together towards shared goals.

definition of collaboration

The succinct and clear definition is necessary when the term has become a buzzword in modern language, especially when digital workplace vendors try to sell new ways of “collaborating” to confused companies and business experts constantly stress the importance of building more “collaborative” organizations.

The important conclusion we arrived at when we’re trying to understand the true nature of collaboration is this:

Collaboration is a deeply human activity, and no tool on its own can solve the problem of poor collaboration and non-collaborative behavior. 

What does it mean to be collaborative? The 3 parts to collaboration

Collaboration includes three parts: team, processes, and purpose.

1. Collaboration involves a team

For starters, collaborating takes place in teams. A big group of people using social software together doesn’t equate directly to collaborating. It may be conversation; it may be cooperation; it may be knowledge sharing; it may improve employee engagement or the digital employee experience; but it is not collaboration. Collaboration involves a deeper level of connection and synergy between two or more people.

2. Collaboration involves processes

Collaborating is about people coming together, utilizing their individual strengths and skills, to complete shared processes. Note that while technology plays a role in facilitating communication and coordination among team members, not all collaborative processes rely on technological tools. 

Yes, connecting with each other in the virtual realm has allowed us to collaborate in many, new ways, but in-person interactions, including brainstorming sessions and meetings, can still play a crucial role in fostering teamwork, creativity, and collaboration.

3. Collaboration involves purpose

If people are working together, but have no shared goals, they are not collaborating. Collaboration is a deeper level of working together that involves a shared vision, clear objectives, and a mutual understanding of each person’s role in achieving those goals.

Benefits of collaboration

Collaboration offers a myriad of benefits that propel businesses, organizations, governments, and communities forward, such as:

  1. Increased innovation: Collaboration fuels innovation by igniting creativity and fostering the exchange of diverse perspectives, which helps generate novel solutions and concepts.
  2. Enhanced problem-solving capabilities: In collaborative settings, teams leverage collective intelligence to tackle complex challenges effectively. Team members are better equipped to identify root causes, explore alternative approaches, and devise effective solutions.
  3. Improved efficiency: Collaboration optimizes workflows, streamlines processes, and minimizes redundancies, leading to increased productivity. Teams can align efforts, leverage each other’s strengths, and achieve goals more expediently through effective collaboration.
  4. Boosted employee satisfaction: Collaboration fosters a sense of belonging, empowerment, and recognition among team members. Valued contributions in collaborative efforts lead to increased engagement, motivation, and commitment to shared goals.

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Collaboration challenges

Collaboration, while immensely beneficial, is not without its challenges. Recognizing and addressing these obstacles is essential for fostering successful collaborative efforts within organizations:

  1. Communication barriers: Communication barriers, such as misinterpretation, language differences, and poor information flow can lead to bad collaboration. Organizations can establish clear communication processes, promote active listening, and leverage technology tools for better communication and information sharing.
  2. Conflicting priorities: Team members may have different priorities, goals, and timelines leading to conflicts and competing agendas. It’s essential to establish clear goals within the context of the overarching corporate strategy, and then prioritize tasks collaboratively and regularly reassess priorities. Open dialogue and compromise are also key in resolving conflicts.
  3. Lack of trust: Trust can be challenging to establish and maintain, especially in diverse or virtual teams. Leaders can foster trust by modeling transparency, promoting open and honest feedback, and creating a supportive and inclusive team culture where individuals feel valued and respected.
  4. Coordination and alignment: Collaboration involves coordinating efforts across teams and departments, which can be complex. Organizations can enhance alignment by establishing clear roles, defining workflows, using project management tools, and conducting regular check-ins to keep team members on track towards common objectives.
  5. Managing diversity: Differences in backgrounds, perspectives, and working styles can enrich collaboration but also present challenges. Organizations can promote diversity training, cultural sensitivity, and inclusive leadership practices to create a collaborative environment where everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute.

Successful examples of collaboration

Covid 19 Vaccine

Pfizer and BioNTech collaborated to develop one of the first mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines.

There are many examples of the how productive collaboration can result in tremendous outcomes across various industries:

  1. COVID-19 vaccine development: Pharmaceutical companies, research institutions, governments, and non-profit organizations collaborated to develop mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines, such as Pfizer and BioNTech.
  2. Open source software development: Open-source software projects are developed collaboratively by global developers, who contribute code, identify bugs, and provide feedback for improvement. Some examples of open source software include Linux, LibreOffice, and GIMP.
  3. Climate change initiatives: Collaborative efforts to address climate change involve governments, businesses, non-profit organizations, and communities working together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote renewable energy. Initiatives, such as the Paris Agreement and the UN Climate Change Conferences, facilitate collaboration among nations to tackle climate change collectively.
  4. Cross-industry partnerships: Companies collaborate across industries to innovate and address complex challenges. Automotive manufacturers, such as Ford and Volkswagen, have partnered with tech giants, Google and Apple, to develop autonomous vehicle technology and infotainment systems.
  5. Supply chain collaboration: Collaboration within supply chains is crucial for optimizing efficiency, reducing costs, and improving sustainability. Companies collaborate with suppliers, distributors, and logistics providers to streamline processes and improve inventory management, as seen with Walmart and Procter & Gamble.
  6. Arts and culture collaborations: Collaboration is common in the arts and culture sector, with artists, performers, and organizations working together to create and showcase artistic works, such as Ed Sheeran’s collaboration album, No.6 Collaborations Project, or The Met’s collaboration with artists for existing and featured exhibitions.

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How to build a culture of deep collaboration

Build it into your culture

To build a collaborative environment, it’s important to cultivate a culture where collaboration flourishes organically. Start with prioritizing open communication channels for transparency and trust. Clear and direct channels of communication play a vital role in facilitating the exchange of ideas, creating valuable feedback loops, and uniting individuals towards shared goals.

Establish common goals

Speaking of goals, it’s important to set measurable milestones and objectives.

Clear goals provide purpose, which we mentioned as one of the integral parts to collaboration. 

Recognize efforts

And don’t forget to acknowledge and reward collaboration efforts, whether through formal programs, peer acknowledgment, or incentives for collective achievements.

Establish small project teams

It is crucial to recognize that collaboration thrives within small, focused groups, such as project teams, cross-functional management teams, and functional teams. While collaboration occurs with two or more people, there is a limit to how many can effectively collaborate simultaneously. Trying to collaborate across an entire organization can be a recipe for noise, distractions and disgruntled staff! Building a collaborative culture isn’t just about assembling people—it’s about fostering an environment where collaboration thrives.

What are the best collaboration tools?

While a well designed and full featured modern intranet offers many collaboration tools, there is no one perfect tool or method for all roles and activities.

Collaboration tools can be grouped into three broad categories: simple collaboration, document collaboration, and structured collaboration.

1. Simple collaboration (instant messaging and microblogging – communication platforms)

People Collaborating

Tools that allow for instant response times are great for tasks geared around coordination—like preparing a project for launch. However, they can be distracting, and can remove people from deep concentration. Commenting may work for increasing dialogue, gathering feedback, or editing a document or project. Unfortunately, it typically fails when building something new.

When members of a specific team use microblogging or post internal communications updates to share information about their joint work, it becomes collaboration. Imagine a marketing team working towards a deadline on a marketing plan and posting status updates about tasks completed or questions that arise. This is a specific group of people (the marketing team) working together (communicating about the project) towards shared goals (deadline for a project).

Microsoft Teams is an example of a communication platform that offers calling, chatting, and video conferencing.

2. Document collaboration (Google Docs and Git – collaborative document editing tools)

Google Docs is an online word processor that allows you to edit word documents with others in real time.

Where simple collaboration is focused more on the conversations between people and teams, document collaboration is focused on a deliverable. Think of a sales team working together on a proposal, or a software team coming together to contribute to a source code repository.

Document collaboration tools have value for the individual, yet are even more powerful when connected with a team.

3. Structured collaboration (forms, idea management, and Q&A forums – knowledge management and collaboration platforms)

knowledge management
Access news, announcements, documents, policies and procedures, benefits info, and media resources, all in one location.

ThoughtFarmer is a knowledge management and intranet platform that offers features, such as a forum for people to ask and answer questions on specific topics.

Where the first two types of collaboration do not have any required format, structured collaboration does. Either explicitly with a series of fields (e.g. a vacation request form), or implicitly via a specific topic (e.g. an idea or Q&A forum).

Many intranets allow users to complete a form to request things like vacation, or a new computer. Typically, there is some kind of workflow process to review and approve these requests. Unfortunately, many of these systems (while meeting our definition of collaboration) aren’t always easy to use. 

When done correctly, intranets should make it easy to collaborate around fielded data, allowing for flexibility in the process and conversation around the best ways to achieve a task.

The other type of structured collaboration revolves around a topic, like idea management and Q&A forums. By limiting their context, these areas become more focused and directed. Idea forums can act as the nucleus for future collaboration, such as when an employee identifies an opportunity for cost savings, which could then be spun out into a project for further collaboration.

Why collaboration is important

Many people correlate collaboration with social software. They imagine purchasing a piece of digital workplace software and launching it to every employee in their organization and calling that “collaboration”.

Collaboration is a targeted, team-based activity. Intranets, extranets, and other social software can help drastically improve it, but you can’t lump all the possible features and activities into one term. Collaborating is about people’s interaction with each other as much as it is about the tools we use.

Key takeaways:

  • Collaboration means “two or more people working together towards shared goals” and includes three parts: team, processes, and purpose.
  • The benefits of collaboration includes increased innovation, problem-solving capabilities, efficiency, and employee satisfaction.
  • Be aware of common challenges associated with collaboration, such as communication barriers, conflicting priorities, and lack of trust, and how to overcome them.
  • Collaboration takes shape in many different forms across industries.
  • To build a collaborative environment, it is important to nurture a culture that naturally encourages and supports collaboration.
  • There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to collaboration, as it is dependent on your needs, industry, and type of work.

Technological advancements, evolving work dynamics, and shifting societal trends can change the way we view collaboration. But one thing will always remain true: effective collaboration is a fundamentally human endeavor.

Intranet software can improve not just collaboration, but communication, cooperation, coordination, idea-sharing, team communication, knowledge management and more. Learn more how intranet software can improve your organization’s collaboration.