The term collaboration in a sense denotes the interconnection of both information and ideas. At the same time, collaboration can be a way of working — and a process. No matter how you view collaboration, communication is always required. Especially when you consider that collaboration happens between and among people on a team to get the work done. These concepts require special consideration for team leaders seeking to maintain momentum, given the business environment we all find ourselves in.

It’s important to understand the difference between communication and collaboration:

  • Communication refers to just about any type of information exchange including the spoken and written word. When people gather, they usually have an opinion on an issue, a view that’s made by the sharing of information with others on the team. Communication requires understanding the patterns of all others. In addition, it involves listening in to each with empathy. Communication is very much about the skills of the people involved.
  • Collaboration on the other hand usually means inputs provide a different way of thinking. This means that people have different perspectives, and there is an exchange of ideas and opinions. To what purpose? Well, usually they’re engaged in some sort of production or creation. For example, building something together. This production, this type of “work” implies a process underlying collaboration as people engage. Collaboration is more about processes or methods followed by the people involved.

The Collaborative Environment

Creating a collaborative environment means blending communication (skills) and collaboration (process) to help people contribute to the success of the team. For example, achieving a deadline, launching a new product, or building a new capability. When people work with others, they communicate what they know and believe. They share their point of view. While communication is to be expected, the collaboration process is often non-existent or poorly understood.

Collaborative skills and processes are not natural and must be taught and modeled. Many team members struggle with the process of collaboration. In fact, most school systems work hard to ensure their students don’t have these skills or processes (but that’s another post).

Communication and Collaboration Are the Keys to Team Member Contribution

collaboration is a process

Why does this matter?

  1. Teaming: Teaming is created by collaboration and communication. In a team setting, the leader acts as a facilitator and allows other people to bring their authentic selves to the team to help make decisions, and contribute to the progress of the team. The more contribution people make to the team the more the team strengthens and develops.
  2. Give & Get: Probably one of the best techniques to boost productivity and reduce interpersonal friction is to work together and create something together. This requires “give and take”. And that means a lot of collaboration (process) and communication (skills). The question is, give and take of what? For starters, a give and take of innovative ideas, diverse thoughts, and unique perspectives. People need to be able to use their own strengths to solve problems and create progress and build upon each other’s discoveries. Empathy helps, but curiosity is required.
  3. Progress: The blend of process and skills enables team members to support the creative process and build upon their skills, and naturally keep an open mind. That translates into contributions and that means progress. The more contributions someone makes, the more the team can provide feedback to build on what’s working. Many teams bog down because they haven’t spent the time to define their collaboration process clearly.
  4. Speed. Working together has a massive benefit to working faster. While it may seem counterintuitive that adding more people creates speed, it’s not. As the team works towards a common goal, communication and collaboration help create increased focus is, and that leads to better results faster.
  5. Productivity. when people communicate and collaborate the quality of work goes up. People become more effective and efficient in what they’re contributing to the success of the team. Working together makes everybody else look forward to the end result of the undertaking. They also come up with solutions and bring others along.

While working well together is helpful to everyone, it’s important to be clear on how to make that happen — especially in remote or digital environments. While every person has potential and wants to do well, they need to have the skills, and they need to be willing to engage in the collaboration process for the good of the team. Their contributions make the team a productive one, even if it means setting aside time to “Be Collaborative” on a daily basis.