Teamwork vs collaboration: 3 important skills to improve both

two people stretching to get ready for 3 important skills for teamwork and collaboration

So, you've doled out perks like flexible work, home office stipends and more PTO, yet you're still struggling with employee performance and retention? This makes sense. BambooHR research from September 2023 revealed  that employee happiness is lower than it ever was during the COVID-19 pandemic.1

What employees need now, more than ever, is a sense of purpose and community at work, and both can be achieved through working together as a team.2

Without teamwork and collaboration, we falter. In 2011, Fierce, Inc. surveyed more than 1,400 executives and employees, and 86% said that workplace failures can be attributed to a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication.

So what are 3 important skills we can use to enhance teamwork and collaboration in the workplace? Below, we’ll cover these in detail and describe how to hone them in your own work life.

Table of contents
What is the definition of collaboration?
What is the definition of teamwork?
Collaboration vs. teamwork: What are the key differences?
Benefits of teamwork and collaboration
Teamwork and collaboration examples
What are 3 important skills for teamwork and collaboration?
3 more important skills for teamwork and collaboration
Which of these skills will you work on this week?

What is the definition of collaboration?

Collaboration is when 2 or more people or organizations lend their individual efforts to create a shared product or outcome.

What is the definition of teamwork?

Teamwork is 2 or more people with a shared identity working together and supporting each other on the journey to achieve team goals.

Collaboration vs. teamwork: What are the key differences?

Teamwork implies a sense of shared identity, belonging and connection.

‘Working together as a team’ implies that everyone has each other's back. They're on the same team, whether that's the same department (the engineering team) or the same company, they share a purpose, goal and connection.

Collaboration can happen between anyone, even if they're not on the same team.

Collaboration frequently happens between people who are on different teams. There is no requirement for emotional connection or shared identity. Just think of brand partnerships where employees from one company enter into a formal collaboration with employees from another with the shared goal of furthering the interests of their respective companies. They're not necessarily on the same team, but they do work together toward a shared outcome.

Teamwork usually involves a set of individual roles.

In teamwork, typically (but not always), each person has a specific role that they bring to the table. One person might be the project manager, another might be the writer, and yet another might be the designer. They each bring their specialties into the project, creating a joint effort to support each other and get the project done.

Collaboration does not require a sense of belonging or identity (though belonging and identity certainly help!)

In a collaboration, each individual may not feel connected to the other. They're just there to do the work; there's not necessarily any team bonding or shared sense of belonging or purpose. However, having a sense of teamwork does strengthen collaborations.

a group of colleagues enjoying coffee and laughing together showing a sense of purpose and belonging

Benefits of teamwork and collaboration

Higher productivity

‘Many hands make light work,’ as the saying goes. When you're able to leverage the strengths of each individual, you'll find that you can get more done. McKinsey found that better communication and collaboration through social technology boosted productivity by up to 25 percent for workers.3

Enhanced problem-solving skills

In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that groups of 3 to 5 people were better at solving complex problems than even the best individual working alone.4

Better performance

In a meta-analysis of 31 articles related to healthcare organizations, researchers found a positive correlation between teamwork and performance.5

Increased sense of job satisfaction

One study of public university employees found that teamwork positively influenced job satisfaction.6

Teamwork and collaboration examples

To help you understand the difference between teamwork vs collaboration, here are some real-life examples.

Document sharing and collaboration

For a brand partnership marketing campaign, employees of 2 different companies use various collaborative tools, such as Google Docs, where they upload marketing collateral and type ideas into a shared document. This is an example of collaboration because each individual is lending their individual strengths and creative solutions for the project, but they don't necessarily bond as an entire team or have a shared identity as they're from different organizations.

a team using virtual collaboration tools to collaborate virtually

Event planning

For an annual fundraiser for a nonprofit, co-workers might meet to plan a gala. One might be in charge of food, another in charge of invitations, and another in charge of decorations. This is an example of teamwork because they all have shared identity and individual roles and are working toward a common goal.

Software development

The engineering team for a tech startup are working together to launch their first mobile app. The entire team has a project manager, UI/UX designer, software developer, and team lead. This is an example of teamwork because of their specific roles and shared organizational and team identity.

Presenting a proposal to executive-level team leaders

The HR team is tasked with presenting its ideas to increase employee engagement to the company's executives. With low morale, high stress, and increasing pressures, the HR team feels disconnected from each other. Despite this, one of the HR professionals is able to pull together 80% of the ideas for solutions and put it into a presentation, while her 3 coworkers collaborate to finish the remaining 20%.

They each contribute to the project separately from their own laptops and never meet in person before the presentation day. It may be a successful collaboration, where each person contributed something to a shared project, but it's a poor example of teamwork because the team didn't feel connected or support each other emotionally.

What are 3 important skills for teamwork and collaboration?

1. Trust

A strong team trusts each other. The American Psychological Association defines trust as ‘the degree to which each party feels that they can depend on the other party to do what they say they will do.’

Why trust matters

Teamwork is based on relationships, and at the foundation of every relationship is trust. If you lack trust in your teammates, or, if you do not believe they will do what they say they will do, you’ll constantly double-check their work or attempt to accomplish tasks on your own.

Trust also empowers us to do our best work. According to research by Paul Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, employees whose companies were in the top quartile of trust levels reported having 106% more energy than respondents whose firms were in the bottom quartile.

How to develop trust in your workplace

Trust develops over time after getting to know people and seeing evidence that you can rely on them. Understandably, it’s difficult, and perhaps unwise, to trust someone you don’t know. But there are ways to expedite that process.

Host team building activities.

No…you don’t have to do the trust fall to build trust. But you do need to be intentional about planning activities outside of normal work that build specific skills and enable your team to get to know each other. From Lunch and Learns to book clubs to virtual field trips, there’s no shortage of team building activities, even for remote teams.

Make team bonding a part of everyday work life.

While team building activities are planned and hosted, team bonding occurs naturally as part of your company culture. But you do have to implement certain things to encourage it.

Examine your workplace: Does everyone sit quietly in cubicles all day, keeping to themselves? That’s not an environment conducive to teamwork and collaboration. Consider creating communal spaces where teammates can gather to work or chat. Also, try instituting coffee breaks and the like to encourage coworkers to get to know each other outside of work projects.

Hold each other accountable.

At the core of trust is the belief that someone will do what they say they’ll do. In the workplace, we often make promises and goal statements but never follow through on them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we didn’t intend to, rather, we may just lack accountability.

To build trust within teams, hold each other accountable for the goals you set. This means writing down goals, tracking metrics and reporting progress to your team by using project management software. A study by Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University found that subjects who sent weekly progress reports to a friend accomplished more than those who did not.

four team members putting their hand together in a circle show their trust and teamwork skills

2. Tolerance

Tolerance is one of the 48 motivations we identified in our 20 years of motivation research. We define it as the ‘level of acceptance and appreciation for the unique styles, values and rules of each person including your own.’

Why tolerance matters

If your team is diverse (which we hope it is!), you’ll be working with people from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds. Their values, perspectives and ways of communicating may differ from yours, and you’ll need to be able to appreciate the differences. Without tolerance, an employee will try to impose their values and ideas onto others, making it difficult to bond and collaborate.

How to develop tolerance

Exposure:

Some people lack tolerance simply because they’ve never been exposed to different ideas or cultures. By having a diverse team, you’ll enable your employees to build tolerance by introducing them to people who think differently from them and bring new perspectives.

Education:

It takes more than just exposure, though. Often, you will need to educate others on how to be tolerant. This is where it is useful to have team members attend diversity and inclusion workshops or online training.

Empathy:

Empathy, or perspective-taking, enables people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. When you try to see an issue from someone else’s viewpoint, it becomes difficult to remain intolerant. We’ll talk more about empathy later on in this article.

3. Self-awareness

Emotional intelligence begins with self-awareness, which involves knowing your emotions, motivations and blind spots and how those will affect everyone on your team.

Why self-awareness matters

The first step to being able to communicate well is knowing what you’re trying to say. Self-awareness enables you to recognize your feelings and concerns so that you better express them. In a team environment, everyone is affected by each other. To get the outcome you want, you’ll need to know the part you play in your team dynamics.

How to develop self-awareness

Ask for feedback.

We can be pretty poor judges of ourselves. To get better, actively seek out feedback from your team, and not just the good type of feedback. Ask them what you could do better, and try to do this in a one-on-one setting or in an anonymous survey to relieve the pressure.

Check in with yourself.

If you feel strong emotions rising up during work, practice pausing and checking in with yourself. Are you disappointed because a team member said they’d do something and failed to deliver? Are you stressed because your boss has given you a heavy workload? Or are you envious because a coworker was praised for their work, but no one thanked you?

Ignoring those feelings won’t make them go away, it might even make you lash out in a way that’s hurtful to your team. But, once you know what emotion you’re dealing with, you can figure out how to manage it.

Use a people analytics tool.

We take the guesswork out of self-awareness! Based on 20 years of evidence-based research on workplace motivations, F4S provides a detailed report of what makes your team tick and where you could improve. Take the free motivational assessment.

F4S team dashboard shows team dynamics and motivations to improve teamwork and collaboration
F4S team dashboard

3 more important skills for teamwork and collaboration

While trust, tolerance and self-awareness are top skills, there are even more skills that can enhance teamwork and collaboration. Let’s go over 3 more below.

4. Empathy

Empathy means feeling what another person is feeling and/or imagining yourself in their shoes, it has 2 components: emotional and cognitive.

Why empathy matters

Empathy is the glue that holds a team together. It’s what will defuse conflict and encourage bonding. Ultimately, it’ll make people want to stick around. According to Businessolver’s 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Study, 93% of employees say they’re more likely to stay with an empathetic employer.

How to develop empathy

Remember how I said there are 2 aspects to empathy: emotional and cognitive? While you may not be able to make yourself feel what someone else is feeling, you do have the cognitive ability to imagine yourself in their shoes. This is called ‘perspective-taking,’ and you can see it as a thought experiment in what it would be like to look at something from someone else’s viewpoint.

5. Transparency

Transparency is more than honesty, it’s telling the truth even when no one asks for it, with the goal being to avoid problems down the line by being upfront now. Transparency in your company might look like publishing quarterly reports for the public to review, announcing an upcoming decision to your team, or having an open salary policy where everyone in your company knows how much money their colleagues are making.

Why transparency matters

Transparency is huge in building trust because it shows your team that you are not hiding anything. Your coworkers have no reason to question your motivations when you always keep your decisions and reasoning available for them to examine.

How to develop transparency

Transparency in a company begins with decision-making. Open up your processes so your team can understand how you came to a decision. You can also share results with your team, the good, the bad and the ugly, to be more transparent. This may sound scary and counterintuitive at first, but the benefit to transparency is that your brilliant team will likely have solutions you never would’ve thought of on your own.

6. Active listening

When we talk about collaboration and communication skills, we often think about how we can better express ourselves and our ideas. But perhaps the most vital skill to have when disagreements and conflicts arise is the ability to close our mouths and listen to others. This is how you can have a productive exchange of ideas, and ultimately, a successful team.

Why active listening matters

Companies already know how important this is. In the 2017 Corporate Recruiters Survey Report, listening skills were the second-most sought after in job candidates. Just as self-awareness allows you to express yourself more accurately, active listening allows others to express themselves to you and be heard.

How to practice active listening:

Listen to understand.

The biggest step in active listening is to move from listening to respond (where you’re formulating arguments as the other person talks) to listening to understand (where you’re focused only on the other person as they talk).

Summarize it using your own words.

To show you’re listening and to ensure you understood, summarize what you think the speaker said. Say something like, ‘So what I’m hearing is you’re overwhelmed right now, and I can help you by delegating more tasks to other team members this month. Is that right?’

Ask follow-up questions.

A follow-up question is different from a regular question in that, instead of changing the subject, it asks the speaker to expand upon something they just said. It might sound something like, ‘You mentioned you spoke to the client last week, but they didn’t seem receptive to the idea. Could you tell me a bit more about how they responded?’

If listening is challenging for you, it might be because it’s not your preferred learning style. At F4S we know that everyone has unique traits and that there isn’t a single approach that works for everyone. To improve virtual communication, F4S developed a Zoom integration so you can display if you prefer seeing, hearing, doing, or reading/writing.

To get started, download the Zoom app and answer 4 questions to find out your communication preferences. Your top 2 will show up as emojis on your Zoom screen. Be sure to invite your team to add the app so you can all be aware of each individual’s preference.

Discover the communication style of your meeting attendees
Get F4S for Zoom

7. Conflict resolution

No matter how well your team gels, there are bound to be conflicts at some point. Knowing how to de-escalate and resolve them are key to building a strong team.

Why conflict resolution matters

Conflict resolution matters because you won’t find a workplace that is completely conflict-free (and if you do, that’s probably because they’re hiding from their problems rather than confronting them). According to the 2008 CPP Global Human Capital Report, 85% of employees say they must deal with conflict to some extent and 29% say they deal with it ‘always’ or ‘frequently.’

How to get better at conflict resolution

Find out what each party wants.

Conflicts arise when 2 or more people want something different. When you’ve got a large team, there could be a lot of competing interests. Before you try to come to a compromise, you first need to know what everyone wants.

Try to keep emotion out of it.

Conflicts are emotionally-charged situations. To de-escalate, you need to keep your emotions out of it as much as possible. That means avoiding taking sides and sticking to the facts.

Listen and empathize.

Yep, you’ll need to call on 2 skills we’ve already talked about! Many times people get upset and act out because no one is listening to them. When conflicts arise, make sure to hear every side. Empathize by practicing perspective-taking, where you try to see things from their point of view. This alone will soothe frayed nerves.

Learn to compromise.

With multiple people on one team, it’s highly unlikely that everyone will get what they want in the end. You’ll need to learn when and where to make concessions so that you can move forward from a conflict. Ultimately, though, you need to revisit the goals for your company, your team and your particular project to make sure that your compromise doesn’t negatively affect those goals.

Which of these skills will you work on this week?

Whether you already consider yourself an A-plus team player or not, there’s always room for improvement. And as you saw in this article, there are action steps you can take right now to start practicing effective collaboration and building happier teams.

So that you don’t get overwhelmed, pick one skill at a time to hone. So which of these 3 important skills for effective teamwork and collaboration will you work on this week?

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  1. BambooHR,  2023, The Great Gloom: In 2023, Employees Are Unhappier Than Ever. Why?, https://www.bamboohr.com/resources/guides/employee-happiness-h1-2023
  2. Carucci R,  2021, To Retain Employees, Give Them a Sense of Purpose and Community, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2021/10/to-retain-employees-give-them-a-sense-of-purpose-and-community
  3. Chui M et al., 2012, The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies, McKinsey & Company, https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/technology-media-and-telecommunications/our-insights/the-social-economy
  4. Laughlin P et al., 2006 Groups Perform Better than the Best Individuals at Solving Complex Problems, American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/04/group
  5. Schmutz J et al. 2019, How effective is teamwork really? The relationship between teamwork and performance in healthcare teams: a systematic review and meta-analysis, BMJ Open, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6747874/
  6. Hanaysha J and Tahir P, 2016, Examining the Effects of Employee Empowerment, Teamwork, and Employee Training on Job Satisfaction, Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042816300763
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