Collaboration Definition, Skills, and Examples

Diverse team collaborating together in a meeting
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Collaboration is essential in almost all aspects of life and work and nearly every imaginable job in business today entails at least some joint effort by members of a team to work together collaboratively. This makes cooperation an essential skill in most sectors of the work world.

Workplace Collaboration

What's collaboration and how can you do it effectively? The definition of the word ‘collaboration’ refers to the action of working with someone else in order to create something or produce something. Collaboration skills enable workers to interface productively with other colleagues. Successful collaboration requires a cooperative spirit and mutual respect. Employers typically seek employees who function effectively as part of a team and are willing to balance personal achievement with group goals.

Parties That Work Collaboratively

In some cases, teams that collaborate are members of the same department working on an ongoing activity that requires coordination. In other cases, interdepartmental teams are assembled to form cross-functional teams that are tasked with completing special projects within a prescribed period of time.

Collaboration can also occur between many different types of partners including between bosses and subordinates. Even different companies can collaborate at times. In that case, collaboration does not always take place between members of the same company.

Service providers can collaborate with clients to achieve goals, and vendors can cooperate with customers to produce products or services. Collaboration can also take place between individuals outside one's realm of employment including business partners, customers, clients, contractors, volunteers, and suppliers.

Elements of Successful Collaboration

The idea of collaboration seems easy enough – just work together. But there’s more to it than that. If you need to work with others on a project, make sure you include all of these elements of a successful collaboration:

  • Clear definitions and agreements on the roles of partners in the collaborative process.
  • Open communication within teams to share the information necessary to carry out tasks.
  • Consensus about goals and methods for completing projects or tasks. Don’t move forward until all members are in agreement.
  • Recognition of, and respect for, the contribution of all collaborators. It’s important to give credit where credit is due.
  • Identification of obstacles and addressing problems cooperatively as they occur. Teamwork is essential at all times.
  • Group goals are placed above personal satisfaction and/or recognition. It’s crucial to put the desired project results at the forefront – this isn’t about the individual goals.
  • Willingness to apologize for missteps and ability to forgive others for mistakes. Holding a grudge or sabotaging the efforts of other team members just can’t happen.

Examples of Collaboration Skills

A - L

  • Actively listening to the concerns of team members
  • Agreeing on roles that capitalize on individual strengths
  • Analyzing problems without assigning blame
  • Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of partners
  • Brainstorming solutions to problems
  • Building consensus about goals and processes for group projects
  • Compromising when necessary to move the group forward
  • Defining mutually acceptable roles
  • Delegating tasks with open discussion
  • Displaying a willingness to find solutions to problems
  • Drawing consensus around goals and processes
  • Eliciting the views of reluctant group members
  • Facilitating group discussion
  • Following through with commitments in a reliable manner
  • Forgiving others when they come up short
  • Giving credit to others for contributions
  • Interviewing clients to determine their needs and preferences
  • Identifying obstacles to success
  • Investing the required time and energy to complete tasks
  • Taking a leadership role
  • Listening to the concerns of team members

M - Z

  • Maintaining a sense of humor whenever possible
  • Making sure the perspective of quieter collaborators is heard
  • Meeting deadlines for individual contributions
  • Recognizing the contributions of other collaborators
  • Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of collaborators
  • Selecting compatible partners to carry out projects
  • Sharing feelings of frustration or dissatisfaction as they occur
  • Speaking respectfully with team members
  • Taking responsibility for mistakes
  • Updating collaborators on developments with the project
  • Working hard to fulfill obligations to the team

Although collaboration is often described as a “soft skill,” in today’s workplace it is just as vital as hard skills such as one's educational background and/or technical knowledge. And, even though productive collaboration skills may not be innate to some individuals, they can easily be learned and practiced to perfection.