What is Collaboration? Is it the Same as Teamwork?

Ask 'what is collaboration' and many people will say that it is like teamwork. But they actually aren't exactly the same thing. So what’s the difference? 

Teamwork is a group of people working together to make one goal or one project happen, but each individual within the team may be doing a different type of work to help the group as a whole.


Collaboration is still a group of people working together to make one goal or one project happen, but they are working together and feeding off one another. They are making decisions together and working jointly rather than separately completing their own tasks.

Unlike teamwork, a collaborative relationship usually doesn’t have a leader. There are often competing goals as well as shared goals, such as in a customer-supplier relationship or collaboration between different business units in a company.

As a result:

- Collaborators must be emotionally engaged with each other. There needs to be a high degree of commitment by those involved

- Collaborators need respect for each other’s skills on the topic of the collaboration

- Collaborators need the ‘permission’ to negotiate with each other over process, costs, benefits etc to ensure coordinated action and resolve any differences or disputes.

These factors can all be important in teamwork too – but with a good leader, teams can often still be successful without these characteristics.

Communication vs. Collaboration

In developing an answer to the question 'what is collaboration,' it is also important to separate the concepts of communication and collaboration. Communication simply means that all members of a team are talking to one another, updating one another on what they are doing and what progress they are making, and asking questions of one another to make sure the team is on track as a whole.

Communication is essential in collaboration. But collaboration is more than just good communication.

It can get confusing because there are many forms that collaboration can take and some of them are all about different types of communication. For example:

  • Group meetings or strategy sessions to collaborate on developing a new product or solution to a problem, where group communication skills and group decision making come into play.
  • Small group meetings of 3-4 people to create a business plan or collaborate on a written document where group communication skills also come into play.
  • One-on-one meetings or brainstorms where interpersonal communication skills are essential.

These examples are different from holding a meeting for basic coordination and communication of the group. Basic meetings may be used to introduce everyone in the group for the first time and to allow updates from individual team members.

A collaboration session, on the other hand, is held with the intention of brainstorming ideas, strategizing, or otherwise putting heads together to get creative, make decisions, or think strategically. This is why so many discover the importance of teamwork in business--to gather new ideas.

Depending on the type of project being completed and the ultimate goal of the team, there may be times that certain people within the group must collaborate while at other times the entire group may need to collaborate together so decisions are made that concern the work of each individual.

What is Collaboration vs. Teamwork: Summary

Collaboration is a type of teamwork that requires two or more people to work directly together to make decisions, come up with creative ideas, or develop strategies to be used by the group or in parts of a project. It usually involves working directly together to jointly produce an output.

Teamwork can be completed on an individual basis with communication open to all parts of the team. Collaboration on the other hand is more interdependent. It requires excellent interpersonal and group communication skills.

You will always have teamwork in a team. You will always need communication flowing within the team. You may not always need collaboration within a team. 

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