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Collaborative Working? Is this just a fancy name for teamwork?

To start Ill remind you of a quote by Henry Ford - "Coming together is a beginning, Staying together is progress, Working together is success!"

Everyone is talking about collaborative working practises and environments, its another of the buzz terms alongside disruption, innovation, transformation and reinvention…… why are these terms all being given so much air time, surely we used them before? I think the truth is that when you really look at all of them, each of these terms has become popular as it helps drive and explain a different approach, but that fundamentally if you worked in a team before, and you worked on change programs, implementation projects or in fact any kind of project, then you were most likely driving some sort of transformation on the product or service, you were working in a team as part of a group and there was probably quite an impact as a result to your business? Disruption and innovation have taken on a new supercharged definition admittedly but any business that is fundamentally changing its agenda, business model, or pushing the boundaries of its products and services and thinking in a new and creative way, is being naturally innovative and disrupting most likely the marketplace that they sit within! So why is everyone pushing the collaborative working phase at the moment - what does it really mean and how does it in fact fundamentally differ from what we were all doing when delivering in teams and projects before? My personal description is the following:Collaborative working is the coming together of multiple parties, entities and skills in a shared vision or goal to achieve a specific outcome (set of outcomes).

Its the conjoining of different skills and flexing to accommodate and utilise the many different attitudes, approaches and needs of those entities is key in how collaboration and working practises are most successful.

Best examples are where entities (in this case the team) are given the opportunity to try new skills/ideas supported by those skilled around them, additionally to bring other qualities to the mix and stretch outside of their defined boundaries, offering their other less recognised skills that they might have, but which could be relevant. Its often an opportunity for the parties involved to try new things in a safer and more supportive environment as part of overall team and personal growth.

Best practise in collaborative team working has a few key principles:

• Sharing of ideas and approaches, trying them (and not dismissing any ideas out of hand) - building empowerment.

• Communication is fundamental and is open and transparent

• There is an agreed framework by all parties for the approach, thus providing a clear system and structure for people to work within and collaborate

• Constructive feedback - communicating ideas or difference of opinion in a way that it is of a ‘teaching’ or constructive to the person receiving. All parties welcome feedback in order to grow and learn.

• Much like a wolf pack, everyone has a role and owns and is accountable to it, ensuring that they are moving forward to ensure the success of all.

• Flatter (less hierarchical) structures are more successful with collaborative working - experience of all parties is always respected.

It typically can test specific models and approaches in order to identify where systems or tools need to be tweaked in order to achieve the best results, it will also show up where weaknesses in a team are or specific strengths so that these can be catered to, training for and accommodated accordingly to achieve best levels of success.

The core difference then, to just working in a team, is that you have the opportunity to air new ideas, everyone has some degree of responsibility and ownership in what is produced at a shared level, and the communication channels are more open. Everyone gets to share their ideas and thoughts which drives greater creativity and is not just the process design or idea driven by one person! Collaborative working is less about a project manager or boss driving a specific agenda and set of tasks or steps to achieve a goal or outcome, its about the team pulling together and working out the best way of achieving it with their collective skills, experience, insights and brainpower. It drives greater empowerment, consideration and it achieves more successful solutions, and creates an environment of greater engagement - a more gelled team.

Its NOT management by committee!

And to finish on a quote from one of my colleagues recently: "Collaboration is bringing together the varying skills of individuals to achieve more as a group. It is the secret that allows ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things; communicating and working together to not just improve results, but also our working environment."

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