Benefits of team collaboration
The complexion of work has gone through significant changes in recent decades. A wave of technological advancements coupled with an increasing specialization of individual tasks has ushered in the era of a decentralized workplace and interdisciplinary teams. For many organizations, these changes have made collaborative work an essential prerequisite – not just for their success but also for their survival.
As more and more organizations set up their work on collaborative principles, it has become clear that collaboration is not merely a modern-day necessity, but can also be a booster for high performance in a number of different ways. Over the following lines, we will highlight some of the most important positive effects of team-level collaboration, both for organizations and for collaborators themselves.
Organizational types of team collaboration
Before we focus on the specific benefits of collaborative work, we will first touch upon different types of team collaboration with respect to collaborating entities – members of the same team, members of different teams within the same organization, or members of different organizations. Depending on the organizational setting, some of the benefits we will address in the following lines will hold a universal value, while others will not be of equal relevance to all collaboration types. Where necessary, we will highlight these distinctions.
These types of teams consist of professionals with different complementary skills within an organization grouped together in order to combine their diverging expertise towards the achievement of a common goal. This is the most common model of collaboration, utilized across a variety of professional areas, from education and healthcare to business and government. A multidisciplinary team, for example, would be a software development team featuring programmers, testers, and project managers, or a marketing team featuring writers, graphic artists, and different types of marketing specialists. Most commonly, the duration of this type of collaboration is not limited to a specific project, instead representing a long-term engagement in which individual participants may change, but the team structure and the division of roles remains relatively fixed.
When we’re talking about team collaboration, this is the primary type of collaborative team we have in mind, although most of the situations and their consequential benefits we will discuss are applicable to other types of collaboration as well.
This collaborative set-up gathers members of different departments within the same organization in order to combine their skills and expertise in order to achieve a specific objective. The key distinction between a cross-department collaboration and a multidisciplinary team is that the former includes members of different functional teams engaged in (most commonly) a temporary collaboration that doesn’t last beyond the attempted achievement of a specific goal.
This type of collaboration brings together two organizational entities, most often from the same or a connected industry (although there are many creative examples of collaborations between organizations from wildly different industries), with the goal of pooling resources in order to achieve mutually beneficial goals. For instance, this type of collaboration would involve different technology companies merging their resources in order to create a product that combines their specific areas of expertise. These strategic partnerships are most commonly focused on a specific objective and limited in duration (as long-term partnerships are usually accompanied by some form of M&A activities). The benefits of this type of collaboration are different in scope and nature, although there is some overlap with the previously mentioned models.
Organizational benefits of team collaboration
The primary reason why organizations engage in cross-functional collaboration is the achievement of goals that could not be reached through the reliance on a single skill set. While this is the primary benefit of collaborative work, there are many other more or less obvious “side-effects” of collaboration that can produce additional benefits for organizations. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Collaboration fuels innovation and problem-solving
The combination of different skills and perspectives increases the collective competence, ability, and experience of a team. The diverse expertise and the multitude of viewpoints among team members help overcome the challenges faced by individual members of the team, whether through colleague assistance, brainstorming, or active communication. The sheer exposure to different ideas and different approaches to work helps team members reexamine their own approach and perspective, which can be a strong catalyst for new ideas. Additionally, the constant flow of information regarding the course of the shared work, arising challenges, and new opportunities improves the quality of communication and leads to faster and better responses to any new developments.
Collaboration increases knowledge-sharing and improves the information flow
In recent years, knowledge management has become one of the key focus areas for organizations, as a means to effectively preserve and disseminate the collective expertise that organizations gather over time. Collaboration is an excellent enabler of knowledge-sharing, as it brings together people of diverging skills, opens communication lines between collaborators, and enables a direct knowledge transfer through working together and sharing parts of individual expertise. This is particularly emphasized in cross-department collaborations, which gather professionals who don’t normally work together, thus giving them an opportunity to share unique insights and perspectives which they would not be exposed to in usual circumstances. In the case of inter-organizational collaborations, organizations can benefit from exposure to the expertise and the inner workings of their collaborating entities.
Cross-department collaborations can also go a long way in eliminating information silos, thus enabling organizations to better prepare and respond faster and better to any new challenges.
Collaboration strengthens interpersonal relationships
Collaborative work places team members closer to one another and engages them to work together on a shared goal. This type of environment improves interpersonal relationships among collaborators, which not only strengthens their mutual bonds, but also their bonds with their shared work, the team, and the organization as a whole. This in turn results in a higher degree of motivation and investment into the success of the collaboration.
This aspect of collaboration is particularly important for cross-departmental teams, whose members don’t have an opportunity to engage with each other in their work within their primary departments. Engaging members of separate departments in collaborative work improves the connections between the collaborating departments and creates a broader sense of belonging that extends beyond the collaborators’ primary teams.
Collaboration increases alignment across different departments
This positive effect of collaboration refers primarily to a cross-department set-up. Direct collaboration between members of different departments provides insights into the work of each division and paints a broader picture of how the confluence of their individual efforts leads to a larger goal. This leads to a better understanding of everyone’s individual role within the broader framework and helps ensure that all areas of an organization remain on the same page and focused on their shared objectives.
Collaboration reinforces the company culture
Values such as transparency, teamwork, trust, and support are the essence of quality collaboration, and their practical everyday application within a collaborative setting only further boosts and promotes them. A healthy organizational culture is always reflected in the actions of its members and seeing aspects of that culture translated into the work and the approach to collaborating reinforces the shared values and the vision of the organization as a whole. While relevant to both models of collaboration within an organization, it is of particular importance when collaboration gathers individuals who are rarely in close professional contact.
Collaboration leads to higher retention rates
There is a growing body of research suggesting a strong correlation between a collaborative workplace and employee retention. Collaborative work infuses meaning and value into everyday work. It creates a supportive environment that emphasizes team achievements over individual ones and builds a strong connection both between the collaborators and with the team members and their shared work. Engaged and valued members of an organization are far more likely to remain a part of it. Of course, a collaborative setting does not guarantee employee engagement and satisfaction, but it does provide an ideal foundation for the development of an organizational culture that is rewarded with the loyalty and commitment of its members.
Collaboration increases productivity
The correlation between collaboration and productivity has been a significant subject of research in recent years, showing a direct line between collaborative work and increased and improved team output. The increased productivity is a combination of a variety of factors – the ability to divide the collective work in a way that maximizes resources and prevents fatigue and burnout, the higher degree of engagement and motivation among collaborators, the heightened ability of problem-solving among technically diverse teams, improved information flow, etc.
An important aspect of increased productivity through collaboration is the wave of efficient online collaboration tools that has fueled the growing wave of remote work and decentralized workspaces. The ability to overcome geographic boundaries and communicate and collaborate efficiently, both in real-time and asynchronously, has introduced a new age of productivity and enabled many organizations to be more flexible and adaptable than ever before. This only further emphasizes the importance of collaboration as not only a desirable model of work but also an increasingly necessary one.
Individual benefits of team collaboration
The great thing about collaborative work is that, when done right, it represents a win-win situation for everyone involved. Not only organizations reap the benefits of collaboration, but collaborators themselves as well. For willing participants in collaborative work, there is a wealth of its positive effects. Here are some of them…
Collaboration expands our skillset
Collaborations gather a wide range of talents and strengths that interact and fuse together to become greater than the sum of its parts. This interplay provides insights into different skillsets and expertise, allowing collaborators to learn from each other and reexamine their own approach. Every collaboration is a learning experience – even if we are not embracing any new knowledge and skills, constant interaction and feedback enable us to adjust and improve our own way of doing things. Additionally, a collaborative setting is a great way to fast-track the onboarding and knowledge transfer processes for new team members.
Collaboration increases our understanding of other disciplines
Working with professionals with skillsets different from our own deepens our knowledge and understanding of their areas of work in an immediate and practical manner. We get to see our collaborators in action and become exposed to their approach and their line of thinking. Even if their professional areas are wildly different from our own, the experience is immensely valuable, as it broadens our perspective and increases our understanding of how different pieces fit into the broader picture of the operations of the organization. Additionally, the experience hones our interpersonal and collaborative skills, as it exposes us to the diversity of perspectives, methodologies, and motivational drivers among members of multidisciplinary teams. Understanding and embracing this diversity is at the core of collaborative work.
Collaboration gives us a broader perspective on business
Working on multidisciplinary teams increases not only our understanding of the inner workings of an organization but also of the industry in which we operate. The depth of our domain knowledge determines our ability to understand our role in the pursuit of the shared organizational objectives and how to best contribute to their achievement. It helps us escape the tunnel vision of our immediate expertise and places it into a broader context, enabling us to see not only what we are supposed to do, but what is the purpose of our work. A deeper understanding of this broader context enables us to see how our own specific role evolves with the industry, helping us better navigate our own professional paths. This benefit is further enhanced in inter-organizational collaborations that expose the inner workings of other organizations operating in our own line of work or in its neighborhood and help us compare and reassess our own practices.
Collaboration brings us closer together
Ultimately, we all want our work to be rewarding and fulfilling, both in its professional and interpersonal aspects. The presence of camaraderie and strong interpersonal bonds among collaborators increases the levels of engagement and satisfaction of team members with their collective work. Gathering around a shared goal and working towards its achievement in a supportive and inclusive environment infuses our work with purpose and professional satisfaction.
Additionally, in the remote era, collaborative work helps connect geographically separated team members who would otherwise feel isolated and removed from the team context and a sense of belonging.
Collaboration improves our interpersonal skills
The development of strong communicational skills and the ability to acknowledge, respect, and properly handle the diversity of individual perspectives is a prerequisite for quality collaboration. Our “soft skills” play an important, sometimes even a deciding role in our professional journey. Collaborative work brings us in immediate contact with other individuals, requiring us to understand how they operate and how to best approach them. In our work, we experience a variety of interpersonal scenarios, from adversity to camaraderie, and these experiences, in turn, sharpen our interpersonal skills, thus making us better colleagues and collaborators.
Collaboration expands our professional network
Professional connections have always played an important role in career development, but their importance is even more emphasized in the dynamic professional landscape of the 21st century. Through collaboration, we interact with other professionals and demonstrate our own skillset. Over time, these connections grow into our professional network. The quality of these connections and the impression we leave on our collaborators can advance our career further down the road.
The changing nature of work has shifted collaboration away from the realm of possibility and towards necessity. As collaboration continues to become a must for many organizations, it is important to remember that it produces a plethora of direct and indirect organizational and individual benefits. Maximizing these benefits is key, not only to the quality and success of collaboration but to the overall success of organizations as well.