Collaboration skills: Definition and improvement techniques

By definition, collaboration is a process where people pool their personal and other resources, like knowledge and expertise, in order to reach a common goal

In essence, collaboration is much more than just people working in groups. 

In fact, collaboration is quite different from teamwork — a process that we could undeniably define as “people working in groups” as well. 

At a fundamental level, it is a form of interaction. 

As with any other interaction between humans, the quality of collaboration largely depends on the participants’ ability to interact in various dimensions. 

To be able to properly define collaboration, we must first break it down into individual skills that make up our ability to collaborate. By doing that, we can not only see how each of them contributes to the overall capability of collaboration but also answer the following questions:

  • Is collaboration a skill?
  • What are collaboration skills?
  • What is the most important skill for collaboration?
  • What are good examples of collaboration skills?
  • How do you develop collaboration skills?

Today, we’ll be answering all of these (and a few other) questions to finally get to the definitive definition of collaboration as a skill.

Collaboration as a skill cover

Collaboration skills definition: Is collaboration a skill?

It doesn’t require advanced research skills to find many examples of collaboration being referred to as a skill in scholarly literature. In fact, many publications dedicated to contemporary education highlight collaboration as one of the essential skills for the 21st century

However, if we dig a little bit deeper, we’ll quickly find that the “skill” of collaboration is never defined as a distinctive quality, but always as a combination of other skills identified as relevant to the process of collaboration

In many literary sources, the discourse shifts quickly from “the skill of collaboration” to a set of “collaboration skills.”

Therefore, strictly speaking, it is challenging to identify collaboration as a skill in itself. Instead, we can observe a collaborative skill set — a combination of different skills related to:

  • Communication
  • Emotional intelligence, and 
  • Operational know-how

The aggregation of these skills enables us to collaborate well with others. 

Since operational know-how is not only highly individual but also too wide of a parameter, we need to look at communication skills and emotional intelligence to define collaboration precisely.

Communication and collaboration: Interlinked and contingent

The fact that we can interlink communication and collaboration sets us apart from all other species on earth. 

Both communication and collaboration are effectively acts of exchanging information between people. 

However, it’s important to note that while the lines between the two might sometimes be blurry, it’s clear what separates them:

  • Interpersonal communication is an act of exchanging knowledge and information,
  • Collaboration is the act of exchanging knowledge and information with a clear goal in mind (accomplishing something as a team), and
  • Collaboration is completely contingent on communication — it can only exist when “two-way communication” is present.

Therefore, while communication can exist without collaboration, collaboration without proper, effective communication is impossible. Let’s see why. 

🎓  Pumble Pro Tip

Communication at work can sometimes be tricky, especially for those who work in fully remote teams. To learn how to navigate the issues that come with remote communication, read the following article:

Communication skills necessary for collaboration

According to 86% of employees, poor communication is the number one reason behind workplace failure. Therefore, it’s logical to assume that communication is vital for effective collaboration. 

Quality communication fuels collaboration by ensuring a high degree of clarity, understanding, and consensus among team members, as well as preventing or de-escalating any conflicts.

Among the essential communication skills, those of the utmost importance for collaboration are: 

  • Listening,
  • Asking open-ended questions,
  • Asking closed questions,
  • Clarifying,
  • Paraphrasing,
  • Using facilitators,
  • Assessing non-verbals,
  • Silence, and
  • Written (or remote) communication.

Skill #1: Listening

Listening is the foundation of healthy communication. However, many of us slip up on this first, vital step. 

To achieve effective communication, we must actively listen — attempt to hear, understand, and retain the entirety of the message that someone is trying to communicate. That includes both what was said and the nonverbal and context cues as well as written communication

To ensure that we are getting this first basic step right, we can rely on the principles of active listening:

  • Attitude,
  • Attention, and
  • Adjustment.

The first principle of active listening, attitude, has to do with maintaining positive regard while listening to the speaker. That means we shouldn’t be quick to judge whatever they are saying as they are saying it. Instead, we should be receptive to their entire message and employ empathic communication

Attention means we should fully focus on the speaker and everything they are trying to convey to us — both with their spoken words and with their body language and contextual cues. 

Finally, adjustment requires the listener to adjust their approach when responding to the speaker. Actively listening allows us to provide relevant verbal and nonverbal feedback, both of which will ensure the speaker that we’re fully focused on them and what they are communicating to us.

🎓  Pumble Pro Tip

Active listening is one of the key skills of effective communicators. Check out the other 28 here:

Skill #2: Asking open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are those that we can’t answer with a “Yes” or a “No” and they are especially important for collaboration in the workplace. 

Although asking questions at work can be difficult (especially open-ended ones), it’s important that we do because they allow the speaker to provide a detailed response (as opposed to giving a one-word answer.) 

An open-ended question leaves enough room for the speaker to give us, the listener, more context about their overall message. 

Here’s an illustration of that. 

Let’s say that two team members are using team collaboration software to check up on each other’s progress. Their conversation might go something like this.

Two team members use Pumble, a business communication app, to share the details of their progress
Two team members use Pumble, a business communication app, to share the details of their progress

As you can see, the exchange between these two teammates is short and, some would say, to the point. 

However, there’s also a chance a lot is being left unsaid. When asked a closed question Jessica might not have had enough room to elaborate on their answer. 

That might not seem like a big deal, but not providing enough information to other members of the group we’re working in will hinder overall collaboration.

Here’s a preview of how open-ended questions can improve communication and thus collaboration.

Two members of a team use a team communication app to discuss their progress
Two members of a team use a team communication app to discuss their progress

Skill #3: Asking closed questions

As much as open-ended questions spur the conversation, closed questions (answered by a simple “Yes” or “No”) are essential for team consensus and the necessary degree of certainty

Here’s a good example of that.

A team quickly comes to a consensus on Pumble
A team quickly comes to a consensus on Pumble

Normally, in real-life situations, conversations include a combination of open-ended and closed questions, where the latter provide concrete information and the former expand on it.

Skill #4: Clarifying

Asking for clarification technically means asking open-ended questions. However, unlike some open-ended questions that give the speaker a chance to elaborate on what they already said, clarifying questions serve several purposes:

  • Removing uncertainty from the conversation,
  • Showing the other person we’re really actively listening,
  • Providing additional information, and
  • Ensuring a greater degree of clarity and understanding between team members. 

Here’s an example of how clarifying questions can advance collaboration in a team.

Clarifying questions leave no room for confusion or uncertainty
Clarifying questions leave no room for confusion or uncertainty

Skill #5: Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing represents our interpretation of what was said to us. By formulating our understanding of the meaning of what’s being said, we allow the other party to either simply confirm we understood them correctly or elaborate on their meaning. 

Like clarifying questions, paraphrasing serves multiple purposes because it:

  • Shows that we are actively listening,
  • Ensures that our interpretation of the communication is correct, and 
  • Enables the other party to expand on the discussion

We can observe paraphrasing as a check-up, a way for us to be sure that we fully understand what’s being said. 

According to authors Ronald B. Adler, Lawrence B. Rosenfeld, and Russel F. Proctor, there are three different types of paraphrasing. These types, as described in their book Interplay: The Process of Interpersonal Communication are:

  • Changing the speaker’s wording,
  • Providing examples to illustrate what we think the speaker is talking about, and
  • Summarizing the underlying theme of what the speaker is actually communicating.

The latter is the most crucial type, because the underlying message of what’s being said is usually the more important one. Effective listeners tend to listen, reflect, and understand what’s being said on that level, rather than just hearing the words that are being said to them.

Let’s see what the introduction of paraphrasing would do for the conversation from the previous example.

By paraphrasing what she heard Jessica showed Nick
By paraphrasing what she heard Jessica showed Nick

Skill #6: Using facilitators

Facilitators are common phrases and gestures that encourage the continuation of a conversation

They include actions such as smiling or nodding, as well as phrases and short questions such as “Aha” or “How so?”. 

Facilitators don’t steer the conversation in any specific direction. Instead, their purpose is to prolong the discussion and exchange of information. Additionally, they can serve to refocus the other party on the conversation itself.

Skill #7: Assessing non-verbals

Our ability to assess non-verbal messages is one of the key skills for quality communication. 

Non-verbal cues represent a big part of what we’re trying to communicate. Posture, gestures, facial expressions, and other forms of non-verbal communication all provide additional information to the conversation.

For example, non-verbal cues might give us an insight into how the speaker is feeling about the topic of the conversation. Furthermore, they can also provide information about the participants’ general emotional state, as well as their degree of confidence or certainty, or even honesty.

When it comes to furthering collaboration through effective communication, non-verbals are almost as important as verbal cues. They provide additional clarity and context that might be missing in verbally communicated messages. 

🎓 Pumble Pro Tip

Lack of clarity can be a huge issue for both office and remote workers. Miscommunication at work is something that over 80% of workers experience on a daily basis. If you want to find out more about it as well as pick up some tips and tricks on how to avoid it, read our blog post:

Skill #8: Silence

It might seem counterintuitive to stay silent when trying to communicate with someone, especially in the context of collaboration. 

However, silence is actually an excellent communication tool. 

Short silent pauses in a conversation can communicate a variety of information. You can use them to:

  • Encourage the other party to continue the conversation,
  • Show deep consideration for what’s being said, and
  • Express disagreement

According to a textbook by Adler on interpersonal communication, silent listening shouldn’t be used as an avoidance strategy but rather as a tool that allows us to stay attentive and nonverbally responsive

Silence can be an amazing tool when it comes to collaboration. In her book Going out of our minds: The metaphysics of liberation, Sonia Johnson states that silent listening is an excellent way to help others solve problems. 

In brainstorming sessions, which often happen in groups of people who collaborate with each other, having “uninterrupted floor time” for each member can be beneficial. When we know we can talk without the fear of being interrupted, “we move quickly past known territory” and start developing new ideas.

However, we should keep in mind that silence can be interpreted in the wrong way by the other party (as an avoidance tactic, for example). So, we should employ it selectively and always ensure we maintain nonverbal feedback (like eye contact and other non-verbal gestures) in order to provide clarity. 

Skill #9: Written communication

Thanks to communication technology, we are not only mobile but also able to connect with people better than ever. However, more often than not, those connections happen via the written word. 

Those who use voice calls to conduct their meetings or video conferencing for business communication might think that written communication skills shouldn’t fall into the collaboration skills category. 

However, even if you’re collaborating in a team that works on-site, mastering the written word is still vital for the success of your collaboration, because collaborative communication includes both sharing information and expressing ideas in a collaborative setting by using all available facets of communication.

For example, collaboration requires a lot of check-ins with other people in the group as well as keeping records of everything the collaborating group has worked on. Most of those are done in written form. 

What’s more, written communication is also a great medium for assigning tasks and ensuring that all team members are aware of each other’s progress. It makes it easier to quickly and evenly divide the workload among the members of the collaborating group.

Here’s a good example of that.

A team uses Pumble to quickly assign urgent tasks and divide the workload
A team uses Pumble to quickly assign urgent tasks and divide the workload

Skill #10: Remote communication

As illustrated, teams that work on-site often utilize written communication. However, remote teams rely on it much more heavily. 

Since having all the members of a collaborating team in one place is no longer a necessity for success, remote communication has become much more prevalent (just like remote work).

Remote communication eliminates a number of factors present in a physical workspace (most notably non-verbals). The absence of these factors needs to be addressed to ensure proper understanding and minimize ambiguity. 

To achieve that, remote teams need to:

  • Make their communication clear and simple,
  • Ensure they use both synchronous and asynchronous means of communication,
  • Utilize all available resources (including voice calls, video conferencing, etc.), and
  • Allow themselves to have unstructured time for communication.

The latter is key for the productivity of collaboration

Collaboration is a bigger challenge in remote environments because knowledge sharing isn’t immediate or spontaneous. 

Remote teams need a more structured process of knowledge sharing with a high degree of transparency and access to all relevant information and resources. However, at the same time, they also need unstructured time they can spend together in order to increase their chances of spontaneous creativity and collaboration.

Being an efficient communicator when it comes to all types of communication, including written communication, is vital for collaboration.

🎓 Pumble Pro Tip

In order to be effective, written communication requires a lot of work from all participants. If you want to learn more about how to navigate remote communication and ensure its effectiveness, take a look at the following articles:

Collaboration and emotional intelligence: The unbreakable bond

There’s plenty of evidence that points to emotional intelligence being crucial for good collaboration. Research, such as the one conducted by Joseph Luca and Tina Tarricone of Edith Cowan University shows that emotional intelligence might be of even greater importance for collaboration than operational know-how.

In that same research, while quoting Tucker, they say:

The difference between success and mediocrity in working relationships, especially in a team environment, can be attributed to a team member’s mastery of the softer skills abilities and approaches grounded in emotional intelligence.

Workers with high levels of emotional intelligence are better team players because they:

  • Communicate better,
  • Can be more respectful to others,
  • Are more open-minded,
  • Have more empathy for their coworkers, and
  • Don’t have the need to control or micromanage the entire project.

Our ability to recognize and manage our emotions as well as the emotions of others plays an important role in the success of collaboration because emotional intelligence allows us to develop skills that are crucial for collaboration

Emotional intelligence competencies necessary for collaboration

The concept of emotional intelligence has been popularized in the 1990s by author Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. There, he describes the five basic competencies of emotionally intelligent people:

  • Self-awareness — our understanding of our own emotional states, as well as our understanding of how we are perceived by others,
  • Self-management — the ability to control our emotional states and react to them in a deliberate manner, as opposed to acting on impulse,
  • Motivation — the degree of emotional involvement and investment into the work and the success of the team, 
  • Social awareness — the ability to properly interpret the emotional states of others and act accordingly, with the full understanding and respect for any individual differences, and
  • Social skills — our ability to build and manage interpersonal relationships. 
Five basic competencies of emotionally intelligent people
Five basic competencies of emotionally intelligent people

Competency #1: Self-awareness

The ability of someone to recognize and understand their own moods, drives, and emotions, as well as recognize the same in others and notice how each affects them and their teammates is self-awareness.

Our degree of self-awareness directly correlates with our ability to collaborate with others because:

  • We’re able to recognize our emotions and maintain a positive attitude,
  • We can understand how our emotions impact our behavior as well as other members of our team, and
  • Being self-aware allows us to have high self-esteem and confidence, which contributes to our ability to collaborate with our team. 

According to author Stephen Xavier, who reinterpreted Golman’s emotional intelligence competencies in the context of a professional team, there are three components to self-awareness:

  • Emotional self-awareness — recognizing our emotions and their effects on us and others,
  • Accurate self-assessment — our understanding of our strengths, weaknesses, and limitations, and
  • Self-confidence — having a strong sense of one’s self-worth and abilities.

An adequate degree of self-awareness enables team members to understand their weaknesses and admit to them freely, handle constructive criticism in a positive manner, and recognize how their emotions affect the collaborative process. 

Competency #2: Self-management

Self-management is our ability to control and redirect negative or disruptive moods because we’re self-aware enough to recognize them (and their potential impact). A big part of self-management is also the ability to suspend or defer judgment — or to think before we act.

This is of vital importance for collaboration because:

  • Management of our emotions allows us to put the well-being of our team first.
  • It allows us to cope with stress and frustrations better, which fosters better interpersonal and group communication among team members.
  • Positive emotions facilitate the overall progress of the team.

According to Xavier, the “self-management cluster” includes six different types of self-management, all of which have a severe influence on collaboration:

  • Adaptability — the ability to properly respond to changing circumstances,
  • Emotional self-control — inhibiting emotions that are in contrast to organizational norms,
  • Initiative — taking a proactive approach, the so-called “can-do” attitude,
  • Achievement orientation — desire to do better and to help others reach their full potential,
  • Trustworthiness — consistency and integrity of our emotions and actions, and
  • Optimism — an active expression of a positive view of life and future.

Competency #3: Motivation

Being able to self-motivate and cultivate our own passion for the work we’re doing is of the utmost importance for collaboration. If we’re not properly motivated (or, better said, if our motives don’t extend beyond money or status), we won’t be able to contribute to the team. 

Motivation provides a drive for collaboration and cooperation skills in a multitude of ways:

  • We motivate not only ourselves but also other members of our team to contribute as much as they can.
  • Motivated members of a group create a stimulating environment that allows everyone to fully apply themselves.
  • Motivated people tend to be more flexible and open to change, which leads to innovative thoughts, collaborative problem-solving, and an overall morale boost.
  • People who can self-motivate and motivate others tend to show initiative and determination, are goal-oriented, and often place the goals of the team ahead of their own.

Overall, motivation has a massive influence on collaboration because it’s the backbone of goal-oriented cooperation. This relationship also works both ways — collaborative work tends to motivate people more

Competency #4: Social awareness

Social awareness is, in essence, our ability to understand the emotions of others, as well as how those emotions might influence their actions. By understanding someone’s emotions, we can recognize what drives them to behave in a specific way.

Social awareness plays a major part in collaboration, because it allows us to correct or direct our own behavior according to the knowledge we have. By correctly interpreting the emotions and actions of other people, we also recognize any potential differences between us, which allows us to respect them.

Xavier identifies the following components of the “social awareness cluster”:

  • Empathy — understanding other team members and taking an active interest in their concerns, 
  • Service orientation — recognizing and meeting the needs of others, and
  • Organizational awareness — establishing meaningful relationships with others within work teams, which allows us to pursue a common goal in a dedicated, organized way. 

Our ability to understand the emotions and motivations of other team members can help us navigate the complex waters of professional relationships. Emotionally intelligent team members can view a situation from the perspective of others, thus improving camaraderie and trust on a team level. 

Competency #5: Social skills

Social skills are our ability to manage relationships with other people in our group, find common ground, and build meaningful connections. People who have well-developed social skills can create a supportive, collaborative team culture that stimulates teamwork and cooperation.

Xavier defines this area of emotional intelligence as the “relationship management” cluster. He states that relationship management is social skills turned into action. 

The relationship management cluster includes:

  • Inspiration – inspiring and guiding behavior, providing a role model for desirable behavior (both professionally and emotionally),
  • Development of others – helping others improve their performance and reach their highest potential,
  • Change catalyst – initiating and managing change, having a positive attitude inclusive of the impact change has on others,
  • Conflict management – resolving disagreements, negotiating, facilitating compromise, and seeking the best alternatives for the team, 
  • Influence – the ability to get others to agree with you while avoiding any autocratic behavior, and
  • Teamwork and cooperation – building relationships with a shared vision and synergy. 

Top effective collaboration skills in the workplace

Because the nature of work is growing more complex each day, we, as a society, rely on collaboration more and more. Therefore, the need for effective collaboration and cooperation skills is becoming more prevalent. 

Collaboration has been marked as an essential skill in the 21st century with good reason. Both employees and employers see it as a necessary, if not vital quality of every person, rather than something that people are forced to do from time to time.

However, although aware of its crucial nature, many people still don’t realize which skills they need to develop in order to claim the title of a good collaborator and team player. 

Therefore, they often find themselves asking something along the lines of “What are the 3 important skills for teamwork and collaboration?” or even “What is the most important skill for collaboration?”.

There isn’t one key skill that can make or break our collaborative capabilities. However, just like there are key elements that make team collaboration successful, there are also fundamental collaboration skills that we can practice and develop on an individual level:

  • Communication,
  • Open-mindedness,
  • Compromising,
  • Organization and delegation,
  • Long-term thinking,
  • Trust, and
  • Positivity.

We can leverage and utilize these core qualities and competencies in order to progress toward a common goal with others or solve a problem collectively. 

Collaboration skill #1: Communication

Although we’ve delved deep into this aspect of collaboration, it’s important to also view communication as a skill from the perspective of a cooperating team. 

Within a team, people can communicate on an interpersonal and group level. Sometimes people who are excellent communicators in a one-on-one setting, can’t really find their way and communicate their thoughts in a group. Thus, they end up not realizing their full potential when it comes to collaboration.

Group communication is vital for the success of any team. It can facilitate not only collaboration but also decision-making. It’s also an effective way to manage and resolve conflicts within the team

For many people, getting their point across in a group is challenging not only because they might be scared to share their opinions, but also because they might be hesitant to impose their viewpoints on the other members of the team. 

In order to accommodate all its members and their various styles of communication, it’s vital that the team makes room for all types of communication and communication channels

Here’s a good example of that.

A preview of group communication where the entire group meets one member’s needs
A preview of group communication where the entire group meets one member’s needs

🎓 Pumble Pro Tip

Improving communication on an individual level as well as on a group level is vital for collaboration. If you want to know more about how you could improve the effectiveness of your collaborative group, read these articles:

Collaboration skill #2: Open-mindedness

Being open to new ideas as well as respecting that not everyone thinks as we do is the foundation of good collaboration. Open-minded people:

  • Don’t mind having their ideas questioned, improved upon, or challenged,
  • Can admit when they are wrong and change their perspective,
  • Are humble about their knowledge but aren’t shy to share it,
  • Believe that everyone’s voice and opinion are worth hearing, and
  • Have a strong sense of empathy. 

But, how does that translate into collaborating as a team? 

Well, collaborating teams rarely have members who all have the same skills and expertise. Instead, most teams are cross-functional — with members from different parts of the company, who have complementary (but different) skill sets and are working together to achieve a common goal.

When working in such a team, it’s vital that we keep in mind that each member might have a different perspective when it comes to specific problems or topics. 

Discussing a project in a room full of people who are offering points of view that are unfamiliar and new to you might seem intimidating (even if the room in question is a virtual one). 

Being open to those points of view and new ideas cultivates a productive, collaborative environment

Collaboration skill #3: Compromising and adaptability

Out of all collaboration skills, compromising or adaptability might be the most difficult to master. 

When we’re working as a part of a team, we expect everything to go off without a hitch. However, life is rarely that tidy. The reality of most projects is that something will go wrong — the deadlines will get pushed, priorities will shift, and ideas will get scrapped.

How we react and behave in such situations is a reflection of our adaptability. 

The ability to put our own needs aside and work with others in order to achieve a happy medium (or a compromise) is vital for the success of every team. When members of a team have conflicting views or ideas, their ability to meet in the middle determines the likelihood of their overall success

Prioritizing finding an effective solution over being right is of the utmost importance for team collaboration because it can help the team members:

  • Work without conflict,
  • Resolve arguments and issues more quickly,
  • Come up with better, more innovative solutions, and
  • Get along better.

Let’s see what that looks like in real life.

Two team members reach a compromise on Pumble
Two team members reach a compromise on Pumble-min

Collaboration skill #4: Organization and delegation

Ideally, a team that has good collaboration will organize itself from the get-go. The members will divide the tasks in an equitable and efficient manner. What’s more, they will coordinate the project responsibilities with each other and keep tabs on everyone’s progress.

Organizing the workload and delegating tasks are vital for success. If some team members are stretched too thin while others have no tasks, the job at hand won’t be done (or won’t be done well). What’s more, there won’t be any collaboration between the members either. 

According to Gretchen Anderson, author of the book Mastering Collaboration: Make Working Together Less Painful and More Productive, giving everyone in the team a role is paramount. She claims that assigning everyone a role makes the team more efficient because it:

  • Makes testing new ideas easier,
  • Helps people to channel their energy,
  • Helps determine and maintain boundaries,
  • Motivates all participants, and
  • Reduces the unnecessary tension associated with task delegation.

Collaboration skill #5: Long-term thinking

We’ve already mentioned quite a few times that collaboration always happens when there’s a common goal. Being able to think long-term and envision that goal as well as all the potential routes the team might take to get to that goal is long-term thinking or foresight.

Every project has a shared vision or an ideal outcome. Good collaborators are invested in that outcome and are aware of the project’s entire scope. They know what everyone’s role is and how and why that role will contribute to the end goal. 

Here’s a good example of how long-term thinking might improve collaboration in a team.

An example of long-term thinking shown on Pumble
An example of long-term thinking shown on Pumble

Collaboration skill #6: Trust 

Trust is our belief that our teammates have the necessary skillset and knowledge to make decisions or execute tasks. Trust aids collaboration, but it’s not a prerequisite for success

Teams that have members who trust each other are more innovative, because trust allows for quicker decision-making and problem-solving. There’s generally less stagnation when team members trust each other, because they don’t have to fact-check one another, for example. 

However, trust isn’t something we can build in a day or two. It takes a long time for it to build in a group, even if it’s a small one. 

So, contrary to popular belief, trust isn’t a necessity for success

Still, trust fosters a collaborative and innovative environment, which is why it is one of the key collaborative skills.

Collaboration skill #7: Positivity

A positive attitude goes hand in hand with motivation. When we’re motivated and positive, we can help others by improving their moods.

Promoting positivity in a team stimulates efficiency. Moreover, maintaining a positive attitude can help boost all other collaborative skills. When we’re positive, we:

  • Can build trust in a team more easily, 
  • Are more open-minded, 
  • Communicate better, and 
  • Are more willing to compromise. 

How to improve collaboration skills and team collaboration

Now that you know what collaboration skills are and which of them are key for your potential professional success, we can tackle the final topic — how do you develop collaboration skills?

The answer, other than working on individual collaboration skills, is to foster a collaborative environment in your team. To do that, you have to:

  • Create psychological safety,
  • Communicate your intentions and thoughts clearly and set precise and clear goals,
  • Actively listen to other people and recognize their role in the team,
  • Compromise and avoid assigning blame, 
  • Provide constructive criticism to your teammates and welcome feedback, and
  • Celebrate the success of your team.

Creating psychological safety

Psychological safety or the knowledge that we are free to express our opinions and even make mistakes without the fear of repercussions is not only fragile but also vital to the success of any team.

High-performing teams have members that aren’t afraid to take moderate risks, speak their minds, let their creativity flow, and go out on a limb for an idea that might be a tad controversial. 

In many companies, higher management does a lot to promote psychological safety because of the positive effects that can have on collaboration. Psychological safety facilitates cooperation and teamwork because it: 

  • Builds trust,
  • Increases motivation,
  • Engages members, and
  • Boosts performance. 

Communicating intentions and setting clear and precise goals

Because collaboration is so complex, it’s easy for members of a collaborating team to get lost in their own tasks and assignments. That’s why it’s vital that each member communicates transparently.

However, that’s not enough. In order to foster collaboration, each member has to communicate their intentions in detail. For example, it’s always a good idea to communicate to your teammates which task you are taking, what you plan to do with it, and when you’re planning on finishing it. 

That way, you’re avoiding any potential overlap in tasks with other members and lowering the chances of misunderstanding. 

Here’s an example of that.

Clearly communicating both intentions and goals makes it easier for a team to organize the workload
Clearly communicating both intentions and goals makes it easier for a team to organize the workload

A team that collaborates well also ensures that all their goals are clearly set. They have individual and team objectives that they need to meet, which they are all aware of. 

This awareness contributes to deeper collaboration because it makes people commit more fully. 

Active listening and recognizing others

By being an active listener, you’ll better understand your teammates, their emotions, and their behaviors. 

While understanding is vital, it’s also important that you vocally recognize the roles all other people have in your team. By acknowledging what others do for the team (or for you specifically), you’re building a better rapport with them and fostering a positive environment

🎓 Pumble Pro Tip

Active listening and constructive criticism are fundamental skills necessary for effective communication. If you want to learn more about how you can directly tell your coworkers what you mean without being misunderstood, take a look at this blog:

Learning to compromise and not assigning blame

As mentioned, letting go of personal agendas for the sake of the higher (common) goal of the team is paramount for success. Compromising leads to higher levels of team cohesion and a more positive environment.

Still, even in positive environments, mistakes happen. They are an essential part of progress. 

When they do happen, it’s important that your team doesn’t resort to pointing fingers. Challenges arise all the time in teams. Overcoming them without assigning blame is essential. 

These situations are the perfect chance for analyzing the protocols your team has, working together, and finding solutions

Navigating a situation like that isn’t easy. The goal — improving collaboration without alienating other team members by assigning blame — is best achieved by providing constructive criticism. Take a look at how you can do that. 

Providing constructive criticism and welcoming feedback 

Giving and receiving constructive criticism or feedback are two sides of the same coin. What’s more, both those sides are equally important for the success of your team. They are essential for good team communication, which, as we already know, is the primary facilitator of collaboration.

Being receptive to constructive criticism and not being afraid to admit that you’re wrong is vital for building trust, because it fosters a collaborative environment. 

An example of a conversation between two team members where one provides constructive criticism while the other welcomes it
An example of a conversation between two team members where one provides constructive criticism while the other welcomes it

Sometimes receiving criticism is easier than giving it. When we disagree with our coworkers, it’s vital that we let them know in a respectful and professional manner.

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If you’re wondering what the best way to provide or ask for constructive criticism is, check out these articles:

Wrapping up: Collaboration skills are a necessity for every modern worker

Collaboration is not a skill in itself, but it involves a broad and diverse set of skills and competencies individual team members bring to the table. 

In essence, the collaboration skill set is made up of communication skills, emotional intelligence, and operational know-how. Each of these components is equally important for successful collaboration. 

Still, the most important skills for collaboration are:

  • Indirect skills — adaptability, compromising, delegation, organization, positivity, motivation, etc., and
  • Direct skills — verbal, non-verbal, and written communication, active listening, open-mindedness, empathy, etc.

Our understanding of these skills and their impact on the collaborative process will shape the nature and the success of any collaboration we might find ourselves a part of. 

We hope our tips on how to improve collaboration will help you create an environment in which you and your team members will thrive.


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  • Roy S. (2012). Virtual Collaboration: The Skills Needed to Collaborate in a Virtual Environment. Journal of Internet Social Networking & Virtual Communities.
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  • Tucker, M.L., Sojka, J.Z., Barone, F.J. & McCarthy, A.M. (2000). Training tomorrow’s leaders: Enhancing the emotional intelligence of business graduates. Journal of Education for Business, 75 (6), 331-337. Xavier S. (2005). Are you at the top of your game? Checklist for Effective Leaders. Journal of Business Strategy

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