Collaboration in Business: What it means, Why it’s hard, and 15 reasons it’s vital
Team collaboration. Business collaboration. Collaboration in the workplace. Collaboration is a word that comes up so frequently in business that Wikipedia has included it in a list of corporate buzzwords. But while the term might be used over and over again, it’s a mistake to dismiss collaboration as empty corporate jargon.
Collaboration is a fundamental and proven part of successful businesses. As the late Steve Jobs put it: “Good things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” Of course, we would agree with Steve – we’re in the business of helping organizations collaborate.
So here’s the low down on collaboration, what it means, why organizations find it so hard, and, of course, why you have to prioritize it.
What is Collaboration?
At its simplest, the dictionary definition of collaboration is the act of two or more people working together to complete a task or achieve a goal.
In business, collaboration among employees means groups of people giving their time, effort, expertise, and ideas to achieve a shared objective or solve a problem.
Collaboration is sometimes seen as a process, and a quick search will provide you with countless step-by-step guides and online collaboration tools. While those are certainly useful, they don’t entirely get to the heart of collaboration.
Because what’s crucial about collaboration is that it stems from a vision that’s genuinely shared. There is consensus about the ‘problem’ to be solved and a sense of ownership with everyone involved working together to co-create the solution.
What it isn’t: Collaboration vs Cooperation
Collaboration and cooperation are often used interchangeably and what’s frequently described as collaboration is more accurately cooperation.
Cooperation refers to people or teams working together, but typically without that shared vision. In practical terms that might mean a group working ‘together’ on a project, but with individuals assigned specific objectives to achieve themselves.
Or it might simply mean helping a colleague out, perhaps joining forces to help them meet a tight deadline.
The fundamental difference between the two is that collaboration brings ownership, while cooperation means working towards an objective someone else owns.
The Leadership Challenge
In practice, collaboration is tricky. Collaboration tools certainly help and can provide a practical means of bringing people and teams together. But they don’t guarantee a genuinely collaborative organization.
At its heart, collaboration is a cultural issue. It starts at the top.
Leaders need to walk the walk when it comes to collaboration. Are they talking to their employees and, even more importantly, listening to what they are telling them? Are they taking on board the ideas coming up from the ranks?
Collaboration is challenging for leaders because it means letting go. It means putting others, sometimes more junior colleagues, in control. It means actively seeking out and respecting different viewpoints. And for many leaders, that doesn’t come easy.
But just because something’s hard doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.
On the contrary. We’ve compiled 15 key reasons why collaboration among employees and collaboration in business as a whole are vital.
15 reasons why collaboration matters
Poor collaboration leads to failure in business. A survey of 1,400 corporate executives found that 86% list lack of collaboration or ineffective communication as the key reason for workplace failures.
Employees think leaders would see better results if they were more collaborative. The same survey found that 90% of employees think decision-makers should seek out alternative opinions before making decisions.
Collaborative organizations do better than their competition. Businesses who promote collaboration are five times as likely to perform highly.
Employees are more likely to stay in organizations with collaborative leaders who act on feedback – staying four times as long with their employer.
Organizations consistently say collaboration matters but fail to make it happen. Three-quarters of businesses rate collaboration as very important but almost 40% of employees say their organization doesn’t do it well enough.
People in ‘professional’ roles don’t actually spend much time collaborating – typically less than 15% of their working week.
Millennials are driving the demand for collaboration. A third want collaborative workplaces and 49% want to see social collaboration tools at work. What’s more, these factors influence their opinion of companies – and almost 80% cite ‘workplace quality’ as a factor in their choice of employers.
Despite the importance placed on collaboration, firms rarely reward it. A 2013 study found that this lack of incentive and reward was a powerful barrier to collaboration.
Collaboration boosts productivity. One study found that improved collaboration via social technologies could make workers up to 25% more productive.
Firms prize employees who can work collaboratively. In fact, collaboration is one of the top four skills that employers think contribute to future success.
Communication barriers hinder collaboration and come at a cost. One study put the cost of poor communication at around $26,000 per employee.
Despite the importance employers put on collaboration, they rarely actually assess it. Less than a fifth – 18% – of employees have communication reviewed during their appraisal process.
Companies aren’t great at laying the foundations for collaboration. Only 23% of executives say their organizations align individual goals with organizational ones.
Employees are more engaged and stay focussed for longer when working collaboratively. They stick with a task 64% longer and report higher success rates.
Technology is helping. More than 80% of employees rely on technology to enable workplace collaboration.
If you want to find out how digital signage could help your organization collaborate, get in touch today.