Similarities and differences between teamwork and collaboration

The lines between teamwork and collaboration have become blurred. Is collaboration simply another way of saying teamwork?

Understanding how the terms differ is critical for analysing your team’s current climate and making decisions going forward as improving either teamwork or collaboration requires a determined and purposeful effort.

In this article, we’re going to dive into the meanings of teamwork and collaboration, explain the differences between the two and provide methods for improvement.

What is teamwork and how is it defined in the workplace?

Teamwork can be defined as: 

The effectiveness of a team working together to complete a task.

An effective team is comprised of individuals who possess the necessary skills to complete objectives and perform a role effectively. Every member of the team exists for a reason and understands how their role contributes to the desired outcome.

But an effective team member is capable of much more than systematically completing objectives, teamwork in the workplace also requires employees to work together effectively.

As a team leader, there are several skills you can develop within your team to improve teamwork:


HR departments often refer to these attributes as soft skills but they play a major role in the effectiveness and success of your team.

Managers and team leaders are arguably the most important component of a strong team. It’s their job to coordinate the employees, utilising their skills strategically for maximum quality and output.

70% of the team's engagement is driven by the manager. (Clifton & Harter, 2019)

A strong team relies heavily on the structure provided by the leader, the absence of which would result in bottlenecks, disagreements, inefficiency and fragmentation. 

Teams that rely heavily on such coordination are less versatile and require frequent supervision and guidance. This can cause managers to micromanage, leaving them with little time to invest in other, more long-term tasks. 

When is teamwork useful?

With the right leadership, tangible goals can be completed quickly and effectively by delegating responsibility and coordinating the process. When your team are working harmoniously, employees can dedicate their skills to specific tasks, helping your team to:

How can you improve teamwork?

To build an effective team, managers must cultivate conditions that enable individuals to work well within their team. A comprehensive study published by Harvard Business Review found that there are four primary requirements for effective teamwork (Haas & Mortensen, 2016):

  1. A compelling direction: Managers should establish individual and group goals that are challenging but not dispiriting and motivate employees with intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.
  2. A strong structure: Managers should establish clearly defined roles, develop collective norms or rules and build diverse teams with balanced skillsets.
  3. A supportive context: Managers must ensure the necessary funding has been obtained to complete the project and employees have access to the materials they need to perform their role. An adequate reward system must be in place to motivate employees.
  4. A shared mindset: Managers must maintain good communication channels and foster interpersonal relationships with team-building exercises.

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What is collaboration and how is it defined in the workplace?

During a live podcast for Clifton Strengths, senior practice consultant at Gallup, Rachel Maglinger, defined collaboration as, “Getting people to work together towards a common goal.” (Maglinger, 2020).

This statement helps us to understand the differences between teamwork and collaboration. While both terms encompass many of the same employee skills, it’s the manager’s role that becomes significantly altered.

Collaborative groups do not require a leader to guide employees through processes. Instead, managers will lead the group, maintain harmony, facilitate regular communication and lubricate various touchpoints.

This might include designing automated workflows, eliminating bottlenecks, streamlining communications, and maximising efficiency. These improvements are focused on facilitating the group effort rather than making key decisions.

When a team is collaborating effectively, employees develop a hivemind, untied by a shared vision. Managers relinquish micromanagement and employees are given the autonomy to make important decisions. With a collaboration built upon trust, employees feel confident that they’re supported by their colleagues and benefit from a recurring exchange of information and skills.

The benefits of effective collaboration

When is collaboration useful?

The data shows that collaborative teams are more engaged with their work and deliver higher quality work more quickly. Situations where collaboration can be useful include:

How can you improve collaboration?

Collaborative teams are built on trust and relinquishing control as a manager can be risky. Before handing over responsibility to your employees, you must first ensure that you’ve prepared your team properly.

  1. Optimise communication: Effective communication is an essential component of collaboration. With the rise of remote teams in recent years, workflow management software and collaboration tools have gained notoriety for their usefulness in coordinating projects and daily tasks. The ability to communicate asynchronously can sky-rocket team efficiency as tasks can flow seamlessly through people and departments. To perform well, workflows must be continuously reanalysed and reiterated to eliminate bottlenecks.
  2. Revise goals and objectives: With so many moving parts, it’s important to frequently reappraise individual goals and objectives to keep your employees engaged. Employee engagement is a key aspect that keeps a collaborative team in motion so it’s wise to keep adding fuel to the flames.
  3. Establish company objectives: Companies with a clear company vision are more likely to be successful. If you imagine a pyramid, the company mission sits proudly at the top, supported by both group and individual goals.

Improve teamwork and collaboration with an offsite company retreat

An offsite company retreat is the most efficient and cost-effective way to improve teamwork and employee collaboration. 

Whether you’re looking to improve communication, reward recent accomplishments, build interpersonal relationships or devise innovative solutions, a company retreat allows your team to focus on objectives in a refreshing out-of-office environment.

Surf Office has worked with major companies including Hotjar, Shopify and Google to develop tailor-made solutions for their company retreat.

If you’re ready to level up your business with enhanced teamwork and collaboration, don’t hesitate to contact the Surf Office team to discuss a non-binding solution for your company retreat.

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