What is collaboration? Why it’s important, examples and tips

By Corey Moseley

12 min read

What is collaboration? Why it’s important, examples and tips
Illustration by Tiffany Tsai

Collaboration is so ingrained in how people work that we rarely even notice when we’re doing it.

That said, it’s worth taking a step back to evaluate how you and your people collaborate. 

Why? Organizations that collaborate well are likely to be more financially successful, culturally aligned, and have higher engagement rates.

What is collaboration?

Collaboration is when people come together and contribute their expertise to benefit a shared objective, project, or mission. 

It’s a photographer working with a designer to create a cover image or a technology department regularly convening with the marketing team to chip away at quarterly goals. In other words, collaboration is the process of group work.

There are two forms of collaboration:

Synchronous collaboration is when everyone works together in real time. Teams connect on Zoom calls or have in-person meetings. Updates and problems are discussed live with everyone involved. Pair programming is one example of synchronous collaboration, where two software developers work on a problem while on a call together. 

Asynchronous collaboration is when people work on the same project at different times. This often happens due to time zone differences or conflicting work schedules. Teams provide updates through email, blog posts, or video messages. 

Both forms of collaboration have their place. Synchronous collaboration is crucial for urgent problems that need an immediate response. Asynchronous collaboration is good when thoughtful deliberation is vital to finding a solution. 

Why collaboration is important

Collaboration isn’t just a means of working towards a common goal. It’s also an excellent way to encourage innovation and creativity. When individuals with diverse skills and backgrounds come together, it leads to the exchange of unique perspectives and ideas. This can result in more innovative solutions and creative problem-solving that may not have been possible with just one person working on the task.

By leveraging team members’ collective knowledge, experience, and expertise, new and exciting ideas can be generated that an individual could not have thought of alone. 

Emphasizing collaboration can lead to a culture of innovation where everyone is encouraged to think outside the box and share their ideas and perspectives.

1. It helps us problem-solve

Say you’ve made a lot of progress on your project, but you’ve encountered a roadblock that seems to withstand everything you throw at it. You’re out of ideas, progress has screeched to a halt, and your deadline is rapidly approaching. What do you do?

No, of course not; you ask for help or find another perspective. You might schedule a brain-storm/whiteboarding session with your team or ask a colleague for their take. In short, you collaborate with your team to solve the issue at hand. When a group of people pool their knowledge, skills, and expertise, then talk problems out and debate potential solutions, stalled projects will begin to move forward again.

Collaboration should be baked into how your team works. The more eyes on a given project from the get-go, the easier it becomes to spot problems (and solve them).

2. Collaboration brings people (and organizations) closer together

If teams in your organization rarely interact with each other, you might want to try putting together a mixed-skills team. These are generally ad hoc teams that tackle projects that require people with diverse skill sets and areas of expertise.

For instance, a mixed-skills team might include a product designer, a user experience designer, a developer, and a content writer

It’s essentially a new team set up to collaborate for a period on a shared project. In doing so, you’ve brought together members from three (or four) different teams, and created a shared purpose between them.

In short, you’ve used collaboration to break down some walls in your organization and tighten connections between departments.

3. Collaboration helps people learn from each other

One of the best things about working collaboratively with people who bring different skill sets and backgrounds to the table is learning from their experience. Collaborating with team members or even different teams should be considered a learning experience, and you should try to make the most of it.

Asking for feedback and opinions, sharing knowledge, finding out how your collaborators approach their side of the project, and gaining a better sense of how they work are just a few examples. 

Learning from colleagues is not just a benefit of collaboration; it’s the first step toward building a workplace culture centered around learning and development.

Teams that collaborate learn from each other and get to understand each other’s perspective. You get to hear their pain points, priorities, and even the way they think, which can be extremely valuable as you work together going forward.

4. It opens up new channels for communication

Working with new people opens up channels that would otherwise remain closed. Finding new ways to communicate and share information is hugely important to the success of any business, which is why collaboration should be utilized whenever possible.

Creating a more cohesive, open workplace benefits everyone because, according to David Hassel, “maintaining regular, direct communication with team members helps you gain valuable insights into the operations of each department and be able to resolve issues quickly.” 

A lot of collaboration tools, like Jostle, do just that. They’re designed to open up your business so that all areas of the organization can communicate and keep tabs on what other teams are working on through news updates, announcements, events, discussion channels, you name it.

5. Collaboration boosts morale across your organization

As connections are made between teams and departments, people will naturally trust each other more, which can gradually boost the morale of your entire organization

This practice also works in reverse: the higher your company’s morale, the higher the likelihood that your people will feel comfortable working alongside team members from other departments. Such an approach is also attractive to top-performing candidates who are increasingly looking for more open, engaged workplaces.

6. It leads to higher retention rates

Because collaboration lays the foundation for a more open, connected, and engaged workplace, it’s appealing to future and current employees—perhaps more so than siloed and disconnected organizations. An atmosphere where collaboration is front and center is essential to your people, and it’ll go a long way toward preventing them from looking for work elsewhere.

Connection matters to people, especially in the workplace. We want to work with people we trust, who understand and respect our points of view, and who work well with others, especially those from different backgrounds and areas of expertise. Simply put, working collaboratively makes this possible.

7. Collaboration makes us more efficient workers

Working independently has its advantages. We can focus entirely on one project without having to factor in how much time we’ll lose if we get distracted or how to wrangle a team together in time to meet a short deadline. If the task at hand requires independence, then by all means, go for it.

However, for many types of projects, collaboration is just more efficient. When the project is complex and demanding, we must admit to ourselves that we’ll need help. It’ll have to be a group effort. And that’s where collaboration comes in. It helps us divide a heavy workload, find creative solutions to tough problems, and wrap our heads around the big picture.

An organization that makes collaboration a big part of its culture is bound to normalize this work style, creating a more efficient (and more appealing) workplace.

Exploring different types of collaboration

Team collaboration

Team collaboration refers to a collective effort by a group of individuals working toward a common goal. The group could be within a single department or crossing departmental lines. They come together to support each other, share ideas, and lend diverse perspectives to enable a result greater than the sum of its parts. 

And while all of these ideas seem simple, effective team collaboration doesn’t just “happen.” 

It requires a high level of trust and respect between team members and a solid foundation built on clearly stated goals, open communication, positivity, and a willingness to see things from alternative points of view. 

Successful team collaboration results in more creative solutions, improved decision-making, enhanced problem-solving, and increased productivity. 

Cross-functional collaboration

When people with different skill sets or from other departments come together, this is called cross-functional collaboration. Cross-functional collaboration can yield incredible innovation as colleagues can be inspired and supported by people who approach the problem or topic differently. 

Sometimes, different departments are engaged in tasks that rely on other departments for information that enhances what they do.

For example, sales teams rely on marketing to provide product information and support them with collateral related to advertising campaigns and promotions. Marketing relies on sales to feed them information on what products are selling well and to apprise them of customer concerns. 

Knowledge sharing builds morale and fuels employees with confidence and purpose. Cultivating a collaborative culture ensures employees won’t hesitate to reach out when needed. 

Community collaboration

Communities in the workplace form around projects or special interests. As a community, there is an expectation of shared decision-making and consensus as to the allocation of resources. 

The community could be focused on a niche, like a committee, or represent a broader cross-section of people, including non-employees. 

Like other types of collaboration, community collaboration implies that the group works toward common goals. Examples could include organizing a group event to clean up the shoreline or collecting toys for underprivileged kids during the holidays. 

Such collaboration can bring work colleagues together in ways that work projects can’t, bringing team members closer together based on values and outside interests they have in common. 

Network collaboration

Network collaboration is a partnership between autonomous people and groups with common business or personal interests. An example might be a trade event, conference, or panel in which disparate groups come together to discuss a topic or solve a problem. It could also manifest within an industry where companies with distinct specialties connect to establish a new business model. 

In the digital age, network collaboration proliferated when software companies offered technical innovation to solve common business problems. Industries previously unrelated to each other now work hand-in-hand to help each other grow. From video conferencing to supply chain transformation, many things we take for granted today would not exist without networks colliding.

Cloud collaboration

Collaborating in the cloud is a technology-based method of collaborating remotely. Cloud computing enables employees and colleagues to access files, information, software, and code in a shared environment stored outside the company’s physical premises. 

Because items stored in the cloud can be accessed from anywhere, it allows people to collaborate on shared documents and projects without having to be physically present in the same space—in other words, cloud collaboration enables asynchronous work, inviting multiple team members to contribute to a file on their own schedule. 

Cloud collaboration is essential to remote work and offers significant benefits compared to paper file systems. Improved security, access control, version history, and keyword searchability are just a few. Intranets and employee success platforms like Jostle are excellent examples of cloud collaboration tools. 

Virtual collaboration

Virtual collaboration is tech-based and assumes that team members do not share the same physical space. 

However, it does not necessarily mean that the work is asynchronous. Virtual collaboration is generally defined as work that occurs online, often in real-time. The work could be enabled by video or voice conferencing or by using productivity tools like Slack, Google Workspace, or Jostle. Other methods of virtual collaboration include email and instant messaging. 

Methods of virtual collaboration can vary significantly between companies. However, we must remember that subtle nuances are often lost in the absence of face-to-face interactions. In best practice, virtual comms should be clear, concise, and respectful to ensure messages are understood and misunderstandings minimized. 

4 collaboration skills

Effective collaboration doesn’t always come naturally, but it can be cultivated. Company leaders can foster a collaborative culture by leaning on these five essential skills:

1. Clear communication

Clear communication ensures the message is understood. Understanding is essential to promoting a positive work culture where people feel heard and respected. Prioritizing clear communication reduces misunderstandings and missteps and ensures people understand their assignments. 

  • Use clear, unambiguous language.
  • Don’t use jargon unless you know it’s widely understood in your industry.
  • Avoid sarcasm and humor, as it can be easily misunderstood.
  • Be mindful of language proficiency variances; be concise and simple as possible.

2. Create psychological safety

Psychological safety ensures that employees and team members feel confident to share their opinions, ask questions, present ideas, or speak up without fear of reprisal.

 This is especially important in team environments to ensure continued productivity and engagement. Employees who feel they have a voice won’t be afraid to use it!

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated.
  • Embrace curiosity.
  • Don’t avoid conflict.
  • Give employees a voice.
  • Encourage creativity.

3. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a critical soft skill and the hallmark of many great and future leaders. People who possess high levels of EI are attuned to what others are feeling. 

They can “read the room” quickly and understand the human consequences of their words and actions. Here are a few ways to cultivate emotional intelligence:

  • Encourage feedback.
  • Practice active listening.
  • Avoid assumptions.
  • Ensure everyone has a voice.
  • Acknowledge others’ accomplishments and input.
  • Encourage team interactions beyond the workplace; get to know your colleagues as people, and you’ll be better able to recognize when things are “off.”

4. Constructive feedback

A feedback culture is more productive and connected, enhancing collaborative efforts. However, some people might not respond well to well-intentioned feedback—especially if it’s not typically done in the organization. 

Constructive feedback is intended to elevate, improve, and support employees to overcome challenges or recognize areas where they need to improve. When done right, feedback can lift morale, improve engagement, and strengthen inter-team relationships.

Here are some tips for providing constructive feedback:

  • Be prepared with examples to substantiate your feedback.
  • Be tactful and sincere. Choose your words carefully!
  • Choose the right time and place. 
  • Focus on the work or issue, not the person.
  • Keep it professional.
  • Balance negative feedback with positive. 
  • Have a plan for moving forward. 


We spend at least as much time at work as we do at anything else, so it stands to reason we should feel a part of that community. Inclusivity requires empathy, kindness, and willingness to accommodate and include people in conversations despite cultural differences, gender, age, or other aspects of the lived experience. 

An inclusive environment improves and enables collaboration as it invites and celebrates diverse perspectives and experiences that push a team’s capabilities beyond what would be possible otherwise. 

Some of the attributes of inclusive teams include:

  • Cooperation
  • Compassion
  • Fairness
  • Psychological safety
  • A shared sense of belonging 

How to collaborate effectively at work

Collaboration is essential to ensure alignment with company goals and to foster a strong, connected internal culture. 

To nurture collaboration, companies must first establish a decision-making framework. Team decisions should be made by consensus, though a team leader should be appointed to keep things on track in case of conflict. 

  • Delegate tasks to ensure no single person is overloaded. Managers and team members must learn to trust each other and know when to provide support and when to step away. 
  • Open communication is a must. Encourage the sharing of ideas and provide constructive feedback when needed. 
  • Set milestones to mark progress and celebrate them together. Doing so strengthens the bonds of trust and makes the team stronger. 


Wrapping up, we’ve explored collaboration from every possible angle and provided actionable strategies to help you encourage, strengthen, and improve this essential practice in the workplace and within your teams.

Remote work is a massive asset for companies, but it can also present barriers to collaboration. We must never lose sight of the fact that, even though we often collaborate through virtual means, there’s still a human behind the screen. When we put people first, collaboration thrives, and we all benefit.

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Corey Moseley

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