Collaboration is the act of interacting with others to do something. For example, people may collaborate to co-author texts, to engage in learning activities, to complete tasks, and to develop new businesses . . .
Historically, collaboration occured in f2f (face-to-face) contexts. But nowadays, collaboration has moved online via digital tools tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Trello, etc. Moving forward, collaboration will occur increasingly between humans and machines (see, e.g., Wilson and Daugherty 2018).
Concepts: Interpersonal Competency
Collaboration is deeply interwoven into our identifies and communities as humans. We learn by working with and imitating others. In general, people are social: they are healthier, more productive, and more creative when given opportunities to work collaboratively. Well—at least that’s true for a large part of the population: the extroverts.
Introverts, in contrast, may prefer working alone. Some people find it intrusive and counterproductive to work in groups. But even introverts cannot escape moments of collaboration. In the U.S., for instance, the National Research Council, The National Science Foundation, and The Partnership for 21st Century Skills have identified collaboration and teamwork as a core workforce competency.
In school and workplace contexts, people engage in a variety of collaborative tasks including
- the practice of co-authoring and team-working (e.g., negotiating goals, roles, and work plans)
- the practice of giving critical feedback to others in one-on-one situations and peer reviews
- the practice of responding professionally to critical feedback from others rather than responding emotionally
- the practice of working f2f and online with teams to complete projects
- the practice of listening to others in an open way and reading broadly so that you are familiar with other perspectives on information, knowledge, and knowledge claims.
In its surveys of employers regarding the degree of their satisfaction with the work product of college graduates, NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) found employers rank collaboration and team work as the second most important workforce competency (after critical thinking). While 98.7% of employers said collaboration is critical to workforce success, only 70% of these employers believe college-level graduates are well prepared to work in teams.
In the U.S., educational systems privilege individual work over collaborative work. Students often struggle with collaborative work. Workloads can be uneven. Other team members may not have the requisite literacy and collaborative competencies. Students are not always pleased to be tasked with group projects or peer review. Researchers have traced student resistance to collaborative work to “environmental forces (family history, social class, and cultural identity) and students’ previous negative experiences with CL [collaborative Learning] in the classroom” (see Stover and Holland 2018).
Collaboration is characterized by the National Research Council as one of two competencies that constitute the interpersonal domain: Collaboration & Leadership (see diagram below). As discussed in 21st Century Literacies: Cognitive, Intrapersonal, and Interpersonal Competencies, “the interpersonal domain involves expressing ideas, and interpreting and responding to messages from others.”
Over the years, a great deal of theoretical work and empirical research has been conducted concerning collaboration in the workplace and academe. Cannon-Bowers et al’s (1995) review of research posits eight core skills related to collaboration:
- shared understanding of the situation,
- performance monitoring and feedback,
- interpersonal relations,
- communication, and
- decision making.
In 2017, Maria Elena Oliveri and her fellow research scientists at Education Testing Service published an exhaustive review of research on collaboration, building on the work of the National Research Council and Cannon-Bowers et al.
Based on their review of literature, Oliveri and her colleagues proposed four core competencies related to collaborative problem solving:
|Teamwork||Team Cohesion, Team Empowerment, Team Learning, Self Management/Self Leadership, Adaptability/Open Mindedness|
|Communication||Active Listening, Exchanging Information|
|Leadership||Organizing Activities & Resources, Performance Monitoring, Reorganizing When Faced with Obstacles, Resolving Conflict, Transformational Leadership|
|Problem Solving||Identifying Problems, Brainstorming, Planning, Interpreting & Analyzing, Evaluating & Implementing|
Language Use as a Collaborative Act
Language use is invariably collaborative. Language is a social construct–a consequence of cultures and people working to together to understand experience and collaborate to make the world a better place. Language precedes the individual. According to Vygotsky and other social constructivists, thought is theorized to be prelinguistic: as children we learn to pair our thoughts with language. Over time, as we are exposed to language, we develop inner speech, an idiosyncratic form of language that is saturated with personal meaning and associations. Inner speech is what we hear when we think, what we mumbled to ourselves when facing obstacles and difficult problems.
Collaboration also refers to instances of Human & AI (Artificial Intelligence) collaborations. Increasingly, people collaborate with machines to complete tasks. For instance, doctors work with AI (artificial intelligence) to diagnose diseases; architects to design safe buildings; engineers to build machines, and consumers to receive service help. Collaborations between humans and machines are anticipated to soon become more commonplace.
Collaboration & Intersubjectivity
Effective communication and interpretation relies on collaboration. When we enter a rhetorical situation, either as rhetors and readers/listeners, we are able to communicate when we share a common language, genres, motifs, and stories (see Writer’s Guide).
Communication theorists use a variety of terms to refer to this shared interpretive space:
- an intersubjective space
- a shared mental map
- shared mental schema
- an interpretive community
- a community of practice.
The term intersubjective refers to what writers and readers or speakers and listeners share in common. At a minimum, when we communicate, we rely on a common vocabulary, images, stories, histories, senses, jargon, rituals, histories, instincts, desires, personalities, and attitudes. In face-to-face situations, when collaborating with others whom we interact with a lot, a shrug of shoulders, a rolling of eyes, or even a sarcastic comment can convey volumes of information. Conversely, when communicating with non-like-minded people, we must work harder to establish a shared context.
Additionally, this social space is called intersubjective to highlight the subjective nature of interpretative and communicative efforts. As humans, our subject positions, our histories and conceptual lenses shape what we see and how we interpret what we see. For instance, our political ideology may inform whether or not we believe President Trump committed bribery or high crimes and misdemeanors when he held back $400 million in military aid for Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine conducting an ethics investigation of Vice President Joe Biden’s son.
Useful Videos on Collaboration
Collaboration @ Writing Commons
Facilitate productive partnerships on writing projects, define roles, set schedules, self-assess, and be transparent and communicative about obstacles, expectations, and performance.
Be a zen master when it comes to reducing and perhaps even eliminating the inevitable conflicts that occur when people engage in collaborative tasks.
Work strategically with critical feedback. Learn from critiques made by instructors, bosses, peers and clients.
Learn how to plan activities and resources, resolve conflicts, and reorganize when faced with obstacles. Develop self-leadership competencies.
Give helpful criticism in work and school settings (as well as life in general).
Team Cohesion; Team Empowerment; Team Learning; Self-Management/Self Leadership; Adaptability, Flexibility, and Open Mindedness
Tools for Project Management
Use tools such as Google Docs to coauthor texts, track efforts, set goals, and hold coauthors accountable.
Invitation to Contribute
At Writing Commons, we aim to be responsive to recent research and theory regarding collaboration (especially National Research Council 2012; Moxley and Eubanks 2016; Oliveri, M., Lawless, R., & Molloy, H. (2017). Moving forward, we seek resources and activities that clarify the importance of collaboration as a workforce competency.
Please contribute to our ongoing effort to help writers collaborate in school and workplace contexts.