Master the interpersonal competencies prized by employers. Work productively with others: co-authoring, goal setting, task coordination, conflict resolution, performance monitoring, document critique, peer review.

Collaboration refers to the processes by which people interact with others to learn and complete tasks and goals.

Collaboration also refers to instances of Human & AI (Artificial Intelligence) collaborations. Presently, doctors work with AI to diagnose diseases, architects to design safe buildings, engineers to build machines, and consumers to receive help. Collaborations between humans and machines are anticipated to soon become commonplace

People are social. They are healthier, more productive, and more creative when given opportunities to work collaboratively. Collaboration is essential to our daily lives and the contemporary workplace. Just about everything we interact during our daily lives is the result of collaborations. 

Collaboration is deeply interwoven into our identifies as humans. We learn by collaborating and imitating others. 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.

Much of the written work people compose in school and workplace contexts relies on collaboration. In the domain of Writing Studies, collaboration involves

  • the ability to imagine and engage in an intersubjective space with prospective readers and audience members.
  • the practice 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 working professionally with critical feedback from others rather than solely respond emotionally.
  • the practice of working f2f and online with teams to complete projects.

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:

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.

Collaboration as a 21st Century Literacies

Collaboration is characterized by educators, cognitive psychologists, and learning scientists as one of two co-cluster of competencies that constitute the interpersonal domain: Teamwork/Collaboration & Leadership.

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 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:

  1. adaptability,
  2. shared understanding of the situation,
  3. performance monitoring and feedback,
  4. leadership,
  5. interpersonal relations,
  6. coordination,
  7. communication, and
  8. 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 the following model of core competencies related to collaborative problem solving.

Model of Collaborative Problem Solving. Source: Oliveri, M., Lawless, R., & Molloy, H. (2017). A Literature Review on Collaborative Problem Solving for Workforce Readiness. GRE Board Research Report Series and ETS Research Report Series, 1-27. Doi:10.1002/ets12133

Collaboration as a Core Workforce Competency

In the U.S., the National Research Council (2010), The National Science Foundation, and The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2012) have all identified Collaboration/Teamwork as a foundational workforce readiness competency.

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/TeamWork 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.

Resistance to Collaborative Work

Despite the importance of collaboration to the modern workplace, 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).

The inherent complexities of collaborative work may yet another reason students as well as professionals across disciplines resist collaborative work.

Useful Videos on Collaboration

Collaboration @ Writing Commons

  1. Co-authorship
  2. Conflict Resolution
  3. Critique
  4. Leadership
  5. Peer Review
  6. Teamwork
  7. Tools for Project Management

Facilitate productive partnerships on writing projects, define roles, set schedules, self-assess, and be transparent and communicative about obstacles, expectations, and performance.

Conflict Resolution
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. 

Peer Review
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.

Do you have projects and activities that help students navigate critique, feedback, and conflict? Do you have exemplary models of project management?

Please contribute to our ongoing effort to help writers collaborate in school and workplace contexts.

Works Cited

Cannon-Bowers et al. (1995). Cannon-Bowers, J. A., & Salas, E. (1997). A framework for developing team performance measures in training. In M. T. Brannick, E. Salas, & C. Prince (Eds.), Team performance assessment and measurement: Theory, methods, and applications (pp. 45–62). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Job Outlook 2016. (2016). National Association of Colleges and Employers. Bethlehem, PA: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Job Outlook 2017. (2017). National Association of Colleges and Employers. Bethlehem, PA: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Moxley, J. & Eubanks, D. (2016). On keeping score: Instructors’ vs. students’ rubric ratings of 46,689 essays. WPA: Writing Program Administration 53-78.

Oliveri, M., Lawless, R., & Molloy, H. (2017). A Literature Review on Collaborative Problem Solving for Workforce Readiness. GRE Board Research Report Series and ETS Research Report Series, 1-27. Doi:10.1002/ets12133

Vygotsky, Lev (1978). Mind in Society. London: Harvard University Press.

Stover, S., & Holand, C. (2018). Student Resistance to Collaborative Learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (12: 2).