Collaboration – A Catalyst for Academic Achievement and Career Growth

Collaboration is the act of working with others or AI to solve problems, coauthor texts, and develop products and services. It is highly valued in both academic and professional settings because it promotes learning, enhances problem-solving, boosts efficiency, strengthens relationships, fosters adaptability, encourages health and well-being, and facilitates skill development for all individuals involved. This essay summarizes research and theory on collaboration, and it serves as an introduction to our articles on collaboration @ Writing Commons:

While collaboration may not guarantee instant success, it provides a pathway to harness the collective abilities of individuals and achieve outcomes that surpass what a single person can accomplish. Photo Credit: Professors in pajamas by AUM OER is licensed CC BY 2.0

Collaboration Definition

Collaboration refers to

  1. the act of working with others or AI (Artificial Intelligence) to solve problems, coauthor texts, and develop products and services. For example:
    • People coauthor texts or dialog and brainstorm with others. They ask their friends to critique their ideas and texts and suggest edits and revisions
    • In the workplace settings, employees collaborate in teams to develop new inventions, applications, services, and processes
    • As a form of prewriting, students may ask ChatGPT, a tool developed by OpenAI, to summarize the status of a conversation on a particular topic
  2. a method for creating new products, applications, and services
  3. the act of learning from others
    • Language and learning are social practices. We learn from watching, imitating, and dialoging with others
  4. a highly prized workforce competency, a life skill
    • Employers consistently rank collaboration as one of the top 5 most important competencies needed for success in schools and the workplace (NACE 2021)
  5. a subject of study
    • Researchers engage in basic and applied research to investigate collaborative practices. Collaboration is an ongoing topic of research and investigation:
      • “Despite the reliance on teams for much that is accomplished in our society, there is still little known about the processes that occur within a team that help account for real differences in outcomes” (Brannick, Salas, & Prince 1997).

Related Terms

  • Collaboration Skills, Collaborative Skills
  • Collaboration Competencies, Collaborative Competencies
  • Collaborative
  • Collaborating
  • Collaborators
  • Collaboratively

Related Concepts: Archive; Canon; Coauthor – Coauthorship; Conflict Resolution; Mindset; Openness; Team Charter; Teamwork

Collaboration in the Workplace

Collaborations are often structured around roles and areas of expertise Photo Credit Fort Belvoir Community Hospital astounds with groundbreaking technology and devotion to patient care by Army Medicine is licensed under CC BY 20

Collaboration is a highly prized workforce competency. In the U.S., 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 its annual survey of employers’ perceptions of the proficiency of college graduates, NACE (the National Association of Colleges and Employers), has consistently found that prospective employers in the U.S. rank collaboration/teamwork as the second or third most important workforce competency. In its Job Outlook 2022, collaboration/teamwork ranked as the third most important attribute employers look for in candidates (after critical thinking and communication competencies). 

When looking at a candidate’s resume,

  • 76.3% of the respondents said they look for evidence of a candidate’s ability to work in a teams
  • 97.7% of employers ranked Collaboration/Teamwork as a requisite workforce competency
  • 77.5% of the employers believe current college graduates lack proficiency as collaborators

Collaboration in the Classroom

While collaboration is fundamental to modern academics and the professional world, in many cases, educational systems in the U.S. tend to prioritize individual work. This disparity often leads to several challenges for students when they are faced with collaborative assignments, as their prior training might not have adequately prepared them for such tasks.

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).

Problems with Group Assignments in School Settings

Uneven Workloads: Without proper coordination and assignment of responsibilities, the workload in a group project can often become uneven. Some members may feel burdened, having to complete more than their fair share, while others might not contribute enough. This inequitable division of work can lead to resentment, tension, and a decline in the overall team performance.

Resistance to Group Work and Peer Review: There are students who may not be enthusiastic about engaging in group projects or peer reviews. They may prefer individual work where they can control the quality of the output and manage their own timelines, rather than depending on others.

Varying Levels of Literacy and Collaborative Competencies: In any team, there’s likely to be a range of skill levels and competencies. Some team members may lack the necessary literacy or collaborative skills to contribute effectively. This variation can make the collaborative process difficult and frustrating for others, affecting the group’s overall productivity and the quality of the output.

Influence of Past Experiences and Environmental Factors: Many students carry their past experiences and backgrounds into their collaborative work. For instance, a history of unproductive group work or a cultural background that values individual achievement may cause resistance to collaborative learning. According to researchers Stover and Holland (2018), students’ resistance to collaborative work can often be attributed to environmental factors such as family history, social class, and cultural identity, as well as prior negative experiences with collaborative learning in the classroom.

It’s essential that educational systems start addressing these challenges by integrating more collaborative learning experiences into their curricula and providing the necessary training to help students develop collaborative skills. This shift will not only improve students’ collaborative experiences in academics but will also better prepare them for the collaborative demands of the professional world.

Students — For concrete advice on improving group projects, please see How to Excel at Coauthorship: Effective Strategies for Team Collaboration as well as The DNA Of Teamwork: What Does Research Tell Us About The Essential Elements Of Successful Teams
S<em>cholars collaborating at an academic conference Photo Credit Moxley<em>

Collaboration & Learning

Language use is invariably collaborative. Language is a social construct— a consequence of cultures and people working together to understand experience and to learn from and communicate with one another (see Discourse). In his pioneering work on learning and language development in the 1920s, Vygotsky (1978) theorized that infants learn to think by learning the language of others, and that eventually language becomes abbreviated and saturated with personal meaning and associations as it goes underground and becomes inner speech— i.e., the voice we hear in the back of our minds, the voice we hear when facing obstacles and difficult problems— and writing.

Collaboration Skills

What are the 8 Elements of Collaboration?

In their extensive review of research on collaboration, Cannon-Bowers et al.’s (1995) posited there are eight core skills that comprise collaboration:

  • Adaptability
  • Shared Situational Awareness
  • Performance monitoring and feedback
  • Leadership – Team management
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Coordination
  • Communication 
  • Decision making.

1. Adaptability

“The process by which a team is able to use information gathered from the task environment to adjust strategies through the use of compensatory behavior and reallocation of intrateam resources” (p. 344)

2. Shared Situational Awareness

“The process by which team members develop compatible models of the team’s internal and external environment; includes skill in arriving at a common understanding of the situation and applying appropriate task strategies” (p. 344)

3. Performance Monitoring and Feedback

“The ability of team members to give, seek, and receive task-clarifying feedback; includes the ability to accurately monitor the performance of teammates, provide constructive feedback regarding errors, and offer advice for improving performance” (p. 344)

4. Leadership/Team Management

“The ability to direct and coordinate the activities of other team members, assess team performance, assign tasks, motivate team members, plan and organize, and establish a positive atmosphere” (p. 345)

5. Interpersonal Relations

“The ability to optimize the quality of team members’ interactions through resolution of dissent, utilization of cooperative behaviors, or use of motivational reinforcing statements” (p. 345)

6. Coordination

“The process by which team resources, activities, and responses are organized to ensure that tasks are integrated, synchronized, and completed within established temporal constraints” (p. 345)

7. Communication

“The process by which information is clearly and accurately exchanged between two or more team members in the prescribed manner and with proper terminology; the ability to clarify or acknowledge the receipt of information” (p. 345)

8. Decision Making

“The ability to gather and integrate information, use sound judgment, identify alternatives, select the best solution, and evaluate the consequence (in team context, emphasizes skill in pooling information and resources in support of a response choice)” (p. 346).

Collaboration and AI

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.

Students, as a form of prewriting and strategic search, may ask ChatGPT, a natural learning process tool developed by OpenAI, to summarize what is known and what the research questions are currently being debated on a particular topic.

Collaboration & Intersubjectivity

Photo Credit <a href=httpswwwflickrcomphotos58428285N008580564774 target= blank rel=noreferrer noopener>students presentations 20<a> by <a href=httpswwwflickrcomphotos58428285N00 target= blank rel=noreferrer noopener>cambodia4kidsorg<a> is licensed under <a href=httpscreativecommonsorglicensesby20ref=openverse target= blank rel=noreferrer noopener>CC BY 20<a>

Communication with others is more than just an exchange of words; it’s a collaborative endeavor. To achieve effective communication and interpretation, it’s crucial to have shared meanings – a shared interpretative space – between the author and the audience. For communication to occur, there needs to be, at the very least, a common language comprising shared vocabulary and grammar.

This shared interpretative space deepens when communication participants share customary discourse norms, like mutual expectations about appropriate register, diction, genre, media, and rhetorical stance. Similarly, shared epistemological assumptions regarding valid research methodologies and knowledge claims, shared stories, histories, senses, jargon, rituals, instincts, desires, attitudes, and personalities, can all significantly enhance the effectiveness of communication.

Theorists in the field of communication often refer to this mutual understanding between creators and their audiences as:

  • Intersubjective space
  • Shared mental map
  • Shared mental schema
  • Interpretive space
  • Interpretive community

In Writing Studies, the term ‘intersubjective’ signifies what writers/readers and speakers/listeners have in common. Moreover, this interpretative space is called ‘intersubjective’ to underscore the subjective nature of interpretative and communicative efforts. As humans, our subjective positions, histories, and conceptual lenses shape what we perceive and how we interpret what we see. For instance, our political ideology may influence whether we believe a president committed a particular act during their term in office.

In face-to-face interactions, particularly with those we frequently interact with, nonverbal cues like a shrug, an eye roll, or even a sarcastic remark can communicate volumes. Conversely, establishing understanding with those who think differently than us may require additional effort to bridge gaps in interpretation and understanding. Thus, collaboration and intersubjectivity lie at the heart of effective communication.


Why is Collaboration Important?

Collaboration is deeply interwoven into our identifies and communities as humans. Collaboration plays a key role what and how we think. As humans, we learn by working with and imitating others. We create new knowledge by dialoging (e.g., scholarly conversation), co-authoring, peer reviewing and critiquing the texts of others.

To do well in school and prosper in our knowledge economy, you may be asked to co-author works, use collaboration tools to facilitate project coordination and transparent communications, and productively respond to conflict in groups, and critiques from others. Collaboration is deeply interwoven into our identities 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 in our information age even introverts cannot escape moments of collaboration.

Collaboration is an essential component of both academic and professional success, fundamentally shaping our identities, communities, and ways of thinking:

  1. Promotes Learning and Innovation: Humans are inherently social learners. Through collaboration, we engage in dialogue, co-authorship, peer review, and critique, generating fresh, innovative ideas and creating new knowledge that wouldn’t be possible working individually.
  2. Enhances Problem-Solving: Collaboration brings together diverse perspectives and expertise, providing a richer approach to complex problems. This variety of skills and knowledge leads to more comprehensive and effective solutions.
  3. Boosts Efficiency and Productivity: Collaboration enables workload sharing and task delegation based on individual strengths. This division of labor, facilitated by collaboration tools, can lead to increased efficiency and productivity.
  4. Strengthens Relationships and Builds Trust: Collaboration provides opportunities to build relationships, understand different perspectives, and develop trust. This interpersonal growth fosters a positive environment where everyone feels valued, heard, and comfortable in expressing their ideas.
  5. Fosters Adaptability and Resilience: Collaboration aids in navigating an ever-evolving academic or professional landscape. Teams that collaborate effectively can adapt to changes and navigate uncertainties more readily, developing resilience along the way.
  6. Encourages Health and Well-being: For many people, particularly extroverts, collaboration can contribute to improved health and well-being. Working collaboratively can foster feelings of inclusion and purpose, promoting overall productivity and creativity.
  7. Facilitates Skill Development for All: While it’s true that some people, like introverts, may initially find group work challenging, effective collaboration practices can help everyone develop essential skills for the modern information age. These skills include conflict resolution, transparent communication, and effective response to critiques.
The Collaboration Pyramid
Openness to and engagement with others lays the foundation for teamwork. Photo Credit: “The Collaboration Pyramid” by oscarberg is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Works Cited

Cannon-Bowers, J. A., Tannenbaum, S. I., Salas, E., & Volpe, C. E. (1995). Defining competencies and establishing team training requirements. In E. Salas & R.A. Guzzo, Team Effectiveness and Decision Making in Organizations (pp. 333, 380). Wiley.

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).  Lawrence Erlbaum.

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

Michael T. Brannick, Eduardo Salas, & Carolyn W. Prince. (1997). Team performance assessment and measurement : Theory, methods, and applications. Psychology Press.

Moxley, J. & Eubanks, D. (2016). On keeping score: Instructors’ vs. students’ rubric ratings of 46,689 essays. WPA: Writing Program Administration, 39(2), 53-78.

NACE 2021. Job Outlook 2022. U.S. Government Printing Office.

NACE 2017. Job Outlook 2017. National Association of Colleges and Employers. U.S. Government Printing Office.

NACE 2016. Job Outlook 2016. National Association of Colleges and Employers. U.S. Government Printing Office.

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

Stover, S., & Holland, C. (2018). Student resistance to collaborative learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 12(2).

Wilson, James H. and Paul R. Daugherty (July-August 2018). Collaborative Intelligence: Humans and AI Are Joining Forces. Harvard Business Review.

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