Often people are asked to work together, but how they should do that is often a bit hazy. This is not surprising since working together can be used to mean a range of different types of interaction such as collaboration, coordination, team or group work.

What is also confusing is that different disciplines can define each of these terms slightly differently. Without properly agreeing and defining what we mean, words like ‘Collaboration’ and ‘Team’ become buzz words. When we have clarity on their meaning we can gain improved productivity and performance through using the right structure and workflow, having a basis for shared understanding, and establishing appropriate management of energy and focus.

We recently asked individuals working in a business support function of a global insurer, who used a federated matrix structure, how many teams they belonged to. Over half responded that they worked in 15 different teams and were finding it exhausting! When we got them to explore a bit further, they in fact only belonged to two teams, a couple of groups and the rest were networks and communities. High performing teams require a lot of effort compared to being in a network or a community and once we helped them understand how to optimise their effort and focus they found their productivity improved.


At CGA we have found these definitions useful:

Collaboration: Is a broad definition that can be thought of as ‘working together to achieve a common goal’. In a stricter sense it is an evolving process, between two social entities, who actively reciprocally participate with the aim to achieve at least one shared goal. Social entities can be individuals, departments, organisations, networks, communities or even countries. For high performing collaboration to occur it is therefore important to understand that it doesn’t happen immediately as it is a process and that all parties involved in the collaboration need to be active and all parties need to be engaged and understand that they are gaining from the relationship.

Group/Teamwork: This type of working together is also an evolving process, but usually occurs between individuals within a team or group, who actively reciprocally participate with the aim to achieve at least one shared goal. There is a distinction between a group and a team which we will cover another time.

Coordination: An evolving synchronized sequencing process, with either social entities and/or resources with the aim of achieving at least one shared goal which isn’t always collaborative and not necessarily reciprocal, often involves work tasks.  Coordination comes into its own when you want people or indeed machines to work at getting tasks done. Getting the right coordination sequencing will give you productivity gains.

It’s Important To Have The Appropriate Attitude

Having a competitive attitude whilst trying to collaborate or having a cooperative attitude whilst in a competition will hinder getting great results efficiently. 

Cooperative: An individual’s attitude that helps facilitate the collaboration process by active reciprocal participation, and puts the shared goal before their own agenda.

Competitive: An individual’s attitude that encourages a winner.

A process between two or more social entities who actively participate, with the aim of striving to outdo the other party or parties.

Thoughts for the week:

Take a moment this week to consider in what way are you working with others and which attitude is most appropriate.


  • Blay-Fornarino, M. (2002). Cooperative systems design. Amsterdam: IOS Press. p88 – 106

  • Fisher, S., Hunter, T. and W.D., K. (1997). Team or group? Managers’ perceptions of the differences. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 12(4), pp.232-242.

  • Bedwell, W. L., Wildman, J. L., DiazGranados, D., Salazar, M., Kramer, W. S., & Salas, E. (2012). Collaboration at work: An integrative multilevel conceptualization. Human Resource Management Review, 22(2), 128–145.

  • Katzenbach, J. and Smith, D. (2009). The Discipline of Teams. Harvard Business Review Press, p.6.

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