Collaboration in the Workplace

STORIES

In all honesty, I used to hate working in teams before I transferred to GVSU. My experience in the workplace and at school in Alabama was very different from what I’ve come to expect in my time here. My time at my previous employers always involved picking up slack from freeloaders and people who would miraculously avoid getting caught doing things they really weren’t supposed to be doing. My time in school before GVSU was riddled with doing 90% of “collaborative” projects. My best example of this stems from a Cornerstone of Business class in which I designed and made the presentation and an entire business plan, did all the research, and gave 75% of the presentation while my team members gave the other 25% of it from written cards that I had mercifully made for them.

There are studies that suggest that teamwork may not be all it’s cracked up to be. The older part of myself wants to agree with these results. For example, one study suggests that collaborative efforts have both a negative and positive effect on creativity. In fact, teams seem to be less creative when working together, but do well when expanding on a singular individual’s ideas (Hoegl & Parboteeah, 2007).

I’ve always viewed team collaboration in a hierarchical form. My previous position stems from the fact that if I’m the one delegating tasks, I have an easier time picking up the pieces in an orderly manner if my group members decide to freeload. I find it beneficial to delegate immediately, though, I am never opposed to others delegating instead. I find that when others delegate, I feel like they must feel the same level of responsibility about the outcome of the project that I do.

According to Avery, there are two types of groups—tall and flat. I have learned to prefer the tall, or hierarchical model. Though, Avery states that both models have their pros and cons. The pros and cons of the hierarchical model side with structure but tend to stint creativity. The linear, or flat, model is one that I am becoming more accustomed to as of late. In this model, everyone contributes equally, as there is no real leader. The cons of the linear model include trouble with personal differences. However, this model allows for more creativity from all parties (Avery, 2000).

I don’t loathe collaboration like I used to. Becoming used to working in a more flat model has changed that about me, which is a good thing. Team collaboration in the professional workplace is beneficial for many reasons. Increasing teamwork in the workplace is beneficial for businesses, because it has been proven to be a large factor in decreasing employee absences (Heywood, Jirjahn, & Wei, 2008). Feeling a responsibility about one’s professional work is ideal when considering what type of employment one seeks, and workplaces that implement frequent teamwork help to instill that sense of responsibility to one’s coworkers and reap the benefits of lower rates of absenteeism. Additionally and according to Berg, teamwork is essential to solving new problems in the workplace and for general positive feelings towards everyone in an educational setting (1998). Although, students may have trouble with collaboration due to not knowing their classmates like they would know coworkers and the fact that most students are trying to get through their classes (Berg, 1998).

I agree with Avery, who states that teamwork should be developed as an individual skill. In his article in the Journal for Quality and Participation, he lists ways to ensure team success:

  • Tackle collective tasks and allow space for others to engage.
  • Align interests
  • Establish behavioral ground rules.
  • Honor individuals and their differences.
  • Expect breakthroughs and synergy.
  • Understand responsibility (Avery, 2000)

Responsibility is the cornerstone of team foundations and success. If we all take responsibility for our work and final project outcomes, teamwork becomes much easier and other aspects fall into place.

 

References

Avery, C. M. (2000). How teamwork can be developed as an individual skill. The Journal for Quality and Participation, 23(4), 6-13. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/docview/219159261?accountid=39473

Berge, Z. L. (1998). Differences in teamwork between post-secondary classrooms and the workplace. Education & Training, 40(4), 194-201. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu/docview/237065284?accountid=39473

Hoegl, M., & Parboteeah, K. P. (2007). Creativity in innovative projects: How teamwork matters. Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 24(1-2), 148–166. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jengtecman.2007.01.008

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