Is collaboration becoming another one of those fancy terms which is so heavily overused nowadays that it has lost most of its meaning in everyday language? Any software, app, network used in the workplace that lets you communicate with others may be called “collaboration software”.

Similarly, the word team has become even more widely used, and most businesses don’t simply have staff anymore, they have teams; even if these “team members” never see or interact with each other.

If you are applying for a job, any job, they will most likely ask about your teamwork skills. But what do collaboration and teamwork actually really mean to us?

This may sound like mere semantics, but there is actually a difference. You can hardly ever escape the many clichés, like the classic “There’s no I in team”.
And while there is truth in this statement, it makes you wonder; do we actually know what these words mean or are we just using them because they sound great?


There are, of course, countless definitions of these terms. Oxford Dictionary, for example, defines collaboration as “the action of working with someone to produce something”. Many other dictionaries describe the term in a very similar way.
One that puts it slightly differently is Cambridge Dictionary, describing it to be “two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing” .

This definition ties in nicely with their definition of teamwork, which reads: “the combined actions of a group of people working together effectively to achieve a goal” . The “achieving a goal” and the focus on “the same thing” is what we need to consider when looking at leadership and 21st century skills.


Why is having a shared goal key here? Let’s look at what cooperation means: “Working together with someone or doing what they ask you”.

This highlights one of the fundamental differences between collaboration and cooperation, and the importance of collaborative leadership. A shared purpose is what makes a team thrive.
Collaborative leaders lead through conversation, not commands.
Collaboration promotes self-analysis and allows team members to always learn new things from each other.

It gives each member of the team more responsibility, which is one of the most important ingredients for motivation. It shifts the focus from “It’s all about me” to “it’s all about us”. And, as a consequence, everyone achieves more.


So, having established the importance of collaboration, in leadership, this brings our attention to the question of how it can be achieved.

In a white paper on collaborative leadership by Oxford Leadership , the true meaning of collaboration is discussed in more detail. They define the core competencies of a collaborative leader as self leadership, relational intelligence, team orchestration and networking.

One of the most striking passages of the paper, when considering the topic of collaboration, is this:
“Knowing oneself and leading oneself is the foundation for leading others, even when leading collaboratively. Authentic leader-ship always flows from the inside out. To lead collaboratively, one needs the same clarity of purpose, values, and vision that all leaders need – they’re a leader’s personal touchstone for open and authentic participation”.

To achieve these skills and build this base which can be a leader’s “personal touchstone”, future leaders need to work on all the aspects that are mentioned above, and there is a range of valuable exercises, tasks and activities that can allow leaders to find their purpose, establish their values and vision and create the foundations for leadership within themselves.

There may well be no i in team, but if there is one cliché to keep in mind when talking about leadership, it is this:
Together Everyone Achieves More.


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