Teamwork vs Collaboration

Jazz bandThe terms “Teamwork” and “Collaboration” are often used interchangeably.  I believe they are very different beasts.

Formula One Pit Crews are fabulous examples of the ultimate team. They can change all 4 wheels of a racecar in an almost inconceivable 2 seconds, through meticulously planned, finely choreographed and endlessly rehearsed co-operative action. They epitomise the elements of good Teamwork which are:

  • a well-defined shared goal
  • a clear hierarchy, or a leader who directs the activity
  • everyone working optimally in allocated and defined roles
  • measurable outcomes on a known scale, so that improvement can be quantified

Jazz musicians and Improvisers, on the other hand, demonstrate what Collaboration is all about.  Through a process of listening, flexibility, mutual support and a willingness to explore, they co-create something totally new, without any single person directing the process.  They move together into the unknown, to see what will emerge.  They find success through risking failure.  The elements of true Collaboration are:

  • no preconceived end result
  • fluid, changing leadership as needed
  • no fixed roles – everyone participates
  • no predefined outcomes, no quantitative scale

Unlike Teamwork, Collaboration requires genuine belief that everyone’s input in deciding the outcome is valid, and that through mutual support and trust, something may emerge that is greater than any single person’s imaginings.

Good Teamwork is of course a vital ingredient for any organisation that aspires to reach its goals and fulfil its targets. All organisations should cultivate excellent Teamwork.  But Teamwork can only produce what has been previously planned and envisioned. To come up with something new, innovative, unexpected, or ground-breaking, then Collaboration is also required, and that level of mutual trust and willingness to risk are rarely seen in most corporate settings.

Applied Improv can teach your Team Players how to also be true Collaborators, and to understand how to operate and innovate within uncertainty.

Take the Improv Initiative.


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