The Most Important Collaboration Skills

By Chris Kolmar - Jan. 6, 2021
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No matter what job you work or the industry you’re in, collaboration skills are crucial. Anyone who experienced group projects during their time in school knows how rough it is to get things done with a team that doesn’t work together.

We’ll go over what collaboration skills are, the different types of skills and their uses, and how to develop and showcase those skills throughout your career and during the job-search process. Because without collaboration, very little would get done.

What Are Collaboration Skills?

Collaboration skills, also known as collaborative or teamwork skills, are skills that enable individuals within an organization to work together efficiently and effectively. Whenever two or more people are working towards a common goal, collaboration skills are imperative.

Collaboration skills are made up of a constellation of soft skills as they relate to group efforts. Working together increases productivity, reduces wasted time on redundant or duplicate tasks, and enhances each individual’s personal impact on a project. Collaboration skills also foster a more organically motivated workplace, where everyone has a clear role to play and the proper means to achieve the duties of that role.

Good collaboration necessitates a spirit of cooperation and respect from all parties. Employees will always be more impressed with a candidate with a demonstrated ability to work well with others than a person who prides themselves on independence.

The world we live in relies on collaboration to keep chugging along, so developing your collaboration skills is one of the best things you can do to become a more valuable employee and individual.

Types of Collaboration Skills

Collaboration skills are composed of several soft skills that can fit into many categories. We’ll start by covering the skills directly related to collaboration, then working our way through tangential skills that you can apply towards greater collaborative prowess:

  1. Active listening. We’re starting off with active listening because it’s just so dang important for effective collaboration. Active listening is all about fully absorbing what your team members express and asking key questions when you don’t fully understand something.

    Teams that don’t practice active listening will never be on the same page because each party walks away from the conversation with a different idea of what it was all about.

    “Look, man, you can listen to Jimi, but you can’t hear him. There’s a different man. Just because you’re listening to him doesn’t mean you’re hearing him” –Sidney Deane, “White Men Can’t Jump”

  2. Communication. Anyone who’s tried to get work done in a group setting knows the importance of good communication. What you say and how you say it are both essential components of effective communication.

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    This covers verbal, nonverbal, and written communication. Maintaining a confident posture and tone will help support your spoken words. Written communication is key for ensuring email chains and back-and-forth instant messages on a program like Slack are productive and efficient.

  3. Open-mindedness. People often get stuck in one way of doing things and fail to question them. Keeping an open mind to different ideas and perspectives will help your team make positive changes and keep things from growing stale.

    Individuals need to feel like their input is valued, and when the whole team comes into a meeting ready to listen to everyone’s ideas, everyone benefits.

  4. Persuasion. There will inevitably be differences of opinion in the workplace. The ability to coherently advocate for your ideas is essential for solid collaboration. Innovation relies on people proposing bold new processes and strategies, but to get those ideas listened to, you’ll need good persuasion skills.

    This type of thing can’t happen unless management fosters an environment where all ideas are heard and respected. Remember that constructive debate doesn’t mean bulldozing over another person’s ideas but by working together to develop a plan that works for everyone.

  5. Compromise. Sometimes (or oftentimes), team members will have differing opinions on the best way to get something done. Being able to come to a mutually-beneficial agreement through compromise is key to making everyone feel respected and listened to.

    Healthy workplace discussions and debates will lead to compromise, where every team member gets something they want, without it being at the expense of another team member’s preferred way of doing things.

  6. Brainstorming. Brainstorming is a judgment-free time where there’s no such thing as a bad idea. When companies need to find innovative solutions to emergent problems, it’s essential to consider all the angles.

    When you get people together of different backgrounds and levels of expertise, you’ll find that sourcing winning ideas becomes a whole lot easier.

  7. Emotional intelligence. We all know about IQ, but employees often overlook EQ (or emotional intelligence). Employers, on the other hand, never dismiss the importance of emotional intelligence for effective collaboration.

    Emotional intelligence is all about identifying and managing your emotions and those of your coworkers. For example, if you see a coworker is having an exceptionally hectic day, knowing to wait until a calm moment to approach them with a problem is an element of emotional intelligence.

  8. Conflict resolution. Conflict in the workplace will undoubtedly arise at one point or another. And that’s okay – it’s how team members handle the conflict that matters.

    Some teams are composed of wildly different personalities and thought-processes, but if everyone practices good active listening and compromises on essential topics, those differing opinions don’t have to be a source of infighting.

  9. Diplomacy. You don’t have to be in the UN to be a diplomat. Each and every one of us practices diplomacy on a daily basis. You (hopefully) know that it’s better to calmly suggest that your roommate do the dishes rather than lash out and call him a lazy SOB right away.

    The same premise applies to the business world. Diplomacy is all about respecting differences of opinion and framing your solutions tactfully and productively. Great diplomats know how you suggest an idea is just as important as the merits of the idea itself.

    “A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday but never remembers her age” – Robert Frost

  10. Accountability. Nobody likes the guy who never owns up to his mistakes. In anything we do in life, we’re bound to make errors. The important part, though, is how you react to those mistakes. Throwing other people under the bus is a surefire way to make sure nobody wants to collaborate with you again.

    Facing your mistakes head-on and growing from the lessons learned will make you a more enjoyable coworker and a better collaborator.

  11. Delegation. This one’s more for leaders than employees, but it’s critical nonetheless. Effective delegation involves many different elements – organization, clear communication, and goal-setting, to name a few.

    Nobody can get everything done on their own, and good collaboration involves leveraging an individual’s skills while accounting for their weaknesses. Employees need to know precisely what their tasks are and how best to complete them in the context of their teammates in order for productivity to proceed.

  12. Feedback. Both giving and receiving feedback positively is crucial for solid collaboration. Sometimes, you’ll need to tell a coworker, supervisor, or employee how they could improve, and it’s essential to be diplomatic about it.

    Try sandwiching a piece of negative feedback between two compliments to make sure your listener doesn’t think you’re going out of your way to attack them.

    When someone gives you constructive criticism, don’t get defensive – just listen and try to internalize and improve based on the advice. Also, be grateful that you’ve been given the opportunity to grow as a professional.

  13. Rapport. Rapport is about more than having a good working relationship; it’s about having a good relationship with your coworkers, period. When team members feel like they’re friends as well as coworkers, great things happen.

    Nobody will be scared to express themselves, and this free exchange of ideas is purely beneficial from the employer’s perspective. Innovation, planning, and just a pleasant work experience all hinge on building a genuine rapport with those you work alongside.

  14. Reliability. Nothing slows down the wheels of progress more than an unreliable team member (as any former-student who worked on a group project can attest to).

    Being reliable means only needing to be asked to do something once, asking questions when you’re unclear on your specific duties, and meeting deadlines every time (or at least communicating when you know a deadline won’t be met). And, of course, showing up for work.

  15. Adaptability. Business is not a static thing; new challenges emerge when and where you least expect them, exposing flaws in even the best-laid plans. The ability to adapt on the fly is important individually, but it’s downright essential in a group setting.

    Employers will always be impressed with those who can quickly develop solutions to emergent issues. And when a whole team can get together and adapt simultaneously, it’s a sure sign that all of the above collaboration skills are working to full effect.

How to Build Your Collaboration Skills

There’s no way to make yourself an excellent collaborator overnight. Even if you consider yourself an expert at collaborating in your current work environment, every new job you take will bring its own collaborative issues.

Here are some ways to start refining your collaboration skills:

  • Set clear objectives. A project is doomed to failure if nobody knows what the ultimate goal is. Setting and communicating clear objectives (and keeping them at the forefront throughout the process) are essential steps for effective collaboration.

  • Utilize software. With tools like Slack being omnipresent in business today, learning how best to leverage communication software is vital to becoming an effective collaborator. No one likes that guy who wastes everyone’s time with a long and unfocused email chain.

  • Get together outside of work. It’s great to know your team’s work-personalities, but you’d be surprised how much of a boost you’ll get out of spending time with your coworkers outside of work.

    It’s a low-stakes way of getting to know each other’s personalities, which could pay dividends when deciding who is best for what task when delegating for a group project.

  • Celebrate diversity. It’s often hard to hear and accept ideas that diverge from our own thinking of what constitutes the best way of doing something. But great collaboration skills involve keeping an open mind and trying new things once your team decides to go in a direction you wouldn’t have chosen on your own.

Final Thoughts

Collaboration skills are an essential part of any functional venture that involves two or more people. Employees who collaborate effectively create a positive feedback loop. Management can trust their teams to get things done without annoying levels of oversight, and the teams can trust management to leave them to it most of the time.

Including a few collaboration skills on your resume will help you stand out as a candidate who would be a positive force on any team. If you’re sending out resumes now, try to incorporate quantifiable achievements that involved you and your team. Showcase how you put the common good above personal recognition, and we’re sure hiring managers will be impressed.

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Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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