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PsychCentral The Power of Collaboration

J

Jill L. Ferguson, M.A.

#1
This article has been shared from PsychCentral. Copyright remains with the author at all times.

I spent yesterday morning leading a faculty workshop at a university in North Carolina and yesterday afternoon working with those same faculty in small groups. The collective energy, understanding and creative process was magnified by having so many minds collaborate towards a common end. The idiom two heads are better than one has survived since biblical times because of its truth. When we partner with others, burdens lessen since we all carry part of the load instead of trying to get momentum with the weight (without being crushed by it) all by ourselves.

Collaboration has been found to lessen fatigue. Individuals who are fatigued have been found to have diminished decision making skills and increased tunnel vision (focusing on a single thing or point of view instead of the broader picture and all of the details).The collective knowledge, information sharing and understanding of good or best practices of team members enables the team to work together to compare solutions to reach the best decision when individual members are fatigued or overwhelmed.

The Australian Institute of Business says that in collaborating or teamwork, groups and businesses display increased efficiency, greater idea generation, enhanced communication skills, a learning experience as each team member becomes an educational resource for the others, sharing of the workload and a place to network. Effective teamwork can use each individual’s strength towards the group’s strength and benefit the well-being of all group members.

Collaborating with others offers personal benefits.

Benefits of collaboration include:

Diminished feelings of isolation. Working on a solo project or trying to figure out a solution to something can feel lonely sometimes–especially in today’s work scenarios where many people work from home or in remote locations or are in touch with colleagues, clients and patients by electronic means. I spent the past year working for a company in Copenhagen while I’ve lived in California. The times that felt most collaborative and less isolated were during video Zoom conferences when we bounced ideas off from one another and discussed group projects.

Overcoming problems with bosses and co-workers can often feel isolating. At a few points in my career I have had volatile or caustic supervisors. After one particular outburst from a boss at a retail job while I was in undergrad, my co-workers and I all seemed to feel a sense of solidarity that “we weren’t the only ones” to be targeted by the boss’ ire. We then worked together to create a workplace that would minimize the frequency of the outbursts.

Some studies have shown links between feelings of isolation and increased risks of heart disease and stroke and feelings of isolation and depression. So collaboration can positively affect our physical and our mental well-being.

More frequent feedback. Effective collaboration requires feedback from its members (and self-correction from the members and group as a while for improvement). When one works by one’s self primarily, it is more difficult to get management and the company to understand the contribution you are making, unless you make a conscious effort to let people know. In group work, the group members see the contributions of each member. The feedback on performance or contribution is more immediate (as opposed to at the quarterly, half-yearly or yearly performance review cycles). This can make it easier to gauge where we are with our goals and how we compare to our co-workers.

Teaches us conflict resolution skills. Collaborating with others can be a bit like navigating family dynamics. Each person brings his or her own skills and quirks into the partnership. Working in a collaborative environment forces us to appreciate people’s differences and their strengths while working to agreement on particular solutions. And at times it teaches us to agree to disagree but still all work for the common good or end goal anyway.

Builds trust. For a team to work effectively and efficiently together, its members need to trust each other: that each will do his or her assigned part, that each member has the end goal or the common good held up higher than individual agreements and disagreements and that the group will accept any criticism and any accolades on the project as one unit. No one wants to feel like she or he may be thrown under the proverbial bus or that one person is going to take all of the credit for a successful group effort. So collaborators have to learn to trust each other and appreciate what each member is bringing to the project.

Of course, collaboration and teamwork should extend beyond the workplace. Our lives are enriched and more successful when we collaborate with our partners and family members and when we see our relationship to our health care providers as teamwork, too. Collaborations have the power to move us forward in life more quickly than we can move on our own and to feel a real connection to other people along the way. And feeling very connected to others is one of the key ingredients of wellness.

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