Different Work Context, Different Teamwork
Updated: May 22
How effective are you in creating the teamwork required for your work context
“How effective are you in creating teamwork?”
In order to answer this question in greater precision, we need to first explore the subtle difference of 3 common types of team functioning. They are coordination, cooperation and collaboration.
Yes, teamwork is not singular!
Of course, they may be perceived as 3 different aspects of teamwork.
All these 3 types of team functioning can generate value to people involved. However, they generate value of different nature and significance, and they are beneficial to different work situations or contexts.
And, that is exactly why we need to get clear in order to sharpen our capabilities to create value through working in teams.
Unfortunately, these 3 words have been used interchangeably and defined differently when people talk about teamwork or team management.
Although the dictionary does not offer us a very clear picture, we could use it to start drawing certain distinctions.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, their respective definitions are as follows:
Coordination = the act of making parts of something, groups of people, etc. work together in an efficient and organised way
Cooperation = the fact of doing something together or of working together towards a shared aim; a desire to be helpful and do as you are asked
Collaboration = the act of working with another person or group of people to create or produce something
Besides, “Operate” (as in co-operate) means “to work in a particular way” or “to operate a machine or a business”, while “Laborate or Labor” (as in col-laborate) just means “to work”.
It seems that cooperation and collaboration differs in the existence of explicit or implicit boundaries, practices and rules.
We also draw insights from Dave Snowden's Cynefin Framework and, in particular, his (with C.F Kurtz) article on "The New Dynamics of Strategy: Sense-making in a Complex and Complicated World."
We want to explore how different work context requires different kind of teamwork.
Based on our understanding and experience, we, at SPACEnotGAP, differentiate these 3 types of team functioning as follows.
Synchronising and harmonising activities among individuals
Coordination is about synchronising and harmonising activities among individuals so that different parts work well together. The focus is on ensuring an efficient process and a seamless execution.
Value is created from the efficiency and scalability made possible by division of labour in group and an aligned process. Efficiency trumps creativity in this type of team functioning.
This team functioning works well in situation or context where a best practice has been identified and operationalised (or the ‘Clear’ domain mentioned in the Cynefin Framework).
As a result, standard procedures & guidelines, clear roles & responsibilities, agreed deadlines or contractual agreements can be used to control and direct activities.
A team of service agents working in a call centre that handles customer enquiries or applications is a close example of this domain.
In this team functioning, the leader has strong connection with each individual so as to ensure compliance, if not commitment. The connections among individuals are relatively weak as interpersonal handshaking is standardised and interpersonal support is only required occasionally.
How well we are able to provide structure for others to work together, ensure compliance/ or commitment and facilitate information flow is critical to create value in working with others in this context.
Going extra mile in support of one another’s goals
Cooperation is about individuals going extra mile in support of one another’s goals. The focus is on ensuring flexibility and responsiveness for enhanced team effectiveness. However, ownership of achieving a goal remains in the hand of respective individual as territorial or functional expertise and experience is the locus of value creation in this context.
Value is created from the flexibility and responsiveness made possible by mutually beneficial trade-offs or other monetary or emotional incentives in the group. Creativity arises mainly from in-depth researches and experience of subject experts.
This team functioning works well in situation or context where cause-and-effect relationships are not immediately apparent to everyone, and distinct territorial or functional expertise is needed in identify the appropriate next step (or the ‘Complicated’ domain mentioned in the Cynefin Framework).
An architect, a structural engineer, a landscape architect and a building service engineer working together on a property development project is close example in this domain.
Or, the engineering team, marketing team, sales team and the IT team of a company need to work together but each team has their own goals that depend on their respective subject expertise and experience. Although we encourage they to work boundariless-ly, the teams have separate "territories".
In this team functioning, the leader has strong connection with each individual so as to ensure individual goals align with the overall objective of the group. The connections among individuals are also strong as they need to stay connected and make adjustment to support one another in a timely manner.
How well one is able to break the silos, incentivise mutual support, build cohesiveness and relationship among individuals are critical to create value in working with others in this context.
Working together to create something new in support of a shared purpose
Collaboration is about individuals working together to create something new in support of a shared purpose. The focus is on ensuring the creation of something new to meet the needs of a novel situation.
Value is created from the creativity made possible by expanded perspective and new paradigms of a diverse group. Through open discussion and interaction, new shared understanding, relationship, intention and action will also be created to deal with the current and emerging challenges.
This team functioning is required in situation or context where things are ambiguous, less predictable and emerging (or the “Complex” domain mentioned in the Cynefin Framework). The team needs to co-create something new as past experience and subject expertise are no longer reliable in this domain.
The top team from across different functional departments of a company engages in a discussion on a new business strategy for a new market, or a new product or marketing campaign, is a close example of this domain.
In this team functioning, the leader has weak connection with individuals in the sense that there is less direction and instruction from the top. Instead, the leader becomes an equal partner in the group. The connections among individuals are strong as, individually, they don’t have all the information and will not be able to make any change unilaterally so they need to work together to identify both the problem and the solution.
The strength of connections between members may be perceived as the graphic on left as well.
How well one is able to create a safe environment so that team members are willing to voice out concerns and ideas, ask ignorant questions, admit failure and mistakes, and challenge one another on their thinking are critical to create value in working with other in this context.
These 3 team functioning create value of different nature and significance.
In real life, a team may need to perform all these 3 types of team functioning to overcome the challenges the team faces in different work situations.
The challenge is not only about enhancing our capacities to create different types of team functioning, and, more importantly, also about heighten our awareness on the nature of the challenge we are facing.
We may want to ask ourselves and develop a better collective understanding in the team on the content of the situation.
“Is marketing campaign a ‘Complicated’ challenge and the marketing team should be in charge with other teams in cooperation mode?”, or
"Is it a 'Complex' challenge that require all functional teams working collaboratively to co-create and co-execute a better solution that stun the market"
And, “Is staff engagement a ‘Complicated’ challenge and the HR team should be in charge with other teams in cooperation mode?”, or
"Is it a 'Complex’ challenges that require managers and team members working collaboratively and openly to co-create and co-execute a better culture in the team."
So, how effective are you in creating teamwork?