Coordination vs collaboration: understanding the key differences

How are coordination and collaboration different? And when should you focus on one more than the other?

TEAM COLLABORATION | 8 MINUTE READ
Coordination and collaboration: what’s the difference?

Coordination and collaboration: what’s the difference?

They may seem alike, but coordination and collaboration mean different things, especially in a workplace context. Collaboration can’t happen without coordination and yet it’s possible to coordinate without collaborating.

So how are coordination and collaboration defined?

  • Coordination: is about making all the people involved in a plan or activity work together in an organized way

  • Collaboration: is where two or more people work together to create or achieve the same thing

What’s the difference? Coordination refers to the planning stage of a task and collaboration happens at the working stage. The words themselves say it all: ‘ordinate’ means to put in order (or plan), ‘labor’ refers to work, while ‘co’ means doing something together.

These definitions leave room for another approach: cooperation – working together with someone or doing what they ask you. Cooperation can happen at the planning and working stage. It’s a constant that compliments both coordination and collaboration.

What happens if you don’t use the right approach at the right time? The answer is simple. Collaboration when it isn’t needed can slow progress and hinder decision making. A lack of coordination can lead team members to double up on tasks or get delayed when waiting on decisions or deliverables from their colleagues. In both cases, time is wasted, resources are misused, and money is lost. And that’s before we consider the impact on deadlines and clients.

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When is workplace coordination important?

When is workplace coordination important?

We know that coordination is needed in the planning stages of a project. Only when we can map out all the work needed, can we start to organize tasks effectively.

That doesn’t mean coordination in the workplace should be limited to less complex projects. In fact, the planned-out approach is particularly useful when managing complicated projects with a high number of dependencies, or tasks that rely on the completion of other tasks, typically between cross-functional teams.

A coordinated approach is also useful when organizing predictable tasks – those jobs where we’re not going to learn something new as we carry out the work. When processes and outcomes follow a linear path, project managers can delegate work with confidence.

But even the most predictable of projects can throw up surprises and run off course, so it’s important to treat workplace coordination as a continuous process – to check in on deliverables and their deadlines regularly, to understand the implications on the rest of your project.

Coordination gives your team the license to work independently on specific tasks, without the need to consult their co-workers for their knowledge or guidance. It allows colleagues to work both independently and simultaneously and – unlike a collaborative approach – adding more people to a coordinated task should make things run quicker.

Finally, coordination works well in tasks that can be repeated. By carrying out the same task multiple times and learning from them, your organization should be able to plan for any hurdles that crop up in the future.

When is workplace collaboration important?

When is workplace collaboration important?

Collaboration should be treated as a way of learning – an approach that makes the most sense when working on something new. By bringing a wide range of people and their knowledge and perspectives together, businesses can solve problems and fill gaps for better results. Uncertainties and risks are possible but by working together, organizations can minimize the unknowns in a project.

The collective approach is particularly useful when one or more team members understand what they’re trying to achieve but might not know how to get there. It’s one of the reasons why collaboration can help when coordinating. Planning a project alongside colleagues can help to build a fuller picture of what’s involved in a task and will prove useful when making decisions.

One of collaboration’s greatest strengths is its responsiveness. Like a live document being edited by two people at once, it allows for almost immediate feedback and amends. Not only does it provide answers, but it helps to produce better-quality work.

And that’s not all, according to Zippia 75% of people value workplace collaboration as ‘very important’. It’s no wonder that the sense of camaraderie that comes from working together has been linked to reducing employee turnover rates by 50%.

5 tips for successful workplace coordination

5 tips for successful workplace coordination

1. Provide training

Training is a sure-fire way to improve your coordination in the workplace. It could include basic courses in the tasks you want people to do or equipping your team with the latest project management skills. By improving your organization’s ability to work on tasks and how to organize them, businesses are more likely to find new ways of working and unlock efficiencies.

2. Make roles clear

One study found that only 53% of workers have a high degree of clarity about their roles. The room for improvement is vast and has a direct impact on your ability to coordinate. Figures from the same study show that 86% of employees with high clarity report high levels of effectiveness. And the benefits don’t end there. Of the employees with high role clarity, 84% report a high intention to stay with their employer.

3. Make goals clear

Writing in Forbes, Ann Latham, the ‘Queen of Clarity’ said up to 80% of employee time is lost to unproductive activities and confusion. Taking simple measures like introducing shared vocabulary, minimizing priorities and giving teams a tangible sense of progress can contribute to helping people understand what they’re aiming for.

4. Encourage feedback

Coordinating a project is an ongoing process. Even the most well-planned tasks need attention both during and after the work is done. Opening projects to continuous feedback helps to keep tabs on resources, potential for missed deadlines and any other problems. Most importantly, you can start to build more robust and efficient plans for next time.

5. Monitor costs

It’s the all-important part of any project, yet keeping an eye on budgets can fall by the wayside as teams work towards a common goal. By assigning a project lead and breaking deliverables into smaller parts, you can begin to estimate the resource needed, build timelines and make educated forecasts on cost. Failure to create a budget and stick to it could lead to tasks being left incomplete and have a negative impact on your bottom line.

5 tips for successful workplace collaboration

5 tips for successful workplace collaboration

1. Pick teams carefully

Assembling your team is no easy task. You’ll need to consider people’s strengths, knowledge, and behaviors and think about how these factors might compliment or clash with other team members. By asking everyone to get to know their teammates’ ways of working, your organization will be in a better position for collaborating.

2. Provide communications channels

Workers spend an average of 20 hours a week using digital communication tools. To make the most of a diverse pool of knowledge, skills and perspectives, it’s vital you find the right platform for your organization. Channels that allow for seamless sharing and questioning of ideas will give your business the best chance of getting great results.

3. Be clear about purpose

Host a kick-off meeting to instill a strong sense of purpose from the start. Use the time to define and assign clear roles for everybody. And make it a dialogue, where team members feel free to ask questions and give feedback to help develop a sense of ownership. Aim to give your team the means to question the value of their work against your overall purpose. All the most successful collaborators do.

4. Build trust

Collaboration relies on a network of trust. Leaders need to trust team members to produce work to a high standard and team members need to trust that leaders are making the right decisions for their organization. Perhaps most importantly of all, co-workers (especially those from different departments) need to trust each other to do the best job possible. When only 41% of employees believe trust is a leading priority in their organization, building confidence among your employers could give you a considerable competitive edge.

5. Celebrate your successes

When you achieve what you set out to, it’s time to celebrate your success. Letting your employees know that you value their collaboration skills and not just the result of their work sends out a message about company culture. By including collaboration-related targets into employee objectives business can foster a culture that leads to future success.

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