Collaboration – What is the Role of Collaboration in Academic & Professional Writing?

Collaboration refers to the act of working with others or AI to solve problems, coauthor texts, and develop products and services. Collaboration is a highly prized workplace competency. appreciated in academic and professional settings for its potential to promote learning, enhance problem-solving, boost efficiency, strengthen relationships, foster adaptability, encourage health and well-being, and aid in skill development. However, its effectiveness depends on how well it is implemented and managed. Discover strategies for effective collaborative work and building cohesive teams.

Collaboration Definition

Collaboration refers to

  1. the act of working with others — including AI (Artificial Intelligence) — to solve problems, coauthor texts, and develop products and services.
    • People dialog and brainstorm with others. They read their works to others. They ask their friends to critique their texts. They ask for edits and revisions
    • In the workplace settings, employees collaborate in teams to develop new inventions, applications, services, and processes
    • Increasingly, people collaborate with AI tools to help them engage in routine tasks. They use AI-tools to design buildings, manage legal cases, draft computer code, and write reports for school and work settings.
  2. a method for creating new products, applications, and services
  3. the act of learning from others
    • Language and learning are social practices. We learn from watching, imitating, and dialoging with others
  4. a highly prized workforce competency, a life skill
    • Employers consistently rank collaboration as one of the top 5 most important competencies needed for success in schools and the workplace
  5. a subject of study

Related Terms

  • Collaboration Skills, Collaborative Skills
  • Collaboration Competencies, Collaborative Competencies
  • Collaborative
  • Collaborating
  • Collaborators
  • Collaboratively

Related Concepts

Archive; Canon; Coauthor – Coauthorship; Conflict Resolution; Mindset; Openness; Team Charter; Teamwork


Why is Collaboration Important?

Collaboration plays a profound role in acts of literacy.

Language use is invariably collaborative. Language is a social construct — a consequence of cultures and people working together to understand, learn from, and communicate with others.

Every act of communication inherently involves collaboration, occurring within an intersubjective space — a shared realm where meanings and understandings are co-created between individuals. In this realm, collaboration transcends mere cooperation towards a common goal; it embodies the mutual construction of reality and understanding. As individuals engage in communication, they are not just exchanging information but actively participating in the shaping and reshaping of their perceptions and knowledge in response to others. This dynamic interplay underscores the integral role of collaboration in human interaction, framing communication not as a solitary act, but as a collaborative process of shared meaning-making within the ongoing “conversation of humankind“.

What Are the Key Elements of Collaboration?

In a review of research on collaboration, Cannon-Bowers et al.’s (1995) theorized that collaboration is comprised of eight core competencies:

  1. Adaptability
    • “The process by which a team is able to use information gathered from the task environment to adjust strategies through the use of compensatory behavior and reallocation of intrateam resources” (p. 344)
      • Adaptability refers to a team’s capacity to modify its strategies in response to environmental cues. This involves not just reacting to changes but proactively using information from the surrounding task environment. Teams demonstrate adaptability by engaging in compensatory behavior – adjusting roles and tasks as needed – and reallocating resources within the team to address emerging challenges or opportunities. This competency is crucial in ensuring that a team remains effective and efficient in dynamic or unpredictable situations, thereby maintaining performance levels despite changing circumstances.
  2. Shared Situational Awareness
    • “The process by which team members develop compatible models of the team’s internal and external environment; includes skill in arriving at a common understanding of the situation and applying appropriate task strategies” (p. 344)
      • Shared Situational Awareness refers to the process through which team members collectively develop a unified understanding of both their internal dynamics and the external environment in which they operate. This competency involves more than just sharing information; it’s about creating a shared perspective that enables the team to interpret and respond to situations in a coordinated manner. By aligning their perceptions and interpretations, team members can more effectively apply appropriate strategies to the tasks at hand, ensuring a cohesive and informed approach to problem-solving and decision-making.
  3. Performance Monitoring and Feedback
    • “The ability of team members to give, seek, and receive task-clarifying feedback; includes the ability to accurately monitor the performance of teammates, provide constructive feedback regarding errors, and offer advice for improving performance” (p. 344)
      • Performance Monitoring and Feedback refers to whether the team members engaged in the exchange of feedback that clarifies and improves task execution. This competency is not just about evaluating performance but also encompasses the ability to effectively communicate observations, provide constructive criticism on errors, and suggest ways to enhance performance. Essential to this process is the team’s ability to both offer and receive feedback in a manner that fosters learning and development, thereby contributing to the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the team’s operations.
  4. Leadership/Team Management
    • “The ability to direct and coordinate the activities of other team members, assess team performance, assign tasks, motivate team members, plan and organize, and establish a positive atmosphere” (p. 345)
      • Leadership/Team Management refers to the ability to effectively guide and manage a team. This includes directing and coordinating the activities of team members, assessing overall team performance, and appropriately assigning tasks. A key aspect of this competency is the capability to motivate team members, fostering a sense of purpose and engagement. Additionally, it involves planning and organizing team efforts efficiently, as well as creating and maintaining a positive, supportive atmosphere within the team. This set of skills ensures that the team operates cohesively towards its objectives, with each member contributing optimally.
  5. Interpersonal Relations – Conflict Resolution
    • “The ability to optimize the quality of team members’ interactions through resolution of dissent, utilization of cooperative behaviors, or use of motivational reinforcing statements” (p. 345)
      • Interpersonal Relations – Conflict Resolution refers to the ability to enhance the quality of interactions among team members. This involves effectively managing and resolving conflicts or disagreements, promoting cooperative behaviors, and using motivational statements to reinforce positive team dynamics. This competency is crucial in ensuring that interpersonal issues do not hinder team progress and that the team environment remains conducive to collaboration and productivity. The focus is on fostering harmonious interactions that support the team’s goals and the well-being of its members.
  6. Coordination
    • “The process by which team resources, activities, and responses are organized to ensure that tasks are integrated, synchronized, and completed within established temporal constraints” (p. 345)
      • Coordination refers to the process of effectively organizing team resources, activities, and responses. It involves ensuring that tasks are properly integrated and synchronized, aligning the efforts of individual team members towards a common goal. This competency is key in making sure that tasks are completed efficiently and within set deadlines. Good coordination within a team helps to minimize duplication of effort and ensures that all members are working in a harmonious and productive manner, respecting established timelines and project constraints.
  7. Communication
    • “The process by which information is clearly and accurately exchanged between two or more team members in the prescribed manner and with proper terminology; the ability to clarify or acknowledge the receipt of information” (p. 345)
      • Communication refers to the clear and accurate exchange of information among team members. This involves not only conveying messages in a straightforward and comprehensible manner but also using appropriate terminology and adhering to prescribed communication protocols. An essential part of this competency is the ability to confirm understanding, either by clarifying ambiguous points or by acknowledging the receipt of information. Effective communication is crucial in ensuring all team members are on the same page and can work together efficiently towards their common goals.
  8. Decision Making
    • “The ability to gather and integrate information, use sound judgment, identify alternatives, select the best solution, and evaluate the consequence (in team context, emphasizes skill in pooling information and resources in support of a response choice)” (p. 346).
      • Decision Making, as defined by Cannon-Bowers et al. (1995), entails the capacity to effectively gather and synthesize information, exercise sound judgment, and explore various alternatives to identify the best solution. Within a team context, this competency emphasizes the collective pooling of information and resources to support a chosen course of action. It also involves evaluating the potential consequences of decisions, ensuring that choices made are well-considered and informed. This collaborative approach to decision-making leverages the diverse insights and expertise of the team, aiming to achieve optimal outcomes.

What Are the Major Benefits of Collaborative Work?

  1. Collaboration Promotes Learning and Innovation
    • Collaboration is deeply interwoven into our identifies and communities as humans. As humans, we learn by working with and imitating others. We create new knowledge by dialoging with others. Humans are inherently social learners. Through dialogue, coauthorship, and critique, we construct new knowledge and innovate. This collaborative learning leads to a Gestalt effect, where collective input produces more innovative and unified outcomes than individual efforts.
  2. Collaboration Enhances Problem-Solving
    • While collaboration doesn’t automatically guarantee success, it creates a platform where diverse skills and viewpoints can converge. This variety, when effectively harnessed, can empower teams to tackle complex problems that might be insurmountable for individuals alone. It’s the collective pooling of different experiences, expertise, and problem-solving approaches that can lead to novel solutions and breakthroughs.
  3. Collaboration Boosts Efficiency and Productivity
    • Assign tasks according to each team member’s strengths. Use a team charter to track deadlines for different tasks. This ensures that work is completed more efficiently and productively.
  4. Collaboration Strengthens Relationships and Builds Trust
    • Successful collaboration, where communication is open and respect is mutual, can lead to stronger relationships and increased trust among team members. However, this outcome is contingent on a supportive and inclusive environment where conflicts are managed constructively and everyone’s contributions are valued.
  5. Collaboration Fosters Adaptability and Resilience
    • In an ideal collaborative environment, where diverse perspectives and skills are valued and integrated, teams may develop a greater capacity to adapt to change and overcome challenges. This potential for enhanced adaptability and resilience, however, depends on effective communication, mutual respect, and the willingness to embrace diverse viewpoints.
  6. Collaboration Encourages Health and Well-being
    • Collaboration, especially for those who thrive in social settings, can improve mental health and well-being, fostering a sense of inclusion and purpose.
  7. Collaboration Helps Students Develop Workplace Competencies
    • Engaging in collaborative activities in school settings provides students with valuable opportunities to develop key workplace skills like teamwork, effective communication, and adaptability. While the outcomes vary based on individual experiences, these collaborative practices generally lay a foundation for the kind of interpersonal and problem-solving skills that are beneficial in professional settings.

Why Is Collaboration So Highly Prized in the Workplace?

Collaboration is a highly prized workforce competency. In the U.S., the National Research Council, the National Science Foundation, and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills have identified collaboration and teamwork as a core workforce competency. Photo Credit: “Fort Belvoir Community Hospital astounds with groundbreaking technology and devotion to patient care” by Army Medicine is licensed by CC BY 2.0.

In its annual survey of employers’ perceptions of the proficiency of college graduates, NACE (the National Association of Colleges and Employers), has found that prospective employers in the U.S. rank collaboration/teamwork as the second or third most important workforce competency. In its Job Outlook 2022, collaboration/teamwork ranked as the third most important attribute employers look for in candidates (after critical thinking and communication competencies). 

When looking at a candidate’s resume,

  • 76.3% of the respondents said they look for evidence of a candidate’s ability to work in a teams
  • 97.7% of employers ranked Collaboration/Teamwork as a requisite workforce competency
  • 77.5% of the employers believe current college graduates lack proficiency as collaborators (NACE 2022).

What Are Some of the Challenges of Collaborative Work in the Classroom?

  1. Uneven Workloads
    • Without proper coordination and assignment of responsibilities, the workload in a group project can often become uneven. Some members may feel burdened, having to complete more than their fair share, while others might not contribute enough. This inequitable division of work can lead to resentment, tension, and a decline in the overall team performance.
  2. Resistance to Group Work and Peer Review
    • There are students who may not be enthusiastic about engaging in group projects or peer reviews. They may prefer individual work where they can control the quality of the output and manage their own timelines, rather than depending on others.
  3. Varying Levels of Literacy and Collaborative Competencies
    • In any team, there’s likely to be a range of skill levels and competencies. Some team members may lack the necessary literacy, research, design, or collaborative skills to contribute effectively. This variation can make the collaborative process difficult and frustrating for others, affecting the group’s overall productivity and the quality of the output.

How Do Humans Collaborate with AI?

Collaboration also refers to instances of Human & AI (Artificial Intelligence) collaborations. Increasingly, people collaborate with machines to complete tasks. For instance, doctors work with AI (artificial intelligence) to diagnose diseases; architects to design safe buildings; engineers to build machines, and consumers to receive service help.

Students, as a form of prewriting and strategic search, may ask ChatGPT, a natural learning process tool developed by OpenAI, to summarize what is known and what the research questions are currently being debated on a particular topic


Cannon-Bowers, J. A., Tannenbaum, S. I., Salas, E., & Volpe, C. E. (1995). Defining competencies and establishing team training requirements. In E. Salas & R.A. Guzzo, Team Effectiveness and Decision Making in Organizations (pp. 333, 380). Wiley.

Cannon-Bowers, J. A., & Salas, E. (1997). A framework for developing team performance measures in training. In M. T. Brannick, E. Salas, & C. Prince (Eds.), Team performance assessment and measurement: Theory, methods, and applications (pp. 45–62).  Lawrence Erlbaum.

Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the wild. MIT Press.

Michael T. Brannick, Eduardo Salas, & Carolyn W. Prince. (1997). Team performance assessment and measurement : Theory, methods, and applications. Psychology Press.

Moxley, J. & Eubanks, D. (2016). On keeping score: Instructors’ vs. students’ rubric ratings of 46,689 essays. WPA: Writing Program Administration, 39(2), 53-78.

NACE 2021. Job Outlook 2022. U.S. Government Printing Office.

NACE 2017. Job Outlook 2017. National Association of Colleges and Employers. U.S. Government Printing Office.

NACE 2016. Job Outlook 2016. National Association of Colleges and Employers. U.S. Government Printing Office.

Oliveri, M., Lawless, R., & Molloy, H. (2017). A Literature review on collaborative problem solving for workforce readiness. GRE Board Research Report Series and ETS Research Report Series, 1-27. doi:10.1002/ets12133

Stover, S., & Holland, C. (2018). Student resistance to collaborative learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 12(2).

Wilson, James H. and Paul R. Daugherty (July-August 2018). Collaborative Intelligence: Humans and AI Are Joining Forces. Harvard Business Review.

Vygotsky, Lev (1978). Mind in Society. Harvard University Press.

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