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Team Intellect

Ask a coach: How can managers improve teamwork and collaboration?

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Table of Content

Table of Contents

Ever found yourself in a meeting room, staring at a whiteboard filled with buzzwords like “synergy” and “alignment,” wondering how these abstract terms translate into real-world success? You’re not alone. The secret sauce to a thriving department often boils down to two key ingredients: teamwork and collaboration. But wait, aren’t they the same thing? Not quite.

According to Wendy, a clinical psychologist at Intellect, “Teamwork and collaboration always involve at least two persons with a common goal.” However, while terms like “teamwork” and “collaboration” often get used interchangeably, recognising their nuances will help us understand team dynamics differently, allowing managers to apply the right fixes to different groups of people. She further elaborates, “Teamwork involves following instructions, while collaboration is about taking ownership and contributing with your entire self.”

Requires a leader to provide guidance & resolve conflictRequires equal partnership &
members to resolve conflict
Actions are independentActions are interdependent
Effective for short-termEffective for long-term

Think of teamwork as the blueprint of a building project. Each team member has a set role, specific tasks, and deadlines. The blueprint is detailed, and everyone knows their part in bringing the structure to life. Collaboration, on the other hand, is more like a dynamic brainstorming session for that same building project, with stakeholders from different departments—architects, engineers, designers—coming together to solve complex problems and contribute their unique expertise.

Focusing solely on the former can lead to a rigid, siloed environment where creativity is stifled. On the flip side, an overemphasis on collaboration without structured teamwork can result in chaos, where everyone has ideas but no one takes ownership.

Striking a balance between teamwork and collaboration isn’t just nice-to-have; it’s a must-have for any high performing department. Wendy aptly points out, “In the workplace, making mistakes is inevitable. It’s how we learn and improve for the future.”

While teamwork lays down the “what” and “how”, collaboration injects the “why”, fueling creativity. Balancing them creates a working environment that is both efficient and innovative.

Conditions that enable teamwork


Setting a compelling direction isn’t just about pep talks and team-bonding exercises. It’s about giving your team a clear purpose. Wendy aptly points out, “A compelling direction is always about a goal that’s challenging but not unachievable.”

Instead of ambiguous goals like “be the best”, consider setting tangible ones like “prioritise customer delight for the quarter” and back them with specific KPIs. This approach not only offers your team a clear North Star but also outlines actionable steps to achieve it, ensuring everyone is aligned and motivated.


Diversity is more than just a corporate buzzword. Incorporated wisely into your team’s DNA, it’s a strategic advantage. When assembling a team, don’t just look at skills and experience. Rather, seek out diverse perspectives that can bring fresh ideas and innovative solutions.

The fresh insights of a new intern, combined with the wisdom of a veteran employee, can lead to more comprehensive solutions. By embracing diversity, managers can build an inclusive team culture and team members can lean on their strengths to complement one another.


Wendy highlights the challenges of today’s fast-paced work environments, mentioning that the rapid dissemination of information, often amplified by modern productivity tools, can sometimes bypass the necessary context, paving the way for misinterpretations.

To mitigate this, it’s essential to establish a shared context among team members, especially if they’re working remotely. Deel, for example, encourages their employees to give one another the benefit of doubt and arrange to get on a call after the third instance of miscommunication. Other organisations may permit “ruthless prioritisation”, granting team members the autonomy to accept or reject inter-departmental requests as they deem fit during crunch time.

Conditions that enable collaboration


Trust in the corporate world empowers one to take risks confidently, venturing into challenging projects secure in the knowledge that your team has your back. Psychological safety is essential to building a trusting workplace, enabling employees to share ideas openly, admitting errors, as well as offer and receive constructive feedback.

For a start, Wendy recommends a unique approach: values-based introductions. By sharing their top three core values, team members can gain insights into their colleagues’ thought processes, work ethics, and behaviours. For instance, an employee whose top core value is “innovation” may potentially clash with a team member who holds a different core value, such as “stability”. Getting these differences out of the way from the get go lays a foundation for deeper mutual understanding.


Effective collaboration thrives on clear and open communication, making a team greater than the sum of its parts. With that said, employees have different communication styles. You may have no issues asserting yourself, but your team member may be more passive. By “code-switching” accordingly, managers can improve the quality of their interactions with team members and create a more inclusive working environment.

Additionally, asking open-ended questions could also elicit meaningful conversations. Instead of the routine “How are you?”, you could ask “What are you looking forward to this week?” or “What’s one thing you wish you had accomplished today?”. The objective is to cultivate a culture where team members communicate regularly, actively listen, and genuinely understand one another.


Overfixation on psychological safety can lead to “ruinous empathy”, a term coined by Kim Scott in her radical candour framework, which is why collective accountability is important. By balancing psychological safety and accountability, managers can land their teams in the “learning” zone, rather than the “apathy”, “comfort”, and “anxiety” zones.

Wendy introduces a broader perspective on addressing setbacks. Rather than focusing on an individual’s mistakes, consider how the entire team can shift from a “blame” frame to an “aim” frame. Concentrating on common goals and learning from challenges ensures the team remains cohesive and forward-focused.

How Intellect can help

Teamwork provides the structure, while collaboration brings in the dynamism. Balancing these two can transform your department from merely operational to truly outstanding, and you needn’t be a top executive to make a change. Ask yourself: “Is my team merely working side by side, or are we genuinely collaborating?” Then, take proactive steps to ensure both elements are in play.

Business schools may have glossed over the intricacies of team management, but fret not as Intellect’s team of ICF-accredited coaches is here to guide you. Whether you’re a manager aiming to foster a culture of effective teamwork or an individual contributor looking to enhance your collaborative skills, they can point you in the right direction.

Learn more about Intellect here.

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