Can you force collaboration?

In this post, we shall see if collaboration can be forced in the workplace. We will try to understand what happens when collaboration is forced. We will also be explaining the differences between collaboration, teamwork and cooperation. A collaborative team is one that not only works well together, but also has adopted a shared set of beliefs and values.

Can you force collaboration?

No, collaboration cannot be forced. Collaboration is different from mere co-operation in the fact that the latter adopts a long-term goal, has generation of newer ideas rather than just sharing, and also focuses on empowerment rather than engagement.

We can see team-leaders spend a lot of time trying to get a team to work together. It is mostly in order to boost productivity and morale. Forced collaboration is when the idea is sprung upon employees by those in a higher order or higher power for the sake of an organizational goal.

Since collaboration needs a strong bond between the team-members, including deep trust and a shared vision, it cannot be forced. A group of people simply cannot be forced, directly or indirectly to collaborate on a project together. And even if they are mildly coerced into, it might turn out to be counter-productive. It might also lead to a false-sense of unity and purpose among the members.

According to a research study by Harvard Business Review, most of the collaborative work done in organizations is lop-sided. The maximum load of conducting collaborative activities comes from just 3% to 5% of the employees.

 A situation of gathering importance is when a collaborative team-member gains so much importance for the purpose of team-cohesion that they receive an “escalated citizenship”. It leads to them being overtaxed and over-burdened to the point that it might lead to more viciousness than virtuosity.

What happens when collaboration is forced?

When collaboration is forced among team members in a workplace, the following issues tend to occur:

  • The results are minimal

When people are forced to do anything, the performance is not whole-hearted, which leads to a minimal result. Only when teams are inspired intrinsically and involuntarily, do we see a maximum result.

  • They do not have shared goals

When people are forced to collaborate together, they do not exactly have the same goals. They might share the same goal on paper, but in person it might differ. This in itself will lead to a major upheaval in the team as different goals means different pathways and different results altogether.

  • It is leads to a regressive work culture

When people in an organization are forced to do a certain task, it reinforces unnecessary hierarchy and plenty of internal politics. It also leads to a negative work atmosphere filled with unhealthy competition and fear. This in itself leads to a breakdown of team cohesion.

The differences between collaboration, teamwork and cooperation

To understand the topic better, let’s ask ourselves if collaboration, cooperation and team-work are all the same and if not, how they differ. In graduation, it is cooperation, teamwork and collaboration.

According to John Spencer, cooperation can be defined by a few characteristic traits, such as:

  • Mutual respect
  • Transparency
  • Shared goals
  • Loose network
  • Short-term duration
  • Sharing of ideas
  • Engagement

When we look at teamwork, it is an upgraded form of cooperation. It has the traits of mutual respect, transparency and shared goals as such. More importantly, it has a tighter network between the members and a higher level of engagement.

Collaboration is something on a much higher level than either cooperation or team-work. Collaboration has traits like:

  • Mutual trust
  • Vulnerability
  • Shared vision and values
  • Constant state of interdependence
  • Tight culture
  • Long-term
  • Generation of new ideas as a group
  • Empowerment

Let’s look at these points in detail.

  • Mutual trust between the team members

Trust is basically firm belief in someone or something. It is a value that cannot be forced or coerced. It is something that comes from within, intrinsically. When there is mutual trust between members of a team, it automatically creates a stronger bond that cannot be easily broken.

  • Vulnerability is seen a positive thing

Many of us would see the term vulnerability as weakness. Vulnerability itself means being exposed to the risk of attack. The more you open yourself up to the members in your team, the more you put yourself out to be vulnerable. But where there is vulnerability in a group, it inevitably builds a stronger bond in a phenomenon called vulnerability-based-trust.

This is defined by Lencioni, author and president of the Table group, as a place where leaders comfortably and quickly acknowledge, without provocation, their mistakes, weaknesses, failures and a need for help. 

It also brings about a state of higher self-awareness, where members are aware of not only their strengths but also their weaknesses. Team members are equally aware of those whose strengths surpass their very own and would not hesitate to call upon them for help.

Vulnerability-based-trust creates a culture where the members of a team are ready to learn from mistakes, take accountability for them and are open to criticism and learning from those who are stronger in example. Thus, vulnerability creates a culture where learning is painful but accepted with ease, which is necessary for collaboration.

  • Shared vision and values in the team

It is one thing to have a shared goal, but something completely different for a team to have shared vision and values. For better understanding, let’s see how these terms differ in definition. A goal, which can also be called an objective, is simply a plan or a system of plans an organization communicates to its employees and stakeholders to achieve.

When a team has a shared goal, they also have a gauge to be measured upon as well as a particular system of regulation in place. A vision on the other hand is basically a larger goal, a clearer image of what the organization wants to achieve in the long-run. 

When a team has a shared vision, it automatically makes them bond together, not just as employees, but as familial types who are in it for the long-run.

According to the folks in Organizational Behavior, values are the collective conceptions of what is considered good, desirable, and proper, or bad, undesirable, and improper in a culture. They are basically a collective opinion on what is good or bad in an organizational culture.

It becomes difficult to collaborate in a team where the values are different. The better a company evolves according to its vision and values, the better employees learn it and implement it together as a team.

  • Constant state of inter-dependence among the members

Inter-dependence might come across as a negative aspect. This brings us back to the earlier discussed point of vulnerability. The more exposed you are, the more interdependent you will be. This state of interdependence is essential to team-cohesion and collaboration. Your weaknesses might be exposed, but you can always count on someone else’s strength to lift you up. The same goes for them. It is basically a. “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” situation.

  • Close-knit culture in the team

Compared to co-operation, there is a much tighter culture in collaboration. There is networking in co-operation, but it loses with wider gaps. In contrast, collaboration has a closer network and a closer culture between the members.

This does not necessarily mean everyone is joined at the hip. It simply means there is more interaction, or efforts of interaction and bonding. Highly collaborative teams find themselves conversing about issues away from the workplace, particularly in a manner that leads to better collaboration.

  • Generation of new ideas leading to better products

This is a think-tank, not just an idea-sharing platform. A collaborative team is defined by the fact that members find it important to create something new together as a group. Rather than replicating something that someone else has done, a collaborative team would pool in their resources to bring out new thoughts and ideas.

  • Team members empower each other

This is an important aspect of collaboration and probably the most important one. A collaborative team does not just engage the members, but also empowers them. Through vulnerability, vulnerability-based-trust and interdependence, the team-members actually feel empowered to exhibit more confidence and esteem, not just in the workplace but elsewhere as well.

Empowerment comes because of the belief that the team is there to back them up, no matter what, as well as a strong sense of direction the group follows.


In this post, we have seen if collaboration can be forced in the workplace. We have explained what happens when collaboration is forced. We have also discussed the differences between collaboration, teamwork and cooperation.

Frequently asked questions:

Is collaboration required?

Gone are the days when you punch in, do your work, punch out and cash-in your check at the end of every week. Workplaces today require strong collaboration. Thus, skills to communicate and collaborate are essential. A few skills that are important for collaboration are communication skills, emotional intelligence and mutual trust and respect.

How do you enforce collaboration?

A few methods to improve collaboration are as follows:

  • Setting and defining goals
  • Defining and understanding individual roles
  • Identifying strengths
  • Encouraging creativity in the workplace
  • Building solid relationships
  • Building trust
  • Transparency among the members

What is bad collaboration?

Bad collaboration is when team members don’t understand each other, thus leading to miscommunication and poor team-cohesion. This is the reason we see many conversations going in circles, passing the blame with no accountability and transparency. A few signs of a bad collaboration are:

  • Miscommunications in the team 

They are often the root-cause of a poor collaborating team. The team-members find it either hard to understand the individual communicative style of the other member or are not ready to do so.

  • Improper distribution of work

When there is good collaboration, we find all team-members properly engaged in the proper manner. When there is bad collaboration, we see some team members absolutely free most of the time, while others may have to work weekends.

  • Missed deadlines for projects

When deadlines are not being achieved at the right time and becomes a continuous pattern, it is a sign of bad collaboration and communication in a group.

  • Lack of clarity about roles

When individual roles are assigned, it is important the team members wholly and fully understands the role. But when the role is not clearly explained, or has been hastily assigned, the team member is not to blame when the performance is subpar.

  • Internal politics

An argument can be productive or counterproductive to the team vision. When counter-productive arguments take the spotlight because of which the performance of a team dips, it is a sign of bad collaboration.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know.


Was this post helpful?

[Sassy_Social_Share type="standard"]