Collaboration vs. Communication: Why The Difference Matters

Collaboration vs. Communication

Communication and collaboration are so intertwined in day-to-day business activities that it’s often hard to determine which comes first, or moreover, how to draw a distinction between the two.

In order to collaborate, you must be able to communicate. However, you can communicate all day long without having to jointly collaborate on a project or task. In fact, once you are done communicating about a particular topic, you may decide that collaboration is not necessary and just one person can complete the job. According to a quick search, the dictonary difference between the two is:

Collaboration is the action of working with someone to produce or create something.

Communication is the imparting or exchanging of information or news.

The Intersection of Workflow & Knowledge

Inside most organizations, there are (broadly speaking) the intersection of two groupings of things which we’ll call workflow and knowledge. Workflow refers to what each employee focuses on every day that collectively makes up the strategy of that organization. Underpinning this is a myriad of technology systems designed to follow established processes and hopefully keep everything streamlined and in working order.

This likely encompasses the CRM system, Order Management system or in the case of a services function, it is probably a Work-order system to cover things like scheduling employees on specific customer projects and tasks.

The second aspect, knowledge, refers to the fact that in order to effectively complete work, the right skills and “brain-power” must exist in the hearts and minds of each employee, but it is also inside a well-oiled Knowledge Management system or perhaps a help site or Intranet. Ease of access is a must and with continuous updates, staff can pinpoint exactly what they need as quickly as possible. Collaboration happens at the intersection of these two “worlds”.

Successful Collaboration Hinges on Multiple Touch Points

Let’s take an example. Say you are in the business of providing solar power for commercial and residential buildings with a team that is on the road every day installing panels and maintaining existing ones.

Central operations will work collaboratively to set-up each technician’s schedule for the coming week while working with sales and the customer in tandem with a system like ServiceMax. The operations manager then informs team members in advance, providing details for each job. Everything is entered and tracked in one system. When a new solar panel is released, the engineering and product teams collaborate to update user guides which live on the internal knowledge management site. Pricing also needs to be updated across all sales tools which requires sales, marketing, and finance teams to collaboratively work on that once new pricing plans are in place.

In this example, there are multiple points of collaboration across multiple teams who use a host of different tech solutions. If every new update across all those functions is not clearly communicated, no one will be in the know and it will eventually cause issues and slow down the business. Worse case you’ll end up with frustrated employees who may quit. You’ll also jeopardize customer satisfaction levels which directly affect revenue and brand equity.

Throughout this process, both collaboration and communication have taken place, but if everyone hasn’t been kept informed and on the same page, nothing else matters.

The Pivotal Role of Communication

Communication is the key ingredient that allows for productive, successful collaboration. It happens across all touch points and players, essentially greasing the wheels for collaboration.

For communication to be effective, you’ll want to have everyone working on the same communication platform. A company would not even think about having multiple sales databases or work-order management systems, yet when it comes to streamlining company-wide communications, many organizations are using a myriad of different tools, which creates fragmented communication across teams and departments. Even worse, many companies still rely on outdated email, bulletin boards, and Intranets to keep everyone, including field workers, in the know.

When 15% of employees total work time is wasted on inefficient communications, there’s no excuse for letting communication fall by the wayside. That essentially translates to 6 hours wasted every week or 300 hours a year per employee. That’s not even counting the losses when those employees leave due to poor engagement and satisfaction.

The bottom line is that effective communication is necessary not just for successful collaboration, but also for a successful business. From productivity to employee retention and customer satisfaction, good company communication drives business results.