The Best of Both Worlds: Encouraging Collaboration AND Independent Work

To unlock next-level teamwork, it’s crucial to understand, assess, and optimize the balance between encouraging collaborative and independent work. Regardless of people’s individual preferences, and regardless of whether you’re working altogether in the office or in a remote setting, team members need to be constantly committed to managing this tension in a healthy way.

This means that, at times, your team understands that the best way to move things forward and achieve optimal results, is to empower team members to have the freedom to get things done on their own. And, they are just as committed to bringing people together, understanding that at times, none of us is as smart as all of us.*

There is no single formula that can be applied to every team to make it successful. Each team is unique, and the approach that works best for one may not work for another. Some teams function like soccer or hockey teams, where collaboration is key, and tasks need to be passed back and forth constantly in order to progress. Others resemble a track-and-field relay team, where individuals can work independently on their responsibilities, as long as they execute their handoff to other team members effectively at the right time.**

Regardless of which type of team your workplace most closely resembles, it’s important to find healthy tension between collaboration and independence. Reflect on how your team has been aligned this past season. Are they experiencing all the benefits that come from working collaboratively? At the same time, are you tapping into the positive results that come from working independently?

Take a look at the following graphic and assess which of the four quadrants your team is currently spending the most time in.

Collaboration AND Independence

Regardless of which quadrant you currently find yourself in, the goal is to spend as much time as possible in quadrant four in the season ahead. To do that you have to start by being clear on these two things:

  1. This is not a tension that will be managed well by chance, it will only be managed well by choice.
  2. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula or strategy that will work for every team. The level of collaborative work vs. independent work your team needs to run effectively will be different than any other team.

Once you learn to leverage the tension between working collaboratively and independently, you will experience a dynamic environment where team members feel empowered and energized, leading to greater efficiency and productivity.

*Blanchard, Ken. “None of us is as smart as all of us.” Goodreads, Goodreads Inc.,
** (2020, February 4). Adam Grant on Engaged Marketing Teams.

Tim Arnold

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