Future Friday: Why can’t we teach collaboration?

Collaboration is a skill that will preserve human jobs.

Reading an article on megatrends in the job market I came across a statement that said “But I’m convinced that the future belongs to women. Why? Because they tend to possess the human characteristics that will give them the advantage in the new jobs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Like the capacity for collaboration (instead of competition), empathy, creativity, listening and learning.” That made me think. Is this author implying that this is a skill that only women have? Or are we just not training boys and men to be collaborative?

A learned skill

The author’s implication was that men are inherently competitive and thus not good at collaboration. The author must have never played any teams sports, where collaboration is of vital importance. And if competition takes away from collaboration, are we not reducing girls ability to be collaborative in the future by stressing the nature of competition for them in team sports?
I think that collaboration is an inherent trait after all humans have existed by forming groups that worked together from the get-go, modeling our primate ancestors. But collaboration is also a learned skill that gets better with training.

Very important

More and more we stress the importance of collaboration in the workplace. The advantages are many. One article said, “When members of a team collaborate, they are able to utilize the knowledge, experience and skills of everyone involved.” It develops skills and speeds up solutions as well. Yet there appears to be no emphasis on this in the educational arena. A friend, who is a college professor says, in his experience, “There is no prime directive from a college to say we have to emphasize collaboration in the classroom, and it is really up to faculty to determine how much group work is necessary or sufficient in their classroom.” He further says that “collaboration varies from professor to professor and major to major.


When I hear the word collaboration I think of the German word “Gestalt”, which loosely translated means the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. What we get out of collaboration is more than just the individual efforts of the collaborators. It is the creation of new ideas, it is the support that everyone receives, it is the additional learning that occurs in that collaborative process.

The future

If collaborative effort has all these benefits and the jobs of the future are going to be dependent on this ability we need to spend more time in education teaching collaboration. We need to make boys as collaborative as girls. We need to make sure men are as collaborative as women. The future of work and jobs is about the competition against automated work as opposed to being competitive with each other. Each of our workplaces needs to emphasize collaboration and if workers arrive without training in collaboration that is some of the first training they need to have. The future of the worker, the work, and the company may depend on it.

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