Why collaboration matters now more than ever

A few weeks ago World Bank released a report that raised concern on the quality of Kenya’s graduates. They indicated that the graduates that were being churned out of the institutions of higher learning, lacked the skills that would enable them be part of the delivery of Vision 2030. While this report received the usual uproar, it only confirmed the phenomena that many employers have come to term as ‘half-baked graduates’. Unfortunately, this is not an issue that is affecting Kenya only. According to the Inter-University Council of East Africa, over 50% of the graduates leaving universities in East Africa are ill-prepared for the marketplace.

A few weeks prior to this report from World Bank, Ernst Young (EY), one of the biggest graduate recruiters globally, removed degree classification from the entry criteria for its hiring programmes. They indicated that they have found “no evidence” that success at university was correlated with achievement in professional qualifications. Many experts have predicted that this trend will become increasingly common among employers.

A changing world

World BankThe World Bank Report and the changes at EY, illustrate that the world has changed but our education system has not; they illustrate that in this day, more is expected of students. The 21st Century world demands for employees who are not only technically competent, but also possess the soft skills and attitudes that are the biggest determinant of success in the workplace. One such skill is the ability to collaborate.

Collaboration and team work have become the number one skill that employers are seeking from future employees. Collaboration plays a major role in many real-world jobs. Team members performing different roles in an audit firm contribute towards the final audit report. Members of a digital media team are dependent on each other and they are accountable to each other for keeping customers connected in the e-world. Advertising sales and products team members each need social skills to give and get helpful feedback as the group reviews progress and assesses the quality of work for delivering products. And let’s not even talk about how innovation only occurs in a collaborative environment.

Unfortunately this skill is not emphasized in many of our institutions.

collaboartion2A few week ago I was having the conversation on the 21st century skills with an Executive Director of a top local organisation. He explained how a few years ago, he attempted to pursue an MBA in a local public university but discontinued it midway. He said that he found the level of self-centeredness in the future marketplace leaders too abhorring to ignore. No one was willing to work with others to develop new solutions, let alone do the necessary research that would indicate the levels of problem solving that the marketplace requires from an MBA graduate. Group work became his worst nightmare. And even when groups got around to collaborating, the default was to regurgitate what was the internet or copy the solutions provided by previous graduates.

Collaboration skills don’t come easy

collaborationCollaborators must learn how to resolve conflicts, they must learn how to build trust among our teams in addition to many other higher level social skills.

Before any employee enters today’s job world, they certainly need to understand the need to collaborate. How ready are they to work in an intense, interdependent, yet individually accountable workplace? How well do they work as a team?

Before arriving into the workplace, the expectation is that future workers will have sophisticated team skills. When it comes to readying students for the real work world, the evidence gathered by many institution says, “Teach the cooperative skills in the learning job. Be explicit and assess the skill development. Don’t expect the skills will just grow or that they are natural. All can improve the quality of their collaboration by learning to cooperate in the learning place.”

A Collaborative Learning Environment

CollaborateThis is the reason why over the last 3 months, Cohort 2 of Lapid Leaders have spent a lot of time collaboratively working on real-life projects. They had to compromise to find time to work on the projects in between their busy schedules; they had to build trust among themselves and find ways to resolve conflict; they had to endure the discomfort of working with others while it would be easier to work alone.

In the end, as they delivered on the projects, they learned that no one person is enough just by themselves. They had learned to support each other, rather than pull each other down. They had learned to adopt a collaborative rather than competitive environment. They learned the highest level of leaders, an interdependent leader. They learned, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’.

They had bagged a key skill that will distinguish them in the marketplace. Together they can do more!

Collaboration is no longer a luxury or option; it is now a vital skill for success in the 21st century workplace. Tomorrow, we will share lessons on how to become better collaborators. Please share with us your experiences as well. How easy do you find working with others? How do you become a better collaborator?



  1. Hi esther
    I absolutely agree. Collaboration is term i first encountered in a Ted talk this year 6 years out of campus. It was very strange and exciting to me. It wasnt until i participated in the group business project that i got hands on experience of what it is.

    Theres nothing like actually working with a group of people you barely know and having to stumble along as you all try to synchronise and rally yourselves around a common cause . Trying to figure out the dynamics of how a group works group psychology and such like……. its a whole new world!

    My next big step is exploring and implementing how i can be a better team player…..


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