The #1 Curriculum and Assessment Partner for Educators

[Professional Development] What’s the Difference Between Teamwork and Collaboration?

[Professional Development] What’s the Difference Between Teamwork and Collaboration?

This post is written by Kristy McIntyre, a member of the Edmentum Educator Network. The Network is a professional learning community dedicated to helping educators share ideas, learn from one another, and make genuine peer-to-peer connections.

Making leadership a communitywide effort is key to building a positive school culture that supports every student. But, in order to successfully move toward this kind of leadership and professional development style, establishing a true culture of collaboration is one of the most important prerequisites. Understanding the clear difference between teamwork and collaboration is the first step. Let’s break down these two concepts:


What exactly is a team? It is a group of individuals working together toward a joint outcome. As the members work together, every person’s individual actions are dependent on each other. As a group, a team works together to achieve a unified result and checks with all members prior to making any decisions. If any member were to make a decision on his or her own, it could potentially have a negative effect within the team as a whole. To make this work, it’s critical that when any team is formed, a leader is designated to ensure that members continue working together in harmony, to remove any major disruptions, and to address disputes. Teams may have disagreements within them, but with a leader, they can accomplish a goal. 

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it.” –  Halford E. Luccock


Unlike members of a team, individuals who are in a collaborative group are able to retain their own personal—and possibly, competing—goals while they still successfully work with the group. This is because they will also be embracing those goals and agenda items that they share with other collaborators. Collaborations do not have a single leader; instead, members work toward shared goals as only part of their responsibilities. Without a designated leader, members retain autonomy and learn from one another, as they must solve their own problems within the group.

“Politeness is the poison of collaboration.” – Edwin Land

Teamwork or collaboration—which would you prefer?

There is certainly a time and a place for teamwork, but for educators looking to serve their own students and reduce their sense of professional isolation, collaborative groups are clearly the stronger approach. And, a well-thought-out vision for the educational community can provide all that is needed to get started on working collaboratively (check out these 4 Steps to Creating a Shared Vision that Will Energize Your Team if you need a jumpstart to build your vision). This vision must be edited and reviewed frequently to allow for all involved to examine their strategies and determine if daily activities are aligned to the general consensus it presents. A strong vision can also be a way to demonstrate the changing role of the principal in leadership, as the principal becomes more of an equal partner with classroom teachers, parents, and students in the effort to improve. From the vision, principals and other administrators can determine organizational procedures that promote teacher collaboration and impact teacher accountability. 

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” – attributed to Edward Everett Hale

Working in isolation does not have to be the reality for educators anymore. As the educational environment becomes more student centered and more stakeholders work within collaborative groups instead of teams, morale will increase. Forward-thinking professional development can expand educators’ knowledge of this great difference and can help end the solitude and reduce the workload of educators (more on my ideas about that topic can be found here). Through collaboration, sharing knowledge, and empowering every teacher to become a leader, we can reduce isolation and help educators reconnect with how fulfilling this profession is.

“Effectively, change is almost impossible without industry-wide collaboration, cooperation, and consensus.” – Simon Mainwaring

Looking for more ideas to build a positive culture in your school or district? We recently asked over 2,000 educators what they need to succeed in the classroom—check out the results here!

kristy.mcintyre's picture
Dr. Kristy McIntyre

Dr. McIntyre earned a Bachelor of Science degree from The University of Maryland, two Masters degrees in educational leadership and administration from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, and a Doctorate in educational leadership and management from Capella University.  She has spent the last 21 years working as an elementary teacher, child counselor, middle school math teacher and now is a Technology Integration Instructional Specialist (TIIS) for Kershaw School District in South Carolina.