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There are many terms used to describe collaborative systems, including professional learning communities, production management teams, board meetings, and even committees. Multiple collaborative systems may form and dissolve in any business or operation as new needs arise. Some may be put into place temporarily when planning for major projects or specific problem solving. Other collaborative systems are ongoing and oriented toward a common, long term goal.
The different names used to describe collaborative systems can be confusing, as two organizations may use the exact same name for their system, yet operate in quite different ways. Sometimes, collaborative systems that are essentially identical in function are given different names. For example, a group may be called a grade level team in one school and an interdisciplinary team in another. The actual name that an organization uses for its particular collaborative system is not as important as the job a team or system performs.
Collaborative systems can be thought of as teams or groups of individuals who labor together to complete a specific task. The word "collaborative" can be broken into the prefix co- and the root word labor. The prefix means together, joint, or equally, and labor means to work. A collaborative system, then, is any arrangement in which people unite in some form of shared activity or labor. These systems are sometimes technology-based, using a company communications network as opposed to real-time physical meetings to involve workers and engage in discussions.
Two colleagues discussing and sharing ideas about how to solve a problem at work may be engaging in an informal collaborative system. More elaborate examples of these systems involve specific teams or cadres of employees who meet at regularly scheduled times. These highly structured collaborative systems generally adhere to a tight agenda, and leaders follow a task oriented template. Whether simple or complex, one common thread among all collaborative systems is a strong need for clear communication and effective leadership.
In education, collaborative systems often include teams of teachers who teach the same students or subjects. These individuals may meet to plan instruction together, and later evaluate student work to determine the success of the instruction. In business, a collaborative marketing strategy may present a similar scenario. Multiple departments or employees may put the strategy into place and then come together after implementation to judge the effectiveness of the strategy. In all cases, collaborative systems are based on the premise that focusing many minds on a specific task is superior to individuals going it alone.
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