Enhancing Skills Students Need: Collaboration

author profile
Written by Jordan Levy

We’ve all heard the famous saying, “teamwork makes the dream work,” right?

One of the most critical elements that contributes to the success of any organization is the ability for its members to work together and execute well as a team. 


By working together, team members increase productivity, improve efficiency, and enhance creativity, all while building better relationships with each other. Although achieving an optimal team dynamic can be hard work, teams produce more together than its members do individually. By working together, teams exchange values, ideas, and expertise in the interest of producing thorough, well-rounded solutions. 

This highly valuable process of positive teamwork is called collaboration, a foundational soft skill in the 21st century working world. 


Being able to collaborate and work well with others is one of the most sought after skills by employers. However, graduates entering the workforce are lacking this very crucial skill. A survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that more than 80 percent of midsize or larger employers look for collaboration skills in new hires, though fewer than 40 percent of them considered recent graduates prepared to work in teams. This is yet another “skills gap” between the professional work environment and higher education that needs to be addressed.


Collaboration is when a group of people comes together and contributes their expertise for the benefit of a shared objective, project, or mission. In a business environment, this type of engagement between employees promotes the flow of new ideas and different perspectives, which leads to better results for organizations and overall uptick in employee engagement. Positive collaboration ultimately results in more motivated employees, greater innovation, positive mentoring relationships, and profitability.


Collaboration, like most soft skills, isn’t something that students can develop overnight. Collaboration is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened over time. When students are provided with opportunities to collaborate as part of the classroom learning experience, they’re much more likely to succeed in a collaborative professional environment upon graduation. 


The easiest way to foster collaboration in the classroom is to provide students with project-based learning opportunities. By encouraging students to work together as a team, they get a chance to practice:


  • Agreeing on priorities and objectives, 
  • Dividing responsibilities among team members based on skills and expertise, 
  • Building rapport with team members that have different backgrounds and working styles,
  • Developing a comprehensive deliverable based on disparate pieces, and
  • Accepting and delivering feedback from third parties and one another.   

Student projects can be formed using many different sources, including textbook prompts, case studies, and simulations. Although just about any group project requires productive collaboration in order to succeed, we encourage educators to take their project-based learning approach to the next level by including real challenges from third-parties like startups, non-profits, and other enterprises. At CapSource, we consider this type of project-based learning experiential learning, which is a form of applied education that requires students to produce real outcomes for real stakeholders who provide real feedback along the way. The ultimate goal is to graduate students that have reference-worthy experiences under their belt that speak to their ability to communicate and collaborate while thinking critically and creatively. 


To-date, CapSource has worked with educators from over 50 institutions in an effort to help their students positively collaborate with over 200 companies. In an effort to share first-h and how faculty are using these immersive, hands-on learning experiences to build students into effective collaborators, we took the opportunity to sync up with our client, Jacie Collum, an Instructor that leads our Business in Action course at Northern Illinois University (NIU). We discussed how she’s been leveraging CapSource’s Live Business Cases to help her students learn how to collaborate as early as first semester freshman year. 


ARVE Error: Invalid URL in url
ARVE Error: Mode: lazyload not available (ARVE Pro not active?), switching to normal mode


So far, Jacie and her co-instructor Jason Gorham, have facilitated two Live Business Cases over the past two semesters with Mysteria Cosmetics (a local cosmetics company) and Rock King (a Burger King Franchisee) to provide their students with exposure to different industries and business functions through a variety of complementary projects. In this class, students immediately get a chance to collaborate as a team and apply what they’re reading in their textbooks to actual business challenges. Ultimately, their students are learning by working together to solve real challenges. 


There are many stakeholders involved in these collaborations, including 2 instructors, 140 students, and several key company mentors. The students are split into groups of 5 and tasked with solving one-of-four different business challenges. The students don’t choose their teams, but they do get to choose their own meeting schedule, communication tools, and approach to solving their real business challenge.


Not only are the students learning how to collaborate with one another, but they’re also learning how to work with company personnel while leveraging their faculty and other teams for help and guidance along the way. Jacie mentioned that the key to facilitating this type of classroom dynamic is to foster positive student collaboration by encouraging them to:


  • Communicate clearly and consistently,
  • Recap meetings and goals to ensure everyone is on the same page, 
  • Ask lots of questions while tracking the use of key resources and assumptions,
  • Divide responsibilities fairly and lending a hand when necessary, and
  • Provide each other with constructive feedback regularly


At the conclusion of each semester, Jacie’s students deliver their final insights directly to the company’s leadership team (both as a presentation and written report). Jacie says, “To see our students rise to the occasion and deliver something that they diligently worked on throughout the semester is just as exciting for me as it is for them. Many of these students have never been in a real business environment before. CapSource’s Live Business Case experiential learning model allows our students to practice collaborating as they produce real outcomes.” But that’s not all. As a final send off, Jacie helps each of her students reflect on their personal learning journey by helping them convert this learning experience into a line item on their resume (feel free to explore examples from Isabella Quiroz and McKenzie Kettler). 


The CapSource team is incredibly proud to see faculty and students having a positive experience learning experience using our Live Business Case method. NIU freshmen along with thous ands of students across the globe are learning how to collaborate first-h and through the practical, hands-on, project-based experiences that we coordinate. This Spring, NIU’s Business in Action course will be collaborating with Glidden Florist through another series of projects, reaching even more students with the Live Business Case model. 



About Co-Author – Jacqueline Luciano is the founder of UNRAVELED – a space catered to undergraduate students and young professionals trying to figure out and navigate life after college. After being in the professional world for over three years, Jacqueline has learned that there is so much more to figure out than what can be taught in the classroom. Students need to assess themselves, their skill-set, and their life goals in order to make themselves feel most successful about their career progress. Her foremost objective with UNRAVELED is to provide undergraduates and young professionals with resources that will make them more successful and better prepared for the real world. She hopes to provide readers with alternative perspectives that challenge conventional views of the workforce, on what college offers, and what students should consider about their lives after college. Jacqueline joined the CapSource team as a Guest Blog Writer because she believes experiential learning can alleviate a lot of the challenges she encountered while transitioning between higher-ed and the professional work environment.