Collaboration is a key skill for succeeding in school and life. With businesses seeking employees able to work in teams and collaborate on projects, more educators are looking for ways to incorporate these skills into the learning process. “Everyone needs to be able to collaborate in a group, because that’s how things are done in the real world. No one sits alone and works by themselves any more,” says Stan Silverman, director of technology-based learning systemsat the New York Institute of Technology.

In a recent Technology Review interview, Irene Greif gave her views on this key skill. She helped found the field of computer-supported cooperative work and is now an IBM fellow as well as director of collaborative user experience in IBM Research.

“I have always believed that collaboration is most meaningful when you are really creating something together and when you are sharing your thoughts before they are finished products. If I am only willing to show you something that is a polished document, you might edit or change it a little, but you are not really doing it with me … People have to trust each other to do that. It is risky to show people your unfinished thoughts …. Social software … could make it possible for more of our attempts at collaboration to be real collaboration.”

The caveat according to David Coleman, founder of Collaborative Strategies an industry advisory, is that  “collaboration itself just for the benefit of interacting really doesn’t have a huge amount of value… What it really needs to do is sell the outcomes or the goals that come out of the collaboration.”

In his new book – The Culture of Collaboration – author Evan Rosen describes how collaborative culture is changing business models and the nature of work. He provides compelling examples from organizations including Toyota, Boeing, Procter & Gamble, DreamWorks, The Dow Chemical Company, and Industrial Light and Magic. “Bridging cultural gaps creates a dynamic dimension perhaps unattainable with homogenous groups of collaborators. Diversity of cultures produces broader perspectives that give collaborators an edge, particularly in solving complex engineering problems.”