Collaboration vs Cooperation: is the proposition real?

Writing about collaboration, educating people through workshops, strategic planning sessions and so on inevitably creates opportunities for learning new things and, perhaps more importantly, thinking about new challenges and questions posed by clients and audiences.  One of the interesting questions I am often asked is how collaboration differs from cooperation.  More specifically, there are times when dialogue emerges indicating how cooperation is in fact a better way to go than collaboration, etc.

Some tend to place more value on cooperation. ROADMENDER Recommends further reading  the piece by Harold Jarche : http://www.jarche.com/2012/08/trust-is-an-emergent-property-of-effective-networks/

Some tend to place more value on cooperation. ROADMENDER Recommends further reading the piece by Harold Jarche : http://www.jarche.com/2012/08/trust-is-an-emergent-property-of-effective-networks/

I would not go so far as to say that there’s ever a real debate, but I will acknowledge that, while discussion does tend to emerge, it doesn’t often really develop or flourish.  In part, a lot of this is an exercise in unexamined trend seeking.  It is really hard to think about the difference between concepts such these two and truly not stumble upon the simple fact that neither concept has the degree of maturity required to yield a reliable starting point.

While a lot has been said about both these concepts, we do not have the necessary data to see which kind of collaborations and cooperatives work and which do not.  It is highly likely that either kind works and also has its share of failures.  But, that is not sufficient for a serious comparative analysis.  I personally think we are not talking seriously about one overriding proposition.  However, I do think that collaboration has not yet been utilised to its full capacity.  Until it is, looking for another new thing will be a part and parcel of management innovation.

Having said that, I prefer collaboration for a number of reasons: one being the clear advantage in its potential for innovation, which stems from creative tension.  Another feature of collaboration which is not the case with co-operation is that it changes the practitioner and the enterprise.  I believe that if collaboration does not change you, then you are not collaborating.  The change comes from the disruptive interaction that occurs when partners challenge our stand, values and beliefs, not because they want to better us but because of the process of understanding something comes only through inquiry.  Questioning is the first step to “dare to know” which Immanuel Kant famously used as the catch phrase of the age of enlightenment.  Collaboration does not come about without some kind of organisational enlightenment.  Implicit in this is the role of a rational and strategic approach that is supported by evidence, rather than some feel-good temporary gimmick.

..but then...story is not as simple as we hoped for...ROADMENDER Recommends this piece by Shawn Callahan [http://www.anecdote.com/2008/12/when-should-we-collaborate/]

..but then…story is not as simple as we hoped for…ROADMENDER Recommends this piece by Shawn Callahan [http://www.anecdote.com/2008/12/when-should-we-collaborate/]

Another telling sign in favour of collaboration is that it is much more suitable for freelancers, small businesses and people who come from a very different level of capacity.  Collaboration is a more open process as it allows for less of a ‘moral’ duty factor to dictate how two enterprises interact, in favour of existing market forces.  People do like to do things they feel they have control over, which is not as implied in the co-operation process.  If one looks at the number of collaborations today in what Rolf Jensen called ‘the dream society’ (the art world, design, fashion, entertainment industries, etc.), then it is very clear that collaboration appeals to creatives and knowledge workers.  This is a very important indicator of the collaborative power to transform enterprises and individuals while allowing them creative control.

Finally, it is important to reflect on many other areas of collaborative and co-operative practices from a governance, leadership and risk-management perspective.  It is within these confines that the true test lies.  While both practices aim to amplify the capacities of two or more entities, the net benefit may vary significantly, largely due to the capacity of each enterprise to adopt one or another approach.  Systematic requirements of collaboration and co-operation differ and the difference can become critical to the final outcome.


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5 replies »

  1. Cooperation can be at the level of merely not putting roadblocks in front of other people, and it often involves quid pro quo, because it happens between two people. Collaboration, on the other hand, demands that all the participants serve (collectively) the needs of the team (not the sum of the team members but the construct we call ‘team’.) Cooperation is part of living in a civilized society; collaboration can make that society innovative, resilient, and able to meet the demands of growth into an unknowable future.

    • Janice, that is a brilliant way of explaining the dynamic interplay between the two areas. The point of cooperation as a broader societal function makes me think of Adam Smith’s invisible hand concept but more in relation to cultural functioning of the market.
      thanks for sharing

  2. I believe the reason behind the fact that collaboration appeals to creative types and knowledge workers is their attitude and pleasure toward giving their “art” and knowledge freely and without any reciprocal intent….

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