The Difference Between Collaboration and Cooperation

What’s the difference between collaboration and cooperation? On the surface, they seem to have a lot in common. After all, they both relate to people working together to achieve something specific. When we collaborate and cooperate effectively, we’re more likely to achieve goals, overcome challenges and even foster a more creative workplace.

However, while cooperation and collaboration have a lot of overlapping elements, they’re not exactly the same thing. There’s a small, but crucial difference between these two concepts, which is important to understand when you’re managing a diverse team .

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the meaning of both collaboration and cooperation, to help you understand how they differ.

Collaboration vs Cooperation: What is Collaboration?

The best way to understand the differences between collaboration and cooperation, is to identify what each term means individually. Let’s start with examining the definition of “collaboration”.

Collaboration is one of the most important things you can nurture in any business. It refers to instances when groups of people come together and work on a project in a unified manner. Collaboration can take place in a number of different ways. It could involve having members of staff working at the same time on a document with the help of a digital productivity tool. It could also involve bringing numerous team members together in-person to address a project.

With collaboration, there’s a shared outcome, mission or objective that everyone in the group is trying to achieve. While each person may have a different role to play in reaching the goal, they’re all working towards the same vision. For instance, if a business was working on launching a new product, various members of staff from the manufacturing, production, sales and marketing team might come together to collaborate on the optimum method of bringing the solution to the market.

An example of collaboration:

A salesperson and marketing professional work together to discuss a new campaign to increase leads and opportunities for the business. The salesperson shares their insights from working on the frontlines with customers and leads, while the marketing professional offers their advice on marketing best practices. As a result, the two come up with a mutually valuable plan for converting customers.

Collaboration vs Cooperation: What is Cooperation?

What is Cooperation?

So, what’s cooperation? Similar to collaboration, cooperation involves two or more people working together. However, the main difference here is that they’re not necessarily working towards a shared “goal” that they all take ownership of. Instead, they’re working in support of another person’s goal.

For instance, if a business leader needed to increase the number of deal opportunities they were presenting to shareholders each month, they might ask their team members to cooperate with them on pursuing more deals and exploring new strategies.

The key difference between collaboration and cooperation is that with collaboration, the goal being worked towards is shared by everyone involved. With cooperation, there’s no real “shared vision”. Although the people cooperating on a project may understand the other person’s goals, and value them, they don’t necessarily take “ownership” of those goals themselves.

An example of collaboration:

A project manager working on a task for an important client discovers that they’re unlikely to deliver the desired results within the deadline, due to a huge workload. They turn to their colleagues for assistance, and delegate work to different members of staff to speed up production. All of the team members cooperate to ensure the deadline is met.

It All Comes Down to Ownership

Ultimately, both collaboration and cooperation revolve around teamwork, and the importance of “sharing the load” between different members of staff. The fundamental difference between a collaborative environment, and a cooperative one is ownership.

Collaboration implies everyone working on the same project because they’re driven by the same vision, mission and goals. Everyone is equally invested in achieving a specific outcome, because it benefits them directly, as well as benefiting the business as a whole. Cooperation doesn’t have the same degree of shared ownership. It involves people actively helping others to achieve their goals, without being invested in the outcome themselves.

It’s often the shared ownership in collaboration that makes a “collaborative” workplace feel more engaged than a cooperative one. When everyone feels like they’re working towards the same goal, it creates a natural sense of camaraderie in the company. It also means everyone is equally committed to achieving something, so it’s more likely that everyone will deliver their best work.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that cooperation is worse than collaboration, however. There will be times when people need to cooperate in order to ensure that the broader goals of the business are met. Goals can’t always be shared on a business-wide basis. Nevertheless, cooperation does require a lot less investment.

Understanding Collaboration and Cooperation in the Workplace

Understanding Collaboration and Cooperation in the Workplace

Understanding how collaboration and cooperation work in your business environment is crucial for ensuring sustainable growth and employee engagement. Both collaboration and cooperation require a dedicated focus on effective communication in the workplace, and a strong company culture.

Here’s what collaboration and cooperation look like in the workplace:

Collaboration in the workplace:

A company that builds a thriving culture of collaboration is defined by an environment where everyone shares the same vision, purpose and goals. In a collaborative landscape, everyone knows the role they play in accomplishing the organization’s targets, and they’re all equally involved in making the brand’s dream a reality.

While each individual employee may have their own specific tasks and goals, they’re still motivated, inspired, and engaged by the overall vision of the company. This creates an environment where everyone can thrive. However, collaboration in the workplace can be stifled by:

To ensure a collaborative workplace is effective, business leaders need to ensure that everyone can stay on the same page, without being overwhelmed by too much information.

Cooperation in the workplace:

A cooperative workplace describes an environment where everyone may have different goals and visions, but they’re still willing to work together for the greater good. When a workplace is truly cooperative, employees know they have a role to play in ensuring all of their colleagues are successful, not just themselves. This can create a greater sense of morale and solidarity.

In most cooperative workplaces, employees are encouraged to pursue their own interests, and even act competitively at times. However, everyone is expected to be willing to help others.

A lack of cooperation can begin to fester when team members are encouraged to be too competitive or self-focused. Cooperation can also suffer when employees are expected to help others too much, as this can lead to burnout and overwhelm.

Should You Focus on Collaboration or Cooperation?

Should You Focus on Collaboration or Cooperation?

So, is it better to have a collaborative team , or a cooperative team?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Both cooperation and collaboration are valuable in the business environment, and they both have different purposes. Ideally, a workplace should foster a culture that’s both collaborative and cooperative.

In instances where people need to focus on their own individual goals and targets, cooperative work should be encouraged. However, for overall business success, every employee should feel as though they belong to a collaborative team.

Here are some steps you can take to improve both collaboration and cooperation in the workplace:

Step 1: Identify the roadblocks

To improve collaboration and cooperation in the workplace, the first thing you’ll need to do is determine what is preventing them from thriving in the first place. Make a list of the areas where communication and teamwork start to break down in your office or landscape.

For instance, you may have noticed certain groups or segments of the workforce separating into “cliques”, based on their specific knowledge or tasks. You might find that workflows stall and information silos appear when employees don’t have access to the right technology.

In today’s hybrid and remote world of work, a lack of cooperation and collaboration can even stem from physical distance between employees. If staff members can’t interact face-to-face, they need another way to connect seamlessly with people who have different communication styles. This means businesses need to invest in tools for chat, video and audio conferencing.

Ask yourself:

  • Why do people choose not to work together in your business?
  • What prevents people from collaborating or connecting effectively?
  • Are there any personality gaps between employees that need to be addressed?
  • How do people tend to communicate their needs?
  • How are shared goals defined in the workplace?

Step 2: Take a collaborative approach to solving problems

Once you’ve identified the roadblocks in your business that might be preventing effective collaboration and cooperation, the next step is to start fixing them. The best way to do this is to seek out guidance from your employees. Speak to your team members about their issues, and ask for their input on what they feel you should be changing to improve day-to-day interactions.

Come up with a strategy as a team to make the workplace more collaborative and cooperative. This could mean creating a set of shared goals and missions you share with the entire team, to help encourage a more collaborative mindset. You could even start rewarding people for collaborative and cooperative behavior, to encourage a change in company culture.

Implement strategies that will help to bring team members closer together. For instance, you could install a messaging and communication app like Brosix, and arrange for regular weekly meetings where teams can come together to discuss their goals, and ask for help when needed.

Combined with productivity tools, solutions like Brosix can help you to track the success of your collaboration strategies, and boost efficiency in the workplace. 

Learn more about the top productivity apps with our popular article:
30+ Best Productivity Apps to Get More Done in 2024

Pay attention to metrics like employee engagement, and ask yourself how your team’s performance changes when you implement new collaborative practices. 

Step 3: Infuse collaboration and cooperation into company culture

Finally, creating a truly collaborative and cooperative workplace isn’t done overnight. It requires constant work and effort. You’ll need to commit to making fundamental changes to your business processes, and how people work together.

This could mean updating policies to create a more “inclusive environment”. For instance, rather than having meetings about business growth in-house, invite everyone to get involved in the conversation with regular video conferencing sessions. This will help to minimize information silos, and stop hybrid and remote workers from feeling isolated.

Encourage business leaders and managers to demonstrate collaborative and cooperative practices, by asking them to work with other department heads and assist employees whenever possible. Reward people who show collaborative values and constantly collect and respond to feedback from your teams. If you can successfully make collaboration and cooperation part of your overall culture, you’ll find that your teams are significantly more likely to thrive.

Investing in Collaboration and Cooperation

Investing in Collaboration and Cooperation

At first glance, collaboration and cooperation can appear to be two words for the same thing. They both focus heavily on the importance of teamwork. However, there is a major difference between the two terms. Collaboration addresses situations in which people work together on a shared goal, while cooperation involves working with others to help them achieve their individual goals.

Though these two concepts are different, they’re not at odds with each other. It’s entirely possible to create a workplace that’s both collaborative and cooperative. All you need is the right approach, some effective team technology and a commitment to keeping people connected.

Learn how you can drive improved collaboration and cooperation in your workplace today with a free demo of Brosix:
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Radina Skortcheva

Radina Skorcheva is a Affiliate Manager at Brosix, with expertise in Content Marketing and SEO. Passionate about facilitating brand communication and fostering business growth, Radina utilizes impactful digital strategies. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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