Professional Collaboration: How Teams, Businesses, and Governments can Truly Thrive

This will be the first of a 13-part series exploring Cooperation and Collaborative Business Model.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” – African Proverb


Let’s talk about working together

For those of us who grew up on Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, we have been familiar with the concept of cooperation and working with others. Many of us have played team sports, participated in group projects, and have pitched in to help others out. The basic idea of cooperation has been part of our lives for many years and is not a novel concept.

Then you might ask, “If we have been cooperating for years and understand how it works, why would this topic be so important that it requires a 13-part article series?” Fair Question.

Just because we have been going through the motion of cooperating and working with others does not mean we understand the full value of it. Cooperation and its close friend, collaboration, are immensely valuable and versatile tools that can be used in simple, everyday ways or in intricate, complex, and incredibly profitable strategies. Not bad for something first explained to you by Big Bird.

 Cooperation vs Collaboration

It is easy to think that cooperating and collaborating are the same thing, but in reality, they are similar but not quite the same. To summarize the distinction, I’ve offered these definitions derived from a Harvard Business Review article.

Cooperation is about working alongside others and fulfilling your role while sharing your time and resources to complete your objective. This can be seen people by helping a friend move, or different departments in a corporation fulfilling their role in building a large proposal, or people working as a team to complete an objective. Cooperation is about a team of individuals working together.

Collaboration is about creating a shared vision that binds a group of individuals together to work as a unified entity to bring the vision to life. This can be seen in a family working as one unit to create an amazing thanksgiving meal or a group of writers creating a script together building upon each other’s ideas. Collaboration is about a unified group bound by a shared vision and mindset.

 Whichever road you take, make sure you do not go alone

Now that we have clarified what cooperation and collaboration are, let’s take a look at why they are so important.

Part of achieving greatness is about learning how to make the best decisions possible. In this increasingly complex world, we are facing growing complex decisions. Steven Johnson, in his book Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most talks about how governments and corporations act in hierarchies that require management to make the important decisions and individuals are expected to completely understand all angles of increasingly complex issues. He goes on to discuss how this is counter to making impactful decisions by outlining the importance of multiple points of view and a diversity of perspectives. By building diverse and collaborative teams, you can significantly increase your success in tackling complex challenges and making a substantial impact. Working in isolation with a single point of view ensures that you will miss key elements and may require you to have deep expertise in numerous fields, which is unrealistic. By cooperating and collaborating, you can bring in multiple view points and different areas of expertise which allows you to specialize in your area of strength. This is how great achievements happen.

Sometimes your best collaborators are your competition

In an earlier article series that I published on LinkedIn Pulse on innovation, I touched on an interesting concept of cooperation through competition. In my article Unlocking Innovation (Part VI of VI): Don’t tackle it alone, I explain this concept called “coopetition”:

Coopetition is a business ideology taken directly from insights gained from game theory. Coopetition games are statistical models that consider the ways in which synergy can be created by partnering with competitors. It is somewhat like sibling rivalry or competition within a family, where the overall goal is to increase the success of all parties, but there is a secondary friendly competition that adds an extra level of motivation and lifts the game of all involved. This can look like three cafes that occupy the same busy street corner. Instead of being in direct competition with each other and each trying to get a bigger slice of the existing customer base, they all come together to increase the customer base.

The Takeaway

Cooperation and Collaboration have been ingrained in us for most of our lives. They actually come more naturally to people than being in competition, but we don’t instinctively think of using them. When the world was simple, an individual with drive and focus could accomplish great things; however, those days are over. In our growing and complex world, we need to dust off our cooperative and collaborative skills and truly work together if we are going to do anything of significance. Competition had its time in the 20th century. Now it is time for cooperation and collaboration to take us into the future.


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