Collaboration vs cooperation: What's the difference?

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Picture of The Ripple Team
The Ripple Team

on August 20 2020

Collaboration Cooperation

Collaboration and cooperation are integral to any successful team, but there’s one key difference between the two: ownership. Cooperation is two people carrying separate logs to the same fire – ultimately, they are responsible for each individual log. Collaboration, however, is two people carrying their logs together to that fire.  

In this blog, we explain why the difference between collaboration and cooperation is important to your business.  

Collaboration vs cooperation: band member or roadie? 

We’ll try and keep this short and sweet. Cooperation is accomplished by the division of labour in a team, where each person is responsible for solving their piece of the group puzzle. Collaboration, however, is when every team member is responsible for the whole puzzle, together.  

To use another analogy: Band members are collaborators – they write and play songs together, and they’re equally responsible for the band. Roadies, on the other hand, are cooperators – they get paid to support the vision of the band.  

Here’s why the difference is important 

At the end of the day, band members still have songs and a platform to play them, even without roadies. Sure, roadies might help assist with an epic light show, but songs will be played regardless, and people will listen. 

Without the band, though, roadies are just bald, bloated, burly men (often with a beard) who are out on the street corner looking for work. 

What we’re trying to say is this: To succeed at something, your team needs to share a vision and be equally accountable to that vision. While those who cooperate are essential (a director can’t make a movie without the cooperation of an actor), it’s those who collaborate that bring more ideas to the table, and it’s this diversity of thought that makes great things, well… great. 

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At the heart, good communication 

Fundamentally, collaborators and cooperators are just people working together. And although collaboration might be the ‘buzziest’ word in the business dictionary, nobody ever did anything alone. Steve Jobs needed Wozniak, Batman needed Alfred, and Han Solo needed Chewbacca (oh, and Han definitely shot first). 

While none of these famous collaborations had video conferencingintranets or instant messaging tools at their disposal, they did have three different things required for communication and cooperation: trust, vulnerability and the ability to divvy up the control. 

Developing communication between your employees 

Collaborative teams are five times higher performing than cooperative teams, because they feel motivated towards the same goal. At the same time, 86 percent of executives in this survey believed that a lack of collaboration was response for workplace failures. 

Developing collaboration requires you to communicate your goals, ideas and expectations as openly and transparently as possible, and to everyone involved. To do this effectively, though, you all need to be under one roof. To paraphrase Henry Ford –  only then can everyone move forward together, and only then will the success take care of itself. 

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