Collaboration and Cooperation. What’s the difference?

by Aug 26, 2022

Collaboration and cooperation are used interchangeably in the workplace, but should they be? What’s the difference between them? 

It turns out one is facilitated by managers and the organization, while the other is a personal choice (which can of course be influenced by managers and the organization). 

Collaboration is facilitated by management teams that support people working together for a common goal. There’s a shared purpose which elevates the organization’s core values.

When you embed a collaborative performance process in the culture of your workplace, for example, there’s room for the healthy free flow of ideas without the fear of being shot down. Production, innovation, employee satisfaction, engagement and more all increase.


When a company discourages collaboration, which we often find our client’s doing on accident, a toxic culture can show up. So here’s five tips for creating a culture of collaboration:

    1. Create an environment where your employees can communicate openly and honestly. Allow them to be their authentic selves, to be vulnerable and empathetic – which means you have to be your authentic self, and be vulnerable and empathetic. 
    2. Ensure transparency on all levels, from best practices and the sharing of information to organizational challenges. This includes being vulnerable as well, because it takes courage to be open about your own challenges with work, processes, or responsibilities. I always say to participants in my management training sessions that they’re probably only sharing 50% of what they should be, and everyone must get more comfortable at sharing way, way more information. 
    3. Become a master of respectful giving and receiving of feedback. Collaboration and trust increase when you weave feedback into your workflow. Also, many managers and supervisors are very focused on giving their own feedback and not too great at receiving it. Feedback sessions should absolutely be two ways. (If you’re looking for strategies to help improve your skills, check out our trainings at this link.)
    4. Be intentional when providing resources to help your employees succeed, including technology and digital communication tools. According to a Harvard Business Review survey, 67% of workers said lack of effective communication lines is the greatest obstacle to collaboration.
    5. Create environments where employees can share ideas, visions, responsibilities and cooperation with teammates. When your employees feel engaged with the company values, there’s space for those crazy ideas to flow that just might work! Not sure if that’s happening in your workforce, we can help you by conducting a climate assessment.

Cooperation, however, lives in your people and it’s about being ready and willing to help one another for the shared benefit of the project and organization. For example, when your colleague is working on a task that’s dependent upon others’ tasks, it takes both parties completing their portion to get to the end result. Understanding the bigger picture supports healthy cooperation and everyone needs to understand the WHY of the task or project.


Here’s five tips for creating a culture of cooperation:

    1. See all the tips above to ensure people can collaborate to achieve the end goal!
    2. Conduct frequent and ongoing check-ins with your employees and ask them what they need from you to be successful.
    3. Provide regular updates on tasks, projects and goals so everyone is on the same page with less miscommunication.
    4. Increase teamwork by conducting regular trust-building activities. This will deepen connections with your workforce and therefore support cooperation. When your employees know one another better, rapport is strengthened and they are more likely to ask for and give help. We suggest this little gem for lots of great ideas (that aren’t cheesy, promise).
    5. Celebrate company, team, and team member wins as often as possible. Create a culture that encourages and facilitates acknowledgment of accomplishments – it’ll inspire camaraderie and cooperation. 

When you understand the difference between collaboration and cooperation, and you understand your role in facilitating both within your team and organization, you’ll nurture a company culture that’s happy and thriving.

Don’t let confusion and murky workplace problems arise in your workplace!

Join us for a free webinar on September 27 to learn strategies for building a culture of collaboration through performance management. For more info, click here.



Kathy & The Civility Partners Team

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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