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You Should Collaborate, Not Just Cooperate


Your first question is probably:

What’s the difference?


Most organizations do a decent job of cooperating within teams and between teams. You’re aware of what the other teams do, you’ve aligned your goals, and communication is good.


And if they don’t have these things you probably have a toxic environment. You know, the kind of environment you don’t walk away from… you run.


Far fewer organizations are truly collaborative. Goals aren’t just aligned, they’re shared, communication is constant and multi-channel. You aren’t just aware of what other teams do, you’re invested in their success. In an organization like this it’s not just a cliche when they say we all win together, it’s a lived experience.


Why bother?

An organization that is collaborative is efficient and much less stressful for all involved. Even with good workflows there are friction points, problems come up and things go wrong. Dealing with all of this is much less stressful and less work in a collaborative organisation. People who are less stressed are happier, and happy people do better work and provide better service.

Ever been on a call with customer service and they sound miserable? How often does that go well?


You can have fantastic workflows and ‘perfect’ tools, but if the people using them aren’t truly collaborating it will all go to hell as soon as it comes under any pressure or something doesn’t work as planned.

It is impossible to design a process or workflow that covers every eventuality. One day something will come up that doesn’t fit the model, and that’s when a collaborative organisation will really shine.


This is why at The Better Process Company we create people first processes.


What does collaboration look like?

It can be very subtle, and you’ll probably find that some people are really collaborative (or trying to be) and others are cooperating.


It’s not that cooperation is bad - but collaboration is better.


If you want to know which side of that divide you are on you need to be scrupulously honest with yourself and answer the following questions:


  1. Do I understand the goals of other teams?

  2. Do I fully understand how those goals, and mine, fit into the success of the organization?

  3. Are we all working together to achieve those goals?

  4. Do I trust and respect the other members of other teams?

  5. Are we mutually transparent about all the factors (good and bad) affecting our work?


If you answered ‘no’ to more than one of those, you aren’t collaborating.

(As an exercise, go through them again, but from the perspective of your interactions within your team - more than one ‘no’ probably means you’re not really cooperating either)


There are other signs of collaboration, but those five are the most important for me.



You’re Collaborating-ish, now what?


I doubt you answered no to all five questions. (If you did, we need to talk, your company has issues) What can you do to move to a more collaborative environment?


The key to successful collaboration is understanding. The deeper your understanding of others (both as people and as teams) the closer you will be to collaborating. You achieve this through totally open communication, what is sometimes called Radical Honesty. If you keep anything from those you’re talking with they cannot completely understand your situation.

If you’ve ever had the experience of working with someone and they’re doing something that seems odd - you just don’t fully understand their situation, or they don’t understand yours.

You can only fix this with communication.

It’s just like any relationship. Any relationship counselor will say that you and your partner need to be totally honest with each other. It’s the same in a business relationship. They will also say it takes work.



There are 1000’s of books on effective communication, I’m sure you can find one that fits your situation.


I’ll leave you with my tip for effective communication.

Listen to understand, not to reply. To do this practice active listening.

I’ve found this makes a huge difference in relationships of all kinds.





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