Collaboration vs. Cooperation

On Quora someone asked about the difference between collaboration and cooperation.

Danny was first to answer with:

Collaboration is “working together toward a shared goal”. I don’t know the formal definition of cooperation but guess it means “working together”. People do not require a shared goal to cooperate.

I headed out for a bike ride and thought about the question while riding, and wrote this when I came back:

Collaboration requires two V’s … values-alignment, and a willingness to be vulnerable (give bad ideas, get heated feedback, accept it as part of the collaborative process).


Cooperation requires neither.

For me, there’s a lot more of the concept of compliance / doing what you’re asked to do / going along with the requests of another person in cooperation … whether or not you agree fully with the direction or requested action. Or if you’d do it a different way yourself.

Alternately, collaboration, if you embrace the strategy and behaviour of collaboration as more than just a current buzzword to which you give lip service, requires a shared values, the give-and-take of communication, a commonly valued outcome, and a few other things.

Your thoughts?

3 thoughts on “Collaboration vs. Cooperation

  1. My mental construct involves a spectrum of four ‘C’ concepts, with increasing levels of self-governance:

    1. Compliance. One or more people following orders or adhering to a set of standards or rules determined externally and pursuing an externally set goal. Master-servant relationship.

    2. Coordination. Individuals or groups working separately toward an externally set goal with lots of externally set parameters but with increased autonomy within those parameters. Different work groups with assigned responsibilities as part of a larger task, having to share information to not get in each other’s way. Not able to change any of the higher level rules or goals.

    3. Cooperation. Individuals or groups working together toward an externally set goal with externally set parameters, but with the ability to adjust the assignments and the working parameters as long as it is done in service of the externally set overall goal. Much more autonomy in process but not in goals.

    4. Collaboration. Individuals or groups who agree to work together to set a goal and parameters for achieving it. At this level, the group is empowered not just to change the working rules, but because they ‘own’ the task, they ‘own’ the goal and can change the goal.

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