Why Collaboration Trumps Cooperation On Teams


“Collaboration is hard.” –The Science of Teamwork

When I was a student, I greatly disliked group projects.  There were many reasons, mostly stemming from my big-headed idea that I could do better all by myself.  Then I figured out that everyone in the group was thinking the same thing!  What we were really doing, according to the article I linked above, was cooperating, not collaborating.

What’s the difference?  Cooperating means identifying a common goal and proceeding on an individual path which fits under the umbrella of the goal.  Cooperation means the goal can be accomplished singly and then fit together neatly at the end.  Cooperation, according to the article, means that each individual can be praised for their particular effort.

Collaboration is hard, but necessary, if our teams are to accomplish anything great.  Collaboration is messy and sometimes emotional because it necessitates that give up their personal desires for the greater good of the team.  So how do we take our teams from cooperating to collaborating.

3 ways to encourage collaboration on our teams

Give up individual goals.  I know that we all talk to our players about their particular goals for the season…and that’s a good thing.  But it’s not the first thing.  If the team wins a national championship, but that player didn’t accomplish all of her goals, I’d hope she would see the season as a resounding success.

Emotional give and take.  When I was a player, me and a friend (who also happened to be a teammate) where fighting for the same starting position.  Both of us had to be adults about the decision that was going to be made…one of us would start and the other wouldn’t.  And it would be for the good of the team.  As hard and emotional and challenging as the situation was, it was worth it because it wasn’t about us, but about the team.

Work in new ways that may not be comfortable.  I would guess that all coaches are in the business of challenging our players.  We challenge them to try different skill techniques.  We challenge them to be vocal leaders.  We challenge them to think more critically about our sport.  And all of that challenging isn’t comfortable for them…but they do it (or at least they should) for the good of the team.  They understand that their coach wouldn’t ask them to do anything that wouldn’t also greatly benefit the team.

While it’s harder to receive individual accolades using the collaboration method, it’s crucial for our teams to embrace the challenge.