Are you co-operating or co-ordinating?
When you give something to a third party, you create a link and seal a relationship with a mutual indebtedness. This could include transmitting know-how, sharing the achievements of a contract, proposing joint working on a project or unveiling a collaborative working tool by proposing that you work using that environment to name a few.
There are a number of situations where you are giving and inviting the other to reciprocate. Perhaps you’re familiar with that feeling that you’re under an obligation when one of your colleagues suggests that you work with them on a project. Remember, of course, that you are in relationships with others and that they do not always respond in predictable ways! Be creative in your communication!
Consider the illustration below and try to identify elements of co-ordination and co-operation, based on your understanding of the two:
You co-ordinate activities when, just like the traffic light, you put systems and tools in place that regulate the organisation. This can be seen as a more confined, task-oriented approach.
That’s the case when, for example, you set up a business reporting tool that’s mandatory for you and others. There’s no need to have shared goals. That has some advantages: it’s a relatively safe, predictable, pleasant way of operating on the human level, because it’s conflict-free. But that way of working also has constraints, such as the risk of longer timescales and dissatisfaction in the medium term, because activities are compartmentalised, and you’ve lessened your autonomy (and that of your colleagues).
You co-operate with others when you create a link and the main goal is shared with all the players. Everyone must be responsible for their own goals and achievements and operate in framework of openness and freedom. This is suited to people who have a high level of autonomy (in all the aspects previously seen).
The more you know how to listen to and spend time thinking of others (whether this means your client, your subcontractor, your colleague, your supplier), the better you'll know how to build close ties and develop the right conditions for co-operation.
These two approaches can work in conjunction with each other. For example, you can apply the traffic light system when dealing with the communications needed for stakeholders, and inter-change this with collaborative working methods to move the project on creatively.
Give and thou shalt receive!
Here’s two approaches to seeing how we behave and respond:
The rational choice theory states that human behaviour will, above all, be dictated by material self-interest.
Norbert Alter argues for the reciprocal gift approach to explain most behaviour. According to him, “Co-operation rests above all on altruistic attitudes and not self-interest. People co-operate with the goal of establishing ties, of relating to others. The relationship is sought for its own sake. Generosity is needed to form a team.”
You can decide for yourselves which is true. Perhaps both will be at play at different times in your engagement with others.
There’s nothing like an example to aid understanding:
Two HR consultants have replied to a call for tenders to support a consortium of employers on an HR initiative. One of them, Natasha, was independent and the other, Clara, was an employee in a well-known consultancy.
The first time they met, it was to defend their proposals.
Their strength lay in their differences. Against all expectations, both their applications were accepted, with an instruction from the principal: “Your approaches are complementary, so please we would like you to set up a shared support service."
Each of them had specific goals: Natasha was driven to succeed, because this was her core business, and could bring her enough work for the year. Clara was driven to succeed, because she wanted to develop the reputation of her consultancy in this line of business. On the face of it, the two consultants were clearly competitors rather than allies.
That was without counting on the magic of co-operation. They met, exchanged their visions, their expectations, their limits and the working conditions they needed. As trust developed, they shared their information and documents. They agreed on a schedule, a shared tool. They took the time to debrief about their achievements, their successes and their problems. They took the time to have lunch and get to know each other. Clara met with more success than Natasha with the employers’ consortium. Natasha continued to play the game, to contribute additional information and to give time to Clara. In the long term, the outcome was very advantageous for Natasha, who continued to work with Clara’s consultancy for a number of years. 😁
Build a co-operation-friendly environment
Three essential components will enable you to give yourself the right conditions for building your team’s co-operation (again, whether it’s ephemeral or lasting).
Have common goals
Agree on what links you in the activity you have to implement. You can agree that you will work jointly with someone who doesn’t have the same goal as you do.
You’ve accepted an assignment because it’s for a client you like, and you want to keep them while your subcontractor is looking for a financial advantage. Together, your goal can be trying collaboration and seeing what's in it.
Set up a shared organisation
Workplace tools, a way of thought or of production, the pace of discussion are means to organise working conditions with others and, if necessary, give them the autonomy they need.
Encourage good interpersonal skills
Encourage confidence in each other, which will enable you to work autonomously. This is where you activate all the communication tools previously seen. Don’t hesitate to give every sign of positive recognition (whether physical, verbal or non-verbal). They are what will solidify the relationship, the cohesion of a team and motivation.
Knowing how to co-operate isn’t that simple. Be clear in your mind about the quality of the relationship that you are building with others. Co-operation will help develop your self-confidence and enable you to get into a positive spiral of gifting, which will allow you to act more and more easily, in a completely autonomous way with others.
Now you're ready to put what you've learned to the test by creating a concrete action plan!