Cooperation Can Be Bought, but Collaboration is Priceless

What is priceless about collaboration – and why are people talking about it?

I think the increased commentary on collaboration is linked to the role of social media in entertainment, advertising, politics, and social pressure. The ability of a voice to be heard from a crowd has been transformed. Yet that is enabled by an innate desire for people to come together, to get something of a great or “noble” purpose and value done.

To be clear: Collaboration is not cooperation. People have been buying cooperation since the beginning of time. The first records you can find are of trades and contracts from ancient civilizations. If you think of buying and selling as cooperation, we indeed surround ourselves with cooperation every day.

Collaboration can’t be bought, but it can be inspired. The quality of the effort is distinctly different when a person or a group voluntarily signs up for something or chooses to participate. When people collaborate, they are connected to something larger than their self-interests, hence the phrase “noble purpose.” I think this is manifesting itself in a much larger way now that we have technology allowing us to see what matters to people across the globe.

I have been asked: In the context of an organization, is there an imperative to go beyond cooperation to reach collaboration? I think it depends on the business and what the leaders are out to accomplish. If leadership is committed to taking their business forward in an extraordinary way – a way that outperforms the norm – then collaboration can be crucial to producing exceptional performance. I’d go as far as saying that there are certain challenges in the world that you can only solve through collaboration.

So if the leadership want their enterprise to break through and perform in a way they’ve never done before, they may have to figure out how to create an environment of collaboration. They will have to get people participating because they care more about finding a way forward than anything else.

When collaboration happens, people find themselves wanting to win not because the boss is asking for it and not because their salary is at stake, but because they care about what winning means. They’re more interested in the outcomes than perhaps the credit they’re going to get, or the personal gain that might usually be their motivation.

Not only is collaboration effective, it is meaningful. In our work, we have seen time and again that people generally want this sense of purpose, and they gravitate toward leaders and organizations that make it possible.