What does collaborating or cooperating together mean?
The term “dependence” implies the subordination or subjection of one person or thing to another; in other words, to depend on someone or something else for one’s survival. At the opposite end of the spectrum we have its antonym: “independence”, in which one is not subject to someone else, but maintains one’s own opinions without being led by others. A step beyond these terms is “interdependence”, a term used by Covey to define a more evolved concept of one’s relationship with others. This term is also linked to the idea of cooperativism, whereby communal needs and problems are dealt with through shared enterprise and objectives.
Where and with whom do we collaborate or cooperate together?
Today more than ever, and in organisations of every kind, increasing importance is given to the capacity to form relationships and establish links or connections of a horizontal, formal or cross-cutting nature, with both internal clients (employees, stakeholders, partners) and external clients (consumers, suppliers, etc.). Furthermore, these interactions must favour relationships that are positive, egalitarian and inclusive, and which make the most of the diversity of situations, conceptions and both formal and informal structures. Significant developments have been made in terms of intellectual capital, intangible assets and another well-known concept that has entered the lexicon: knowledge management.
Why should we cooperate together?
It is a way of laying the foundations for the wellbeing of the community, where multi-agent organisations can achieve their proposed visions and missions by opening up channels of communication in which everyone works towards the synchronisation of common objectives and shares values, with joint administration of available resources and individual competences. From here stems the concept of groupwork; and from there, a further evolutionary step towards teamwork: even between different organisations and systems. Thus, we can move from the concepts of distribution and exchange to those of coordination and associativism.
How do we cooperate together?
By defining compatible objectives that are to everyone’s benefit, instead of antagonistic objectives that have no winners or losers (or are indifferent to or incompatible with either party).
In a flexible, changing and competitive environment like today’s, we need skills that can straddle both leadership and support. Because our current context is not one where everything is stable and under control – on the contrary, we are faced with a context in which it is not enough to simply do things well: we must do them in a balanced manner, focusing our minds on change and improvement – it is necessary to formulate and reformulate our vision and – without losing sight of it – be prepared to break the rules and let our creativity loose; to energise ourselves and let our charisma flow. Today, it is not easy for organisations to survive, and even harder for those that cannot offer leadership and support skills while fostering them in others. For this reason, we must develop competences that improve our capacity to direct but, above all, enable us to support others in their respective contexts and with their respective objectives. We need less direction and more support.
In a sense, these competences take us back to the essence of being part of a clan or a tribe, where it is necessary to forge strong interpersonal relationships in order to develop the abilities of others. This is directly related to the notion of empowerment, which in turn is related to delegation as a transfer of power, responsibility and the transmission of support.
We should not forget that in every system, cooperation goes through a number of very different stages after it first commences: the process of cohesion and unity; resistance to other opinions; dependence or independence; development of methods to manage disagreements and conflicts; the confluence of outlooks and consolidation into a unified vision in order to establish objectives, rules, procedures and expectations; learning to read and make the most of individual competences and thereby facilitating participation and empowerment; and demonstrating support to all members up to the point of giving feedback regarding the development of the effectiveness and efficiency of same.
Once again, leadership and knowledge are necessary, but by themselves are not enough. Cooperation, collaboration and support are required in almost every area. Some call this new vector “coaching”.
Thus, it is is important to find a way to create a status quo in which the team works effectively and the team members (or stakeholders, to use Freeman’s term) work effectively with one another, thereby increasing competence in relation to any sector or activity.
We can find a practical application of cooperative and collaborative work at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, which forms part of many university networks that are active in the areas of solidarity, volunteering and international cooperation for development. The UPF Solidarity Platform was created in 2005 by students, teachers and administrative and services staff. It comprises an entire approach to reconsidering the diversification of actions, work methodologies, the objectives of projects in the various fields and parts of the world in which different organisations have been involved, and other universities and social collectives. A range of actions and involvement all guided by a code of conduct.
But do universities do this in relation to their main activity? Do they do this amongst themselves? Would it be feasible, for example, to propose the creation of a University of Catalonia, like that of California, where each university had its own specialism and strong points and collaborated with all its counterparts? Could the same happen in the energy sector, or in the financial industry? “I have a dream…”
So why all this?
By way of a conclusion: a model based on sustainability, the broadening of scope, the renegotiation of social contracts and the overcoming of the corporate ego is what is meant by the paradigm of interdependence – which is related to collaboration and cooperation, but (for me) is not one and the same – in which everyone grows and evolves in and around one another. And this is not something that is yet to come. The era of localisation and simultaneous local and international relocation has forced it upon us, although we are lucky enough to have sufficient resources to adapt to the challenges posed by this new era, despite the fact that these resources are often compromised.
It is impossible to think that it could be any other way from now on. In which case, we should occupy ourselves with a re-evolution in order to gain understanding and become synergised agents who are willing to act, recognised by the system as possessing individual rights and capacities that must be respected.
I would like to acknowledge and to thank Lola Márquez and the teaching staff from the Master’s programme in Personal and Executive Coaching at Barcelona School of Management for their collaboration and cooperation in the preparation of this text. It is necessary to practise cooperation and collaboration, which for me is always a superior form of action to the individual and solitary.
I invite the readers of this document to investigate the differences between cooperation and collaboration.
Jordi López Mercadé
Director of Coaching Programmes, Barcelona School of Management