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Whose project is it anyway?

Collaboration and cooperation are two words which are often used interchangeably, especially in the workplace. Both terms are so overused that their distinct meanings have blended into one. They’ve effectively become buzzwords. But contrary to popular belief, they're different!

There’s a small but crucial difference which impacts a number of ways work gets done, including how people associate their work with their goals, and how they see their work in relation to others.

So it’s worth investigating the actual definitions of these two words.

What is collaboration?

Collaboration is when a group of people come together and work on a project in support of a shared objective, outcome, or mission. It’s a photographer working with a designer to create a cover image, or the technology department working with the marketing team to improve their customer journey.

What is cooperation?

Cooperation is a process that allows various people or groups of people or organizations to act or work on the same project for mutual benefit instead of competing with each other for the benefit of every individual. Though the goal of every participant in cooperation is the same, however their interests are individual. It is based on ‘you help me and I help you’ in achieving a common goal for the benefit of both of us individually. It’s when the design team and the operations team deliver a project, each staff member would enhance their portfolio as individual professionals given the level of work and responsibility they were entrusted with.

The key point to note here is that there isn’t really a shared vision. Collaboration implies shared ownership and interest in a specific outcome. If you and I collaborate on a project, we have shared authorship. Cooperation, on the other hand, could just mean that you've given me help on something I'm working on and that I'm ultimately responsible for.

Why is this important?

In short, it’s a question of ownership. The way your organization frames ownership of projects and goals, it turns out, has a profound impact on your people’s experience within your organization. Collaboration, more so than cooperation, communicates to your people that their work is meaningful and part of a larger group effort. In this sense, each collaborator turns into an equal stakeholder, and gains a sense that they're contributing to something larger than themselves.

This doesn’t mean that cooperation is worse than collaboration, or that it has to be one way or the other. In fact, people working together, especially in larger organizations, sometimes struggle to find shared visions just by the nature of how teams are structured. Sometimes there just isn’t any identifiable common ground. Similarly, people might cooperate on projects that other people are collaborating on. They offer their services but don’t share the same goal, vision, and co-ownership. Both collaboration and cooperation are necessary modes of effective teamwork.

Of course there are some major benefits to finding common ground between teams and implementing changes to ensure collaboration not only happens, but makes sense. The first step is to find and communicate a shared sense of purpose between people.

Creating a shared sense of purpose

A shared purpose, above all, is the key driver of collaboration. But communicating that purpose and instilling it in people is a massive challenge in and of itself. Collaboration can’t be enforced; it has to come naturally out of a shared interest in achieving goals. Only then can the collaborative process take hold in an organization or project.

A lot of this will depend on your ability to break down divisions between others and align them around common goals. This can be done in regular meetings, quarterly get-togethers, and by frequently celebrating collaborative relationships between one another: holding these relationships up as something we all should aspire to. Leaders should identify shared visions and acknowledge how others formed working relationships to make those visions a reality. Although emphasizing a shared sense of purpose isn’t only the work of leaders, it can be done by anyone, either in an official meeting setting or just in casual conversation.

Collaboration as a process

When people share the same purpose, collaboration happens almost naturally. It’s actually kind of weird! But effective collaboration does require some form of organization. And even the most collaborative environment will find room for cooperation too. One way to go about making this happen is to sit down with other people regularly to find intersections where collaborating makes sense.

We've created the Silverline Community with this precise notion and ensured that we all made it part of our collaborative process to always be exploring the ways we intersect with other people. More so, we believe that sharing information is crucial, for both the process and the articulation of shared purpose. And this can only go so far without trust which is why we are also introducing our block-chain powered IP protection. Finding complementary skills between people is one more way to build the connections necessary for collaboration. Focusing on people whose combined skills can handle shared projects and starting to build relationships from that. Think of this as exploring a constant potential partnership that bridges the gaps in knowledge as well as skills.


Collaboration and cooperation are not at odds with each other. Rather, they’re two ways of making teamwork happen. And although this article focused more on collaboration, it’s vital to know that these two are often occurring in tandem, depending on the stakeholders involved. A collaborative environment is also simultaneously a cooperative environment.


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