Cooperative vs Collaborative

Cooperative sounds good, right?

Life has been humming along; work has stabilized after a period of seismic activity; for all I knew we were doing things right. I could have happily gone on with my life, leading a culture of cooperation within my team, had I not scrolled past this interesting table by John Spencer:

Respect v. Trust

I love this because as I read the left side, it mirrored my thought process of thinking “yea! Cooperation is sweet.” Immediately when I got to the first line of the Collaborative column, I was thinking “Ahh, but this is better!” Without saying anything negative, he shows us that you can run an organization either way, that you need both, but there is a distinction.

Would you rather have respect or trust?

When the proverbial shit was hitting the fan in September, I was up late on a Sunday night rolling back a release that had gone awry. I remember plugging in my phone before bed, and the war that was going on in my head: to disable the alarm and take a personal day or to go into work. I went to work. At the time I respected the intelligence of the other leaders, but I didn’t trust that they would make the right decision. I feared they would re-release the troublesome code, sending us back into trenches.

This was an eye-opening experience and it shed light on what exactly was causing work to be more stressful of late. By finding it and naming it, I was able to begin dealing with it. Cooperative thinking comes easier to engineering orgs than collaborative thinking, and this caused an imbalance where trust was lacking. A healthy organization needs both. By focusing on unifying our vision, empowering individuals, and building a tight culture I’ve begun the work of turning it around.

What does this mean in practice?

Cooperative Habits Collaborative Habits
Working through a problem and then presenting it to the team Working through a problem as a team
Shield my engineers from product or support Integrate my team around a shared vision
Projects are driven by what and how Projects are driven by who and why
Questions are given answers Questions yield discussions

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