Rumour has it it was already Aristotle himself who commented on the social nature of a man. Teamwork is the buzzing words in today’s business. The ability to work as a part of a team is often praised above many others.

My latest experiments with various teams made me realise that we might be asking the wrong question all along. What would be the answer if instead of asking whether the candidate in front of you is a team player, you would ask whether the person prefers to collaborate or to cooperate?

While researching for the most interesting definitions of collaboration and cooperation, I came across this one

Collaboration is when a group of people comes together and works on a project to support a shared objective. Cooperation is when a group of people works in support of another’s goals.

Oxford Thesaurus defines collaboration as the joining of forces, whereas cooperation is working together. It fits the idea of Mr.Moseley, whose quote seems to sum up the ideas and thoughts I have been playing around with for the last few months.

Without being actively aware of it, my previous work engagement was all about collaboration. And when I ventured to join a new team back in autumn 2020, I knew the work would be different. After six months, I am now able to name it – I am cooperating with my team members. It makes the whole world of difference to how I approach my day, team, routine, and accomplishments.

While every team member is a professional in their area, we go around our days without merging into some new organic entity, as I used to experience before. We are well aware of our highly diverse tasks, and sometimes we deal with very demanding situations. Still, we don’t share the vision of a common future or expectations about the mutually desirable project outcome. There is no even better us waiting at the end of the tunnel. We do our job to the best of our abilities contributing to the success of our Executive.

While in a collaborating team, each team member’s individuality and specific abilities were important and contributed to overall success, motivating every team member to provide input and to grow. The cooperation, in turn, requires people to dim their light a bit and be able to work on equal terms with other team members. This equalisation almost inevitably happens towards the weakest team member – even if this is the weakest among the strongest.

One might struggle with cooperation if shared goals and collaborative spirit are essential for the professional wellbeing and efficiency. In the same way someone who is rather a cooperative type might want to set clear boundaries and avoid getting to involved into the project itself.

As there is a time to sow and a time to reap, there is time to cooperate and time to collaborate. While it will not be the sole lesson I will have learned when my time to move forward has come, it will be among the most important. I believe that being now aware of what type of team player I am and what type of team I prefer to work with, I will be able to ask the right questions when looking for the next team to join.

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