Cooperation vs. coordination at the workplace

These are two terms we hear quite often at the workplace and in our day-to-day lives.It is easy to think of the two synonymously because of the similarity in their nomenclature and to an extent, the meaning. However, there is a difference, and this difference is more pronounced in the workplace.


When there is cooperation among team members in an organization; it means that they work with each other and each has a contribution to make towards attainment of a goal. They have to not only be in contact with each other; they are also dependent on each other. Units make up the whole here, and it is necessary for each to cooperate with the other in order to make the completion of the task possible.


When team members are coordinating with each other, they are carrying out the work in an orderly and clearly defined fashion. Cooperation is not essential in this case, because even without cooperation from the other member of the team; work will go on because each unit of the whole has a defined and neatly charted out work flow and process.

The two together

One of the best examples put forth in management circles to drive home the difference between the two is that of the head of the family instructing his wife and sons to polish his shoes. Each polished the shoe separately, and the result was that the shoe got three coats of polish. This is a great example of how there was cooperation between the family members, but no coordination. Each of the three people to whom the task was assigned cooperated with the head of the family, because none of them refused the job. This is cooperation, meaning that there was a spirit of bonhomie and affability between them. There was no conflict because each was clear about what the goal was. However, the fact that they all ended up polishing the shoe repeatedly shows the lack of coordination, because the shoe needed one coat of polishing, not three. If each of them had coordinated with the other, they would have decided that one polish was enough, and the time the other two spent on this task could have been diverted for something more purposeful.

Both are equally important

If the above example were to be applied to the workplace, resources will be wasted on doing the same thing over and over because there is cooperation but no coordination. On the other hand, if cooperation is lacking, the team members would have spent their time quarreling with each other over who should polish the shoes. They would never have achieved the task of polishing; even if they had resolved their differences and got down to work, they would not have done it in a timely manner. The organization’s leadership has to decide how to use these qualities in team management.




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