We spent some time researching what these terms are used for exactly and where the wording comes from. Here’s what we came up with.
When collaborating with others, you’re not only committed to supporting others with your good will and best effort but actively work with them to achieve a particular outcome or product. This means to be involved and bring actual actions to the endeavor as input and work with each other. This set of actions is very close to what you could consider as teamwork.
The etymology of collaboration is the Latin word collaborare which means “work together.”
When cooperation is offered, this is most commonly a commitment limited to enabling others to do their work. The actions of someone who is cooperating with you are restricted to their scope of work and their approval of you doing your work. Often a cooperation is an entirely passive contribution to achieving your goals, yet sometimes, a mandatory requirement or prerequisite.
The etymology of cooperation is the Latin word cooperatus which means “work with.”
In a school project, several students would be put in a group to collaborate together to achieve their assignment. The teacher is being cooperative by enabling them, approving their plan, and providing feedback on open questions.
At work, some employees discuss an idea to work on an innovation project. They require the cooperation and sign-off of several managers before they can collaborate and work on their project.
Collaboration vs. Cooperation
If you compare both activities, you can quickly distinguish them. Collaboration usually happens on the same level of people and effort and requires a very active engagement. On the other hand, cooperation is mostly of passive nature. Individuals who are asked for their cooperation will need to have a general goodwill towards the efforts at hand and are asked for their “ok.”
Even though we are able to distinguish these two terms on a scientific level, they are in many environments used as if they were synonymous with each other.
What do you think? Are these two words interchangeable? Would you define them differently? Let us know in the comment section below. I am curious to hear your opinion about that.
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