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According to MetaCollab [1], Collaboration differs from cooperation:


Dave Pollard has an extensive graphic outlining the differences between coordination, cooperation, and collaboration.

And here is a discussion outlining the difference between collaborative and 'merely social':


From the Wikipedia:

"Collaboration is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together in an intersection of common goals — for example, an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature — by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus. Most collaboration requires leadership, although the form of leadership can be social within a decentralized and egalitarian group. In particular, teams that work collaboratively can obtain greater resources, recognition and reward when facing competition for finite resources. Collaboration is also present in opposing goals exhibiting the notion of adversarial collaboration, though this is not a common case for using the word." (


Differentiation 1

"* Cooperation: Obtain mutual benefit by sharing or partitioning work

  • Collaboration: Achieve collective results that the participants

would be incapable of accomplishing working alone

"Optimal application

  • Coordination: Harmonizing tasks, roles and schedules in simple

environments and systems

  • Cooperation: Solving problems in complicated environments and


  • Collaboration: Enabling the emergence of shared understandings

and realization of shared visions in complex environments and systems" (

Differentiation 2

From the CommunityWiki at

"Cooperative: working together, but through adherence to a set of shared rules or norms. Communication or coordination is not required. A market, or the way people appropriate goods from a commons are examples of such cooperation.

Collaborative: Implies that people are making efforts to work together and with purpose, usually around a mutual-agreed upon outcome or project." (

Differentiation 3

Collaborative vs. social, Paul Jones:

"Collaboration is, and I do my best to recall help me if you were there and took notes, several people working together on the same predefined problem or set of problems each depending on each other and each contributing in some specific way.

Social however is much looser and more ad hoc. The intention is less predetermined or predefined, more haphazard perhaps. In fact, social has more to do with Dunbar-ian stroking and grooming than with getting any specific job done. Social interactions may give rise to incidental help and even to collaboration, but that’s not the main intent.

Collaboration can be mandated, but social cannot. You can pick your friends — as the saying goes — but picking your co-workers and collaborators may be done by others — your boss, manager or the dreaded human resources department.

An ideal work environment for some people would have a very strong overlap between social and collaboration — all kinds of team building tries to shade us over to this overlap. But we still resist. Some people we accept for their talents, respect for their contributions, etc, but we’d rather not spend a week at the beach with them.

And we have great friends who we could never work with for very long. Whose friendship we cherish, but whose skills we’d rather not have to depend on.

This points out the weaknesses of social networks versus networks for collaboration. When using say, I want collaborators for much of my research and teaching and work. But when it comes to say, I want my friends who share and enlighten me about music. People using FaceBook for work can see right away what I’m getting at. I do feel close to many of my coworkers and they keep me in touch with a lot of things I’d otherwise miss, but I don’t use FaceBook as a work resource — except for those times I need incidental or ad hoc help. I think that LinkedIn is defining itself less of a social space and more of a collaboration space. Not so much for active collaboration in any constant way but in a kind of punctuated temporary way that is slightly ad hoc but more about information exchange — I see Bill is in your network and he seems to have the skills we need in my office. Could you recommend him?

Both ends of a spectrum between the purely social and the purely collaborative build and activate social capital, but each seems to me to be of a different type." (



A structuring of different types of collaboration, from directed (1), through hybrid (2-3) to volunteered (4).


"*1. Process requirements require user engagement: People involved in business processes often are assigned certain roles and responsibilities that direct their efforts towards collaboration with others. For instance, a claim adjustor must collaborate with those investigating a transaction for fraud detection as part of an exception handling process. Field sales personnel could be required to work together with a corporate market analyst on a regular basis as part of a competitive intelligence process.

2. Shared activities creates a sense of co-dependency that motivates collaboration: To some extent, shared activities can be considered a subset of a process (and you would be correct) but my main purpose in breaking this out is to allow discussion on collaboration within projects or other collections of shared tasks (people may not formally call all clustered activities a project). Activities of this type often create co-dependencies between group members. Co-dependencies take advantage of self-interest as motivation to collaborate. The group needs everyone to succeed (to various extents) in order for the team to be considered successful and for that self-motivated person to perhaps succeed as well. There is of course the extreme that occurs when "great teams" perform at high levels and go well-beyond self-interest and collaborate richly to ensure the success of other group members. Self-interest or allegiance to team solidarity can also promote collaboration.

3. Community participation induces contribution: Professional or social interaction can encourage and persuade people to share information and know-how which in turn, can lead to ad-hoc collaboration. While community participation does not defacto guarantee collaboration, healthy communities with the effective leadership and followership traits can create a variety of emotions across members ranging from empathy (to help someone struggling with an issue) to a sense of activism (that the community can act as a change agent within an organization). So collaboration here is often influenced by relationship factors that coax people to interact and share.

4. Network connections foster reciprocal cooperation: Social networks are all the rage right now any many believe that the topic is over-hyped. It is over-hyped but also, in my experience, social networks have a salient impact on collaboration levels overall. In one example, Person A is collaborating with Person B. Person B taps into their social network to gain advice, to make sense out of something or perhaps to connect with someone who has the appropriate know-how. Person B then turns around and continues to work together with Person A. The cooperative nature of social networking in this case was to supplement another collaborative interaction. Social networks themselves can also be viewed as a type of collaborative model as well. The type of cooperation within social networks may not be as explicit in terms of the collaboration found in other scenarios but that does not diminish it from being considered with a categorization model. There are a variety of social networks - some are personal (used for career advice or mentoring), some are formed based on professional connections, others could be formed by people having other associations such as a common educational background or share an experience with a previous employer. " ( )


A threefold typology of team collaboration, community collaboration and network collaboration is at

"Older models of collaboration tended to focus on teams and formal, structured collaboration. We have more options now. Here we explore three types of collaboration and how we might approach them as an organisation.

In team collaboration, the members of the group are known, there are clear task interdependencies, expected reciprocity, and explicit time-lines and goals. To achieve the goal, members must fulfil their interdependent tasks within the stated time. Team collaboration often suggests that, while there is explicit leadership, the participants cooperate on an equal footing and will receive equal recognition. An example is a six-member team working together to develop a new marketing strategy in a month, with a defined set of resources. Team collaborations can also occur with external partners, but there is always a clear mandate and defined roles.

In community collaboration, there is a shared domain or area of interest, but the goal is more often focused on learning rather than on task. People share and build knowledge rather than complete projects. Members may go to their communities to help solve their problems by asking questions and getting advice, then taking that advice back home to implement in their teams. Membership may be bounded and explicit, but time periods are often open or ongoing. Membership is often on equal footing, but more experienced practitioners may have more status or power in the community. Reciprocity is within the group, but not always one to one (“I did this for you, now you do this for me”). An example might be a community of practice that is interested in the type of marketing mentioned in the team example above. A member of that team may come to her community and ask for examples of past projects.

Community collaborations may also give rise to more formalised team collaborations. As people get to know each other, they can identify good fits for team members and draw new talent into their teams.

Network collaboration steps beyond the relationship-centric nature of team and community collaboration. It is collaboration that starts with individual action and self-interest, which then accrues to the network as individuals contribute or seek something from the network. Membership and time-lines are open and unbounded. There are no explicit roles. Members most likely do not know all the other members. Power is distributed. This form of collaboration is driven by the advent of social media (tools that help us connect and interact online), ubiquitous internet connectivity and the ability to connect with diverse individuals across distance and time. It is a response to the overwhelming volume of information we are creating. It’s impossible for an individual to cope on their own. So networks become mechanisms for knowledge and information capture, filtering and creation.

An example of network collaboration might be members of the team in the first example above bookmarking websites as they find them, using a shared or ‘social bookmarking’ tool. This benefits their team, and possibly their related communities of practice if they are also sharing bookmarks. But it also benefits the wider network of people interested in the topic. At the same time, team members may find other bookmarks left by network members relevant to their team work. This sort of network activity benefits the individual and a network of people reciprocally over time. The reciprocity connection is remote and undefined. You act in self-interest but provide a network-wide benefit." (

More Information

Expanded treatment at

Dave Pollard on collaboration at

Howard Rheingold on the difference between online cooperation and collaboration. Wiki’s and Open Source: Collaborative or Cooperative?

The Book

Book: Collaboration. by Morten Hansen. 2009


Bob Sutton:

"The questions of when encouraging versus discouraging collaboration is Best, what gets in the way of it happening, how to make it happen when you want it, and how to be a collaborative leader-- without being a doormat -- are issues that face every organization and every manager. Hansen knows more about this subject as a researcher than anyone out there right now, and because he has worked with real organizations and real leaders, the result is a book that is based on the best evidence, a delight to read because the stories are so good, and relentlessly useful.

For example, while most authors present simple minded arguments, Hansen's Chapter 2 shows the costs and benefits of collaboration, and provides a simple way for managers to decide when it is worth the trouble or not. The next three chapters, the heart of the book, really show-off Hansen's skill, as they provide three simple and powerful solutions --- Unify people, cultivate T shaped management, and build nimble networks. Hansen was co-author of the original Harvard Business Review article that popularized the notion of T shaped people, a mantra that is used at both IDEO and the Stanford to describe people who have both deep skills in one or a few areas and who do their own jobs well and also have the ability to work with others, to share ideas with them, to be be civilized, and contribute to the whole. This the best chapter I've ever read on hiring, breeding, and (when necessary) firing people to create a collaborative workplace -- rather than getting hung up on theory, research or ideology, or committing the alternate sin of make excessive claims, telling stories that are fun but useless, or glossing over the difficulties, Hansen provides evidence-based ideas that bosses can actually used and shows how they have been used, things like not tolerating destructive lone stars, how to use both selection methods to find T shaped people and pay, coaching and promotion to breed T shaped people. And he shows how the most widely used pay for performance systems often undermine collaboration and what can be done to design systems to reverse these ills." (

More Information

Video: Morten Hansen on Collaboration