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Cooperation is the act of tailoring your activities to work with someone else’s in order to achieve a specific result.

Cooperative relationships are generally informal. They tend to be successful because there is overlap in what both parties want to achieve-the intersection of both of their goals. While all parties have their own agendas, there is enough commonality to make the relationship beneficial for everyone.

This is especially true in continuous improvement. A project may have several stakeholders. When there is enough common ground, there is an incentive to work together.

Building cooperation requires a couple things. First, there has to be some openness about what everyone wants to achieve. This links closely to the ‘WIFM?’ (What’s in it for me?) principle. If leaders want teams to cooperate fully in projects, it is critical that the leaders understand what motivates employees and what they want to achieve want to achieve.

Second, there must be trust. Employees must believe that managers will deliver on promises, and bosses must be able to believe that employees are committed to the work and they on board with projects when they say they are. That means no hidden agendas.

Lack of cooperation is a common, but often unrecognized side effect of continuous improvement that often occurs during poorly done Lean implementations. It is an insidious form of waste that often creates bottlenecks and keeps process improvement efforts from being as successful as they could be.

Learn more about how teams can teach themselves how to combat these Lean side effects, boost morale, and enhance their productivity in my book Whaddaya Mean I Gotta Be Lean?

Several other terms are closely related to cooperation, each with different nuances.

  • Coordination: this is simply the act of letting each other know what you are doing. It doesn’t necessarily imply common goals.
  • Compromise: Generally, compromise entails each party giving something up to get more of something else. Basically, it is bartering activity.
  • Collaboration: Generally, this relationship is more formal, and with a specific output. It also entails a greater amount of sharing of information. For example, an author and illustrator may collaborate on a book.


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