Collaboration is a word I often hear thrown around in meetings, interviews, across campus or at conferences. However, sometimes it feels like cooperation is the more appropriate word to use. Many people seem to feel these words are interchangeable when in reality they are very different. Both have important roles in the workplace, and it is important to understand the services you are offering.
Collaboration is used when two or more individuals, often from different departments or units, come together to create a shared project/program. Together, the group has shared ownership and responsibility on the end program or goal.
Example in Action:
I was working on developing a freshman welcome back event at Loyola University Maryland and wanted to adapt some of our offerings for the event. This required not only more professional staff support in programmatic roles, but for them to assist in creating their own program or activities. This ended up being such a fun project because I got to engage with our whole team by focusing on what they excel at and are passionate about. Our Outdoor Adventure team programmed stand up paddle boarding, kayaking and canoeing in the pool, which ended up being a huge hit. We had to meet and talk about logistics with lane lines and space allocation, boat cleanliness, storage, educating lifeguards and trip staff on how to work together to manage risk, and much more. With something I thought was going to be an ask to put some boats in the water became one of the more popular events at the orientation; in fact, we even started doing it at most of our special events. This helped not only improve the student experience but engaged students in both Aquatics and Outdoor Adventure in new, interactive ways.
Cooperation is used when two or more individuals come together to support another’s project/program. There is not really a shared vision but rather one supports the other through knowledge, experience, space donation, etc.
Example in Action:
This semester, a project I wanted to accomplish was getting the pool ADA compliant but by using best practices for my university. This required me to reach out to our Disability Resource Center who came over to look at the pool, clarify the ADA in regard to swimming pools, and make recommendations on how they would go about moving toward compliance. This was a huge help to our program, as they are the campus experts and I felt it was a priority to get an expert opinion before deciding on how to move forward. Based on their recommendations, we actually changed one of our locations so both the shallow and deep end is accessible and there are multiple options for when we move the pool to long course over the summer. This has not only allowed our facility to become compliant, but has allowed us to create an engaging relationship that shows the value of each other’s work experience and expertise. This was a project that was owned by Aquatics but shared by an external group, and it has developed a great relationship among two different teams.
These concepts are both incredibly important in the workplace and are not in conflict with each other. They are just two ways of engaging in a team-focused project, event or goal. If you are sharing a vision and have equal stakes in a program or event, that is a collaboration.
However, if you are supporting another group’s vision, then you are cooperating. Both are needed, but it tells a better story when you are able to differentiate between the two. If you love collaborating but feel you are cooperating more — donating space, staff, etc. — try to see if you can be part of the planning stage the next time they go to create the event, or ask if you can add to the event.
On the flip side, if you are feeling exhausted from the amount of collaborations occurring, see if you can scale back on the shared vision and work in a more supporting role. There are many semesters where I lean to either side of the pendulum which is one of the many reasons I love working in Higher Education: it is always changing.