Closer Employee Cooperation


For most organizations, building high performance teams is not only a priority; it is a necessity. In today’s unstable and complex business environment, it’s no surprise then that ongoing tensions exist between the demand to produce and the need to cooperate – both of which are required in high performing teams. Yet in my experience, management’s focus tends to be on greater productivity over the need for closer employee cooperation.

But what if you could have both?

Cooperation in the workplace is perhaps one of the most important influences on productivity. While it’s true that it’s is not easy to achieve, it’s worth the effort because cooperative relationships lead to a more harmonious and productive business environment. When people collaboratively work together, things tend to get done more efficiently and effectively. In a cooperative environment, employees are able to devote more time to their duties and functions because there is less need to dedicate valuable time to disputes and resolving conflicts. The perceived need to compete is also lessened, leading to more satisfied employees. With satisfied employees, productivity has the potential to skyrocket.

Sounds great; but many organizations have structures that have unintentionally created silos – groups that have little functional access or communication with other groups. Parent companies are silo-ed from their franchises; division heads compete against other divisions; managers in international companies often report through a global head, silo-ing them from the Executive Team. So how do you build a culture of cooperation within silo-ed walls?

A case study from a Texas-based software company may shed some light.

The senior leadership at Revenue Technology Services (RTS) realized that the company’s three divisions were not working well together. As a result, productivity was declining obviously affecting the company’s earning potential. To solve the problem, every division received 3 to 5 quarterly goals, each related to working with the other departments. In less than one year, productivity skyrocketed and software installation time decreased. Additionally, overall morale improved.

To increase the productivity in your organization, you need to set goals that require cooperation and discourage competition and tie everyone’s performance evaluations and bonuses to cooperative goals. But it’s not just about structure; you must also address the culture. RTS broke down some structural barriers by cross pollinating divisions. They also made a cultural decision to discourage competition, linking employee performance to goals that were attached to closer employee cooperation.

The Cooperation/Competition Dynamic

No matter how cooperative your organization may be, I’m not sure you can completely eliminate competition. It’s in our DNA and linked to our survival. Whether you are competing for time or competing for a client or a promotion or the opportunity to lead that next big project; it’s there. After all, only one person can become the CEO; so tensions between competitiveness and cooperation certainly exists.

The key is to balance the separation people feel around competition with the connectedness and openness employees feel in a cooperative environment. The first step in creating that balance is to make the commitment to try to fully understand others – actively listening to your direct reports and colleagues in a way that is open and collaborative. Engage in open communication; yes. But also seek to inspire and influence through your actions. Words are often just words. As we know, actions speak louder. You must therefore become a “living example” of the principles and behaviors you desire in others. The process of Dialogue can help.

As suggested by Daniel Yankelovich in his book, The Magic of Dialogue, “The need to reach better mutual understanding through dialogue is strong in all sectors of society, but in none more than the business community. The growth of technology; the increase in the number of knowledge workers; and the blurring of boundaries of all kinds are transforming relationships at all levels of business. The traditional top-down style of leadership in a fortress-type company semi-isolated from others is increasingly out of vogue. It is being replaced by what I have come to think of as “relational leadership,” where the defining task of leaders is developing webs of relationships with others rather than handing down visions, strategies, and plans as if they were commandments from the mountaintop.”

Fortunately we are living in an era of enormous creativity and innovation. Perhaps more than ever before, business leaders are more willing to experiment and adapt to change and through that create organizations where closer employee cooperation becomes a “must-have” vs. a “nice-to-have” requirement. Are you one of them?


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