What is the difference between cooperation and coordination?

Confusion between these two terms sometimes reigns among managers. Some people think that by coordinating two collaborators, they create cooperation between them. Others, on the other hand, imagine that by getting their team members to cooperate, coordination will flow naturally. Can we (do) coordinate without cooperation? Can we (make) cooperate without coordination?

Although related, these two concepts are nevertheless quite distinct. They are related to the extent that, by these two terms, we consider the distribution of work between several people to arrive at an overall performance. But their differences are significant.


Coordination consists in defining the best combination of previously distributed tasks in order to develop a coherent whole. Traditionally, organizational approaches have developed many methods to optimize the division of labor and coordinate actors. This dates back to the time of the scientific organization of work and the generalization of assembly-line work.

In the extreme, there is no need for cooperation: some think, others screw. Coordination is ensured by an authority which validates the operating instructions, indicates the correct sequences and verifies that the actions are carried out by the designated persons, within the allotted time and using the defined means. The authority even defines the procedures to be followed in the event of a problem. Once the roles and responsibilities have been distributed, coordination brings significant time savings, security in the implementation and, ultimately, peace of mind for the actors.


Cooperation is a mode of relationship where individuals voluntarily participate in a common work. Whether spontaneous or induced by a problem to be solved, it makes it possible to agree towards a common goal and / or a common method. It makes it possible to federate distributed skills and to bring together solidarity by combining talents and intelligence. When talking about this term, it is best to look at the social and biological definition. Namely, cooperation is described as the process in which a group of different organisms, not necessarily of the same species, although they usually are, work together for the common benefit of the community in which they are found. This is opposed to individual work. selfish advantage, which also creates competition between these bodies. The model of economic cooperation follows this same guideline: eliminate competition and impose work that is beneficial to the group rather than to an individual. Since people are generally selfish (which is not a bad thing), not everyone can cooperate and not in all environments. Therefore, it is necessary to ask a few specific questions during the job interview, which will determine whether the candidate is suitable and cooperative for the position in question. In addition, several methods can be implemented to increase the level and depth of cooperation in a group, generally referred to as team building. Team building is a process in which a team or other group of people who want to deepen their cooperation participate in different activities that require fun cooperation, such as team sports. This method will both increase the level of cooperation within a group, as well as the productivity of each member (and therefore of the group as a whole) and the general satisfaction of each member of the work they have held. ..Without it, no team cohesion and little or no personal involvement.

What are the differences between cooperation and coordination?

  • Coordination includes a deeper level of connection and communication between members of a group, while cooperation is voluntary and can be achieved with a much less deep level of communication.
  • When you introduce a new member to the team or group that was previously coordinated, it will take a very long time for the new member to fully assimilate into the group and the group to become perfectly coordinated again. On the other hand, introducing a new member to a group of cooperative people will not break the system in any way, as long as the newly introduced member is also cooperative.
  • Coordination can be seen as if it has a deeper meaning or a wider scope, because a coordinated group will also be cooperative, while a cooperative group will not necessarily be coordinated.
  • The systematic arrangement and synchronization of the various elements of management so as to ensure smooth operation is called coordination. Working together or meeting standards to achieve common goals is called cooperation.
  • Coordination is a fundamental activity of management. This helps to achieve harmony of action between various interdependent activities and departments of the organization. On the contrary, cooperation depends on the willingness of everyone, that is, to work with or to help someone of their own free will, to achieve common goals.
  • Coordination is an artificial process, carried out to integrate different activities of the organization. Conversely, cooperation is a natural process, not planned in advance but spontaneous, out of mutual respect.
  • Coordination is an ongoing function of management. So it is for the long term. On the other hand, the cooperation of people is necessary to accomplish a task or an activity, it is therefore short term only.
  • Coordination can lead to the establishment of formal and informal relationships. Unlike cooperation, the informal relationship between individuals is born.
  • In coordination, there is open communication between all members of the organization. Conversely, tacit communication takes place between cooperating individuals.
  • Coordination of activities is carried out at the highest level of management, while cooperation occurs at each level.
  • The cooperative task is different for each participant and is usually accomplished through a process of specialization. The group is then divided into teams (usually consisting of two to five members) and the tasks may vary from team to team. Each team member is responsible for performing a sub-task. The task is considered complete when all team members (or all teams) pool their accomplishments. The collaborative task, on the other hand, is similar for all participants. In a learning context, it is based on content exploration activities, the development of representations and the communication of ideas and knowledge. This approach is first of all individual: the learner draws on the learning environment made available to him. He then shares and pools his new knowledge with other learners. The group therefore represents a very rich environment for sharing information and collaboration for learning.
  • The cooperative approach is more structured and framing than the collaborative approach, particularly in a learning context where it aims both to learn content and develop autonomy in the learner. This approach is also often used with young learners with a weak repertoire of learning strategies. However, when used with independent adults, it helps develop greater collaboration skills and increases the level of effectiveness of group work. The collaborative approach, on the other hand, requires a certain degree of maturity and the ability to work in a group, independently.


Coordination and cooperation, two different registers of action and reflection, meet complementary needs. They make it possible to better specify roles and responsibilities, to harmonize sufficiently directivity and flexibility, and to leave each other, managers and employees, their share of duty and freedom.

Frequently asked questions

How to coordinate a team?

Coordination in a team is crucial to its success. The actors in the team may be collaborative and cooperative but they may not be coordinated. First and foremost, communication is essential to be effectively coordinated. In fact, members of the same time may rely on the others. For example, when a task can only be done once another task is achieved, it is essential that the member in charge of the latter prioritizes it in order for the workflow to go smoothly. A well-coordinated team will have no problem with this kind of situation as they know that they not only are responsible for their tasks but also for the others. So, in addition to communication, Awareness is key.

Being aware of what your team is doing at what time is also very important. However, that has become easy with the tools accessible to everybody for collaborative work. Thanks to agendas and timelines, you can follow at any time what your team is currently doing and thus communicate your needs to them and vice-versa.  

What are the forms of coordination?

·   Mutual adjustment: it consists of agreeing through informal and direct communication, whatever the means. It allows for co-responsibility; the taking into account of the relational dimension is at the heart of this very effective coordination in transversal mode. It is useful when there are blockages in the other 5 mechanisms. Its success depends on the ability of individuals to adapt to each other.

·   Direct supervision: this is the mechanism by which a line manager gives instructions to his employees and ensures regular control which then allows him to report to general management.

·   Standardization of processes: it applies to specific operating modes; procedures recorded in advance are used to guide everyone’s activity, such as, for example, the correct application of the procedure for reimbursing employees’ expenses according to an established scale steered by management control.

·   Standardization of results: on the principle of the objectives to be achieved, it clarifies the expected results, deadlines, indicators. This coordination is often used in the commercial world to optimize sales standards.

·   Standardization through qualifications: coordination here is based on trust on condition that the required qualifications (skills, certifications, diplomas) are met; this coordination is used if the managed activity is subject to many uncertainties and requires autonomy. In this company, first-aiders can intervene in an emergency situation and have been specifically trained.

·   Standardization by standards: it mainly concerns values, the corporate culture which gives direction to the behaviors to be implemented, on what is acceptable / unacceptable in the name of the principles in force in the universe concerned as this person in charge of communication which must ensure that the graphic charter is respected in line with the group’s values.