We all know that high-performing cultures for safety rely heavily on engagement, collaboration, and cooperation.  But if you could choose only one, which would it be, collaboration or cooperation?  If you had to improve safety performance over the next 12-months, would you rather have a large degree of collaboration or cooperation?

A focused framework

Collaboration often requires working together to solve common problems or to complete a given task.  There may be specific roles, goals, or milestones to reach.  There may be particular skills and team synergies that have to be utilized for more efficient and effective outcomes.  And with collaboration, a focused framework of active involvement is often inherent. 

A less formal structure

Cooperation implies a less formal structure, mostly without specific goals, roles, milestones, or team-related dynamics.  The word cooperation also suggests starting and stopping in less formal ways.  It implies less active, more passive and spontaneous work.  Cooperation often requires very few written guidelines and even less task-related boundaries. However, cooperative work arrangements are quite necessary to move forward, progress, and improve.  One might even argue that cooperation is part of the organizational infrastructure that catapults collaboration to entirely new levels of success!

Cooperation: a critical cultural dimension

I don’t think it’s fair to choose one over the other, but I do believe it is important to seek higher degrees of both collaboration and cooperation, especially when it comes to something as important as safety.

If you think about it, even though certain safety-related groups may be highly collaborative, those same groups need to be reminded of the importance of cooperation. In effect, highly collaborative groups need a set of guidelines to reach higher levels of cooperative success. And they must continually ask a set of questions that will help ensure they’re being as cooperative as possible so that better outcomes are realized.

Questions to ask

The following questions can help you to improve your organizational cooperation and collaboration.

1. Even though your people may be working together on a specific project (collaboratively), are they working in unison and openly sharing their knowledge, skills, and abilities?

2.  When there is conflict, do your people fight fairly, without personal attacks, and work hard to get back on track to complete their work, through their best efforts?

3.  When groups of people are working together to enhance safety performance, is everyone included in the discussions and is everyone given an appropriate way to contribute?

4.  Are your workers reminded of the importance of letting go of the past so that current work and future success is not hampered?

5.   And are individuals held accountable to complete their assigned tasks on schedule and as expected?

It takes time

In my own culture assessment strategies for safety, I have always found that cooperation is very critical and cannot be overlooked. However, it takes time to develop enough trust and cooperation that will afford your workers more opportunities to contribute openly and effectively for continual improvements in safety. But open, honest, and highly cooperative work strategies are critical to your next great safety performance gain! And it could be the kind of substantial safety culture improvement that you’ve been seeking for a long, long time.