Collaboration is not always possible

Collaboration levels in the Cooplexity model

One of the conclusions that came as a result of the research of the Cooplexity (Zamora Enciso, 2010) model was that the collaboration is not always possible. It depends on the level of maturity that a group has in terms of consciousness of itself. The groups with better results passed through the three levels of the model, knowledge, cohesion and self coordination. In parallel with them appear three degrees of possible collaboration.

With the first that I identify as the Alliance everybody wins and nobody loses. The agreement is obvious and nobody rejects it. As soon as an opportunity for collaboration under these circumstances appears it is accepted.

While the group evolves and the integration process follows it course, new opportunities for cooperation, that although not harming anyone, do create unequal benefits. Here is where the group usually reaches agreements that produced benefit is attributed to one’s self earlier or later as compensation or reciprocity. It is the interchange level or Cooperation. In day-to-day reality we could consider that the win-win negotiations are located here. A value and according compensations are negotiated. The level of cooperation is not a bad one although we can still consider that it produces optimal results for the group.

Global necessities are attended in the third level at the same time as individual ones, but contemplating the group as a whole, as a system, as an entity with its own differentiating personality and particularities. That way its members feel that they have made an important qualitative jump. This is the Collaboration level.

When reaching this point it becomes necessary to make an essential distinction between cooperation and collaboration. Cooperation is linear, concrete, oriented to an objective. In cooperative work the tasks are subdivided between the members and which one works separately. Coordination is important in terms of who does what, how and when (Nezamirad, Higg, & Dunstall, 2005).

Collaboration is a creative process between two or more persons, with complementary abilities that interact to create a common understanding that nobody previously had and would not have been able to acquire alone. Collaboration creates common contents about a process, a product, or an event. In this sense, there is nothing routinized. This is something that did not previously exist (Schrage, 1990).

Collaboration is a state that has many components and one of them is cooperation. Cooperation also is about a common purpose but at a lower abstraction level, more operative. Collaboration is a creative process where the result is the emerging product as a consequence of interaction. If cooperation needs coordination, collaboration needs self-coordination.

Trust is very important in the last level as we assure that although actions apparently contrary to individual interests exist, these decisions will not be judged as transgressions or aggressions but rather as a search for common benefit that includes the individual that takes it into account and finally balances it.

In the Collaboration level the individual and common objectives lose their differentiation. They should be achieved together and in a balanced manner. Going to the other extreme, that the group “only” thinks of a group is not positive, it should also think of the individual. Like as in a company, the dichotomy is proposed among the objectives in a clear manner from a conceptual point of view but hardly defined from an operational point of view. To go after one’s own interest is only logical; to do it only with attention placed on common interest (even at the expense of the individual) is also logical. The problem lies in reconciling both objectives in a balanced manner. Unfortunately here, as in the majority of complexity situations, there are no recipes. Neither more nor less it is a case of obtaining balance between individual and global interests.

Curiously when the group is integrated, it is perfectly capable of understanding it and achieving it, but it is very important that it does, as we are in the final process of evolution. Previously, any attempt to achieve common benefit by the more collaborative participants is rejected when considering that individual benefit is at risk. To be collaborative in the long term, the individuals should also achieve their individual objectives or have a reasonable expectation that the cost of collaboration will be compensated earlier or later.

When the agents or not interdependent, survival is reduce to win-lose competition, where the strongest individual survives. However in complexity this is not applicable. Interrelations and interdependencies cause the most selfish decision to be precisely the most collaborative. Not only that, the interested use of resources with the sole aim of obtaining individual yields will be rejected by the group. On occasions, decisions taken in this direction were identified in the groups, with disastrous results for the cohesion and regressions to previous more individualist positions. These groups could have obtained worse results after a crisis than those obtained in previous game cycles.

Somebody could think that those who only intermediate for their own interests are more selfish or interested. On occasions, this assumption may not be totally right. The degree of collaboration observed in the groups was directly related with the level of trust and therefore with the perceived level of risk. There is a natural tendency in all human beings that pushes them to survival. Therefore perceiving risk releases a series of self-protection mechanisms that push one to take-up more individualist positions. In the measure that the group increases the level of trust among its members and reduces in parallel the perceived risk of the decisions it takes, it becomes more capable of showing collaborative attitudes. Therefore the trick consists of regulating the key to trust and risk to allow the appearance of such decisions.

Robert Axelrod in his work The Evolution of Cooperation contributes some keys that we can perfectly recompile here. Using the famous game “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” created around 1950 by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher and later formalized with its current name by A.W. Tucker, Axelrod invited experts in game theory to a tournament. The competition consisted in sending programs in which the participant should choose between making a cooperative decision or a non-cooperative one faced with a series of repeated interactions of the game. Among them all, the strategy called “Tit For Tat” from Professor Anatol Rapoport of the Toronto University always won. What was surprising is that its strategy was also the most simple. It consisted in that the first decision was always cooperative while after it systematically repeated the decision of its opponent (Axelrod, 1984).

As in the Tit For Tat strategy, that group that initiated its activity in a corporative manner, that is giving the system and opportunity, advances more and goes further in the processes of the model. Likewise the reciprocity concept, a key on in the Axelrod work was like a consequence of complementarity of the interests of the group, of its capacity to reject cooperation if the expectation of returns did not exist and of the real and close perception that the cooperative effort would be compensated. That way one would be cooperative of the other party was also and would generate common benefit. To the contrary, this would not be so if the other weren’t.

When extrapolating these teachings to the reality of groups, therefore we have to take into account that the size of these play against the perception of individual contribution and the expectation of returns. In addition, it would be a negative factor if the benefit of cooperative effort were unequally shared among the members giving way to a less clear expectation of reciprocity. When designing teams and compensatory policies, thus it would be necessary to divide large group into smaller teams to improve this perception.

By integrating collaboration levels in the model, we observe that the Alliance level is accessible to any series of individuals with coinciding interests. The level of cooperation would be at the reach of those groups that have initiated integration processes and have minimum trust, sufficient to sustain the negotiating process and the establishment of compensations on equal terms. When the minimum level of trust is missing negotiation cannot progress even though both parties consider a potential agreement as beneficial. Finally the maximum level of collaboration forcedly needs to be situated at the highest level of the model.

Axelrod, R. (1984). The Evolution of Cooperation. New York: Basic Books.

Nezamirad, K., Higgins, P. G., & Dunstall, S. (2005). Human collaboration in planning and scheduling. In 7th International Workshop on Human Factors in Planning, Scheduling and Control in Manufacturing. The Netherlands: The University of Groningen.

Schrage, M. (1990). Shared Minds: The New Technologies of Collaboration. Baltimore, MD, U.S.A.: Random House.

Zamora Enciso, R. (2010). Cooplexity. A model of collaboration in complexity for management in times of uncertainty and change.