If you are not enabling cooperation, you are irrelevant

I received this email (shortened and edited) 3 weeks ago.


I found out about you from your irritating but hilarious Gloria satire.

I manage a team of 12 HR people in (name withheld), an Anglo-Dutch-Spanish company with operations in Europe and Japan.

I really want my team to development partnership with their managers, yet several of my staff remind me too much of your Gloria: control, sloganeering and fear of confronting poor managers.

Can you give a talk to my staff (one hour) on what you as an OD consultant consider to be the guiding principles for partnering with management that HR should embrace.

Kindly suggest a time we can talk.

Name withheld”

I gave the talk last evening and in this post, I would like to share my main points .

  • The achievements of “homo sapiens at work” stem from our ability to consciously cooperate, “imagining” a future state to which all work in a degree of unison.
  • Powerful factors drive people to poor cooperation, due to flaws in the present economic model, the impact of IT technology on the art of communication and the superficiality caused by the high speed of business.
  • The essence of mighty challenge all of us in the “people professions” face is the need to foster far more cooperation and lessen the growing alienation (anomie) in the workplace.
  • HR seems to have several tools at its disposal: rewards, recruitment, development processes, guardian of the culture, business partnership.
  • Cooperation however is evasive. Too much use of culture-as-a religion promotes rebellion against religious organizational doctrine. Using rewards may work up till a point, only to become a bargaining process of paying for performance. Recruitment is a crap shoot;  all processes have a human “work around”.
  • Thus, there is no “protocol” to enhance cooperation, only trial, error, common sense, pragmatism, luck, and massive investment in mitigating trust issues between with people, within projects and between teams.
  • One needs to focus solely on the cooperation to the exclusion of almost everything else. If what you do does not build cooperation, you are not being effective.
  • You cannot cook an omelet without breaking eggs. Afraid of confrontation? You chose the wrong career.
  • Be very careful not to overdose on measurement. Data can be used to provide an indication; I suggest  not obsessing about measurement. When we start measuring, we like to be accurate, which leads the measurer to change what we are measuring. The act of measuring often negatively impacts he/she who measures to ignore the all too important abstract.
  • Don’t be afraid to sound irrelevant if you believe you are in the right direction. Don’t cave in and “please”. Persevere.
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2 thoughts on “If you are not enabling cooperation, you are irrelevant

  1. How can you be so completely on target so much of the time? 😉

    Improv theater games, at least here in the US, are extremely good exercises for building cooperation. I don’t know whether they would be as effective in other cultures.

  2. Cooperation is granular and varies based on several factors. Granular in the sense that it can go from joint planning and joint doing in all matters to ad hoc planning and doing with variations in between. The measure I use lives in the answer to the question: “what are or could be the negative consequences of…followed by each form cooperation could take e.g. Joint planning and doing? Sometimes, I include potential benefits as part of the exploration.

    This helps in defining the nature of cooperation required based on the nature of work and grounds it in reality. I developed an exploration grid to help in providing a granular picture of the nature of cooperation so people could distinguish the various forms cooperation could take. My consulting with the military proved this exploration to be of high benefit.

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