A cooperative team versus a collaborative team
Cooperation or collaboration?
The viability of a conventional team structure in an Internet environment has to be called into question. It's not that people working together is wrong - because the variety of different kinds of knowledge and skills that will need to be brought together for any e-business solution will make it imperative that the efforts of many different people are combined. The problem is finding the way to do this most efficiently.
This is where we can look to Dr. Panitz's work on learning for some guidance. By making a distinction between cooperation and collaboration, he showed that people can interact to share and combine their knowledge in two radically different ways.
With foundation knowledge, that is knowledge that has common acceptance and a degree of permanence, it was found that cooperative group structures worked best. These groups had a leader and the learning process was based upon establishing rules and protocols that formalised the interactions so that the groups could reach goals collectively. This corresponds very well with the functioning of managed teams in conventional business environments.
He then show that the cooperative group method of learning didn't work so well when it involved problems that included uncertainty and ambiguity. The reasoning being that nobody, not even the teacher, had any credible authority to decide absolute solutions. Everyone had the same entitlement to their own considered opinion.
The collaborative learning process encouraged each student - and the teacher - to come up with individual solutions through creating their own cognitive structures for understanding. This they did by interacting with each other to test and refine their individual, internal mental models. In this way, the students didn't necessarily have the same thought processes to come up with solutions, neither did they necessarily have to come up with the same answers. But, between them, they could come up with a range of possibilities that took into consideration a wide range of different viewpoints to cover many different contingencies.
The essence of this method of learning is that there was no necessity to agree upon a single solution. There can be many solutions and by interacting with each other, each can be aware that solutions exist other than their own and if their own solution don't work, there are other approaches to be tried.
Clearly, this collaborative approach maps across to an e-business environment more appropriately than a cooperative approach. A situation where people can collaborate to reach individual conclusions is far more suitable than trying to get everyone into common agreement when solutions contain many unknowns and uncertainties.
On first thoughts, such an approach to creating an optimum e-business solution seems ludicrous. How can people cooperate if they are not in agreement? But, the resolution of this paradox requires a sharp paradigm shift - which we shall deal with in the next chapter.