Turning Co-operation from soft skill to hard skill

What are known as soft skills, like getting along with others, are becoming much more important than commonly known hard skills. This is still not a general perception amongst business leaders, as recently as last year, Management-Issues reported:

The annual CEO study by PricewaterhouseCoopers has argued that what companies around the world are crying out for is CEOs with technical and business expertise, who have global experience, are strong leaders, innovative, creative and who can manage risk effectively.

People skills, while a bonus, were not seen as an essential, despite the fact that fewer than half of CEOs globally (and around a third in the UK) felt their HR department could manage the people agenda adequately by itself.

Work in networks requires different skills than in directed hierarchies, which have nurtured these CEO’s for the past decades. Co-operation is a foundational behaviour for effectively working in networks, and it’s in networks where most of us, and our children, will be working. Co-operation presumes the freedom of individuals to join and participate so that people in the network cannot be told what to do, only influenced. If they don’t like you, they won’t connect. That’s like being on Twitter with no followers and never getting Retweeted (RT). You are a lone node and of little value to the network. In a hierarchy you only have to please your boss. In a network you have to seen as having some value, though not the same value, by many others.

Co-operation is not the same as collaboration, though they are complementary. Collaboration requires a common goal while co-operation is sharing without any specific objectives. Teams, groups and markets collaborate. Online social networks and communities of practice co-operate. Working co-operatively requires a different mindset than merely collaborating on a defined project. Being co-operative means being open to others outside your group and casting off business metaphors based on military models (target markets, chain of command, line & staff).


We are moving from a market economy to a network economy and the the level of complexity is increasing with this hyper-connectedness. Managing in complex adaptive systems means influencing possibilities rather than striving for predictability (good or best practices). Co-operation in our work is needed so that we can continuously develop emergent practices demanded by this complexity. What worked yesterday won’t work today. No one has the definitive answer any more but we can use the intelligence of our networks to make sense together and see how we can influence desired results. This is co-operation and this is the future, which is already here, albeit unevenly distributed.

Co-operation is a soft skill? I think not.

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