How Can I Learn to Cooperate?

Wednesday, 24. April 2019

By Alec Serlie, GITP BV, Netherlands

In a previous blog we stressed the importance of collaboration in the workplace, citing Duarte & Snyder (2001) who stated that collaboration is “…one of the most important factors for team success….. When people work together, teams will work faster, have higher motivation, will build work relationships faster, which all are important factors for team performance”.

All organisations, big or small, should for that matter, be focussed on stimulating and rewarding collaboration among workers. Subsequently, responsible leaders should build and maintain a team by emphasising and encouraging collaboration. Good collaboration leads to a better trust and, most importantly, an intrinsic motivation to share knowledge (Alsharo, Gregg, & Ramirez, 2017). Highly successful companies like Toyota foster knowledge sharing and collaboration through a complex social network because it wants “everybody to know everything.” (Harvard Business review, 2008) . It is not surprising that (in the Netherlands) an increasing number of organisations are offering internal courses on collaboration (13% in 2015, expected 26% in coming years, CBS ). 

Collaboration appears to come natural to extraverted people who care about others; in personality terms the Extravert and Altruistic people (Bell, 2007). Their opposites, the reserved and self-centred people, just seem to lack the predisposition to relate to others, often making it hard to work together with them in projects or teams. The interesting thing about the competency Collaboration is, however, that it not only determined by a person’s personality, but equally so by their (learned) behaviour. The good news, therefore, is that collaboration is a competency that can be learned relatively easily, whereby the willingness to learn is obviously a prerequisite.

Within the Personalised Learning Environment (PLE) of the DEVELOP consortium we included various assessments to determine the degree and potential of a participant’s collaboration. Additionally, complex but sound Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms return suggestions on which courses would suit best to develop and train the participant’s collaboration competency.

One of the novel assessments in the PLE is the Cooperation game – a serious game that aims to measure collaboration behaviour and help get people on the right track when developing the competency.

The serious game consists of two elements: the intention to cooperate, which is measured with a valid questionnaire among other things, focussing on the determinants of cooperation: Extraversion and Altruism and the behavioural aspects of cooperation, which are measured with a first person narrative simulation. It is this combination of intention and behaviour that can trigger development (see figure 1). If the intention is low and the behaviour is low, a significant amount of effort will have to be made to get the learner to a higher proficiency level of cooperation. If on the other hand intention and behaviour are both high, little extra effort with have to be made. The combination high intention, low behaviour should result in an effort focussed on practising and mastering cooperation, whereas low intention and high behavioural should focus more on making the person more aware of their role in cooperation.

Figure 1: Development potential matrix


The game itself revolves around a scenario in which the player has to work together with a distant and global team to produce a vaccine for a perilous flu virus. During a variety of scenes the player will have to choose between different reactions to events occurring. The story develops adaptively as the player makes choices, and each choice triggers a new event, making the narrative realistic and genuine. The scenes are based on factors that are important for cooperation: Trust, Knowledge sharing, Collaboration, Coaching, Empathy and Integrity. As the story emerges, the pressure will build and the player has to cope with the quirks of the various team members and external obstruction.

The research conducted on the validity of the game, shows that the perceived validity is high (7/10). Participants rate the evaluation question “I feel that this simulation has a clear link with cooperation” with a 4.1 (on a 5 point scale, whereby 5 is marked as YES!) the question “The actual content of the simulation is related to tasks in which you have to work together” was rated with a 4, the negatively formulated question ”Using this simulation is a frustrating experience.”, was rated with an average 2 (no). Most importantly, the predictive validity (how well does the game predict actual collaboration behaviour) on ratings giving by others on collaboration is high (rxy= .56), indicating that the game does actually measure collaboration.

All in all this assessment within the PLE, next to Leadership Skills, Personality Measurement, General Mental Ability and a 360 Review, show to be a solid base to measure the proficiency of a participant on relevant competencies and, most importantly, give valid input for further training and development.

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Alsharo, M., Gregg, D., & Ramirez, R. (2017). Virtual team effectiveness: The role of knowledge sharing and trust. Information & Management, 54(4), 479-490.

Bell, S. T. (2007). Deep-level composition variables as predictors of team performance: a meta-analysis. Journal of applied psychology, 92(3), 595.

Duarte, D. L., & Snyder, N. T. (2001). Mastering Virtual Teams: Strategies. Tools and Techniques That Succeed.