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The different types of cooperation

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Coworking is based on cooperation. The topic is explored in depth in a recent book 'Together' from American sociologist Richard Sennett. But not all forms of cooperation stand for coworking or provide benefits for everyone. We look at what types of collaboration he distinguishes for us, taken from a section of his book. Those who desire more insight into the future of collaborations and those who want to learn more about the future of work, would be encouraged to attend the Work in Progress conference Hamburg, at the end of this month.

New forms of work, such as coworking, represent specific forms of cooperation that characterize new collaborative industries. Of course you can talk about new forms of work as well as their future, but which actually exist?

Sennett highlights five different natural types of exchange found in relationships, which he distinguishes from the benefits received by the parties involved: altruism, win-win, differentiated exchange relationships, zero-sum games and "the winner takes it all". Let's start first with the selfless people:


Altruistic exchange works unilaterally. One party gives without taking. The motivation for this is intrinsically founded self-sacrifice, is for the good of a community, or humanity in general.

In the coworking world, as in many other types of work, these pure selfless forms are rarely found. The same goes for most of non-profit organizations. Few are motivated only slightly by altruistic motives, even if they pursue honorable goals. In short, people want to be able to make a living from their job.

Yet altruistic forms of exchange are still found between many people, but more often in small, less earth-shattering actions, and usually as an expression of charity. In their totality, they are an important foundation for the (working) society. For this reason you also can find altruistic exchanges in coworking spaces. Furthermore, many operators start a coworking space not only to make money but also to change the world (of work) in a better way, at least on a local level. In fact, they often have to face more challenges than their members to reach this goal. 


In general, coworking based relationships see exchange on the principle of mutuality and reciprocity. Thus we come to our next point: Working together, based on the win-win principle, sets out to provide a mutually successful and sustainable form of exchange. I'll help you. You help me. Everyone is happy.

Sennett likened this principle to the cooperative behavior found in rats. Even if they don’t like each other, they will still team up for a better chance of survival against common enemies. They benefit from the collaboration, even though they are actually in competition. Here we see a fragile balance between cooperation and competition. Win-win is when people also, incidentally, do like each other and do not need to operate against common enemies.

These relationships remain open. There has seldom been a concrete idea of the profits and losses at the beginning. Thus these relationships are based more on expectations of things you do not already have, but could possibly gain in the future due to this beneficial exchange. As the sociologist commonly describes it, this is a very rational approach that considers people purely as rational beings.

The social sciences engage in theories of social capital found in these behaviors. A sustainable exchange takes place when acting parties are met with appropriate confidence, and the less rational aspect is paramount. The norm of reciprocity is broken when an exchange is to unilaterally break these relationships because trust will be withdrawn. Therefore, these relationships also have an exit. The services exchanged do not need to be identical, for they can also have a different value for each individual.

Allocated to the coworking world, one could refer here to the exchange of skills. For example: I'll create an Illustrator graphic, if you'll program a small application in Java. You need a graphic designer and I need a back-end developer. There would be benefits resulting from this exchange, but they rarely occur at the same time. Also, fair rewards for performance are important in this scenario.

▶ Page 2: Differentiating exchanges, the zero-sum game & the winner takes it all

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