Publish at December 01 2019 Updated September 22 2022

Coopetition, competition in cooperation

A natural model of competition

Is life a perpetual competition? Many claim so, using the theory of species evolution to explain this view. Yet this is proving to be wrong. In fact, more and more biological scientists are proving that it's more like coopetition. That is, a mixture of cooperation and competition.

For example, botanists have noticed that trees that struggle for the most sunlight and deepest roots will still share nutrients with each other. In animal species, too, we see this mixing that contributes to their survival.

In professional settings

The issue of coopetition has long been present in professional settings. However, it had been little studied before. Among other things, team sports show athletes coming together to win. However, each one also tries to improve his personal statistics to get an offer from other clubs or a better negotiation handle with his management or his coach. In politics, how many elected officials are scrambling and securing visibility to eventually get on a cabinet board themselves or run for the leadership of a nation?

In recent years, however, the science of business management has been looking more and more at workplace coopetition to understand its positive or negative effects on employees. Early published research seems to show beneficial consequences on worker creativity and engagement. On the other hand, it requires managers to know how to manage the paradoxes of this type of work environment. Undoubtedly, one must maintain entrepreneurial cohesion while building teams or dividing tasks in ways that stimulate healthy competition. This can sometimes be more complicated as some employees prove to be more competitive. It can also lead to paranoia or frustration for some, especially since a cooperative environment offers less autonomy.

What about school?

So, many business school students learn this different approach to work mixing two opposites. Would it be possible, however, to bring it into the classroom? Some have indeed succeeded in doing so. Particularly in a very heterogeneous context, cooperation can be a relevant approach for both good students and those who have more difficulties. This teacher from Germaine Tillion-Montbéliard High School explains in detail his approach here. In fact, while it can't be used everywhere, it already has its place, among other things, in robotics competitions where students work to build a machine better than the others.

It can also be used in reading comprehension, for example, where individuals will work together on analyzing a novel, its chapters and characters, etc. Then, a quiz will be organized in teams and each team will compete for a higher score. This approach can be repeated in many disciplines. Of course, the teacher must ensure that the competition is healthy and does not become an excuse for aggressive behaviour. He or she must ensure that the groups are balanced.

Illustration: StockSnap from Pixabay


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Elmoukhliss, Mehdi, and Christine Balagué. "Coopetition Between Individuals, Still Poorly Known Interactions." The Conversation. Last updated on January 2, 2019.

Fontaine, Stéphane. "I Challenge My Classmates Or Coopetition As A Method Of Learning." Prof & Doc. Last updated on May 21, 2019.

Granata, Julien. "Coopetition, Engine Of Evolution Of Species." The Conversation. Last updated November 12, 2018.

Richou, Saphia. "Pourquoi Entrer En Coopétition?" Dunod. Last updated November 23, 2018.

Shipilov, Andrew, Werner Hoffman, Dovev Lavie, and Jeffrey J. Reuer. "Managing the Paradoxes of Coopetition." INSEAD Knowledge. Last updated November 22, 2018.

Wagner, Rick. "Underwater Robotics Contest Sets Stage for 'coopetition?" Kingsport Times-News. Last updated April 30, 2019.

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