The Benefits of Cooperation at Work: Why Getting Along Matters

A photo of Hogan president and founder, Robert Hogan, PhD, next to a quote of his that reads, 'You can't get ahead unless you can get along.' The image accompanies a blog post about the benefits of cooperation at work.

Humans just don’t excel at surviving in the wild alone. We have no claws, horns, fangs, shells, or spikes. What we do have is each other—and a far higher chance of survival when we practice cooperation in groups. Our instincts for cooperation at work and elsewhere stems from our group-living ancestors who passed down their cooperative genes. To be a successful group member, we need to get along with our fellow group members, at least to some degree. This viewpoint from evolutionary theory helps explain the importance of getting along at work.

Nearly all meaningful work is accomplished in teams, which are three or more people who share a common goal.1 Cooperation is a choice to contribute individual effort toward mutual benefit. It involves committing time, skills, and expertise toward group goals. An example would be a software development team that builds an app for a demographic sector they don’t belong to, such as healthcare providers. The app doesn’t intrinsically benefit the developers. Instead, their earnings depend on the product they create via team cooperation.

This article will cover why we cooperate, as well as the benefits of cooperation at work, including status, acceptance, engagement, and performance.

Why We Cooperate

The reasons why we cooperate with each other—our drive to get along—are addressed in socioanalytic theory. Socioanalytic theory claims that three universal motives lie at the root of human behavior: (1) getting along, (2) getting ahead, and (3) finding meaning. Getting along, or cooperation, relates to our desire to gain attention, approval, and acceptance.3 Social acceptance is so central to human affairs that people will live or die in pursuit of it.

Humans cooperate because we are inherently social beings. We live in groups; therefore, we are motivated to get along with others. Other people provide the in-group belonging that we all seek in the form of social approval. Being able to cooperate successfully means being aware of our performance in the context of other people’s performance. The work we do and the way we do it affect the work of others on our team and whether the team achieves its goals.

Getting along well requires a certain degree of socioemotional skills, including self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Self-Awareness and Reputation

We have two ways to view personality—from the inside and the outside. The inside view is called identity, which is someone’s perception of themselves. The outside view is called reputation, which is made of everyone else’s perception of that person. Reputation is formed during social exchange, when we evaluate each other’s behavior.2

How we seem to others affects how likely we are to get along in a group, and being aware of how others perceive us can help us manage our behavior to improve our ability to get along. Personality assessment can help us build this awareness. At Hogan, we use personality assessment to measure the degree to which a person seems considerate, perceptive, and socially sensitive. Interpersonal Sensitivity, the scale that assesses these characteristics, is one of seven scales on the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI), which provides insights about everyday personality strengths.

All levels of Interpersonal Sensitivity have benefits and drawbacks depending on social context:

  • Low Interpersonal Sensitivity – A communication style that tends to appear direct, candid, and straightforward, yet might also be perceived as abrasive and argumentative
  • Average Interpersonal Sensitivity – A communication style that typically seems cooperative and friendly with a tactful approach to conflict, yet might also appear impatient with others’ shortcomings
  • High Interpersonal Sensitivity – A communication style that seems diplomatic, friendly, and warm, yet might also be perceived as conflict avoidant and overly sensitive

Personality data can help us excel at cooperation at work. We work together best when we recognize when and how to use our own behavioral tendencies to achieve outcomes for the group.

Emotional Intelligence

Nearly every job in the world requires workers to interact with other people, whether they work in a coffeehouse, courthouse, or even lighthouse. Being considerate of others is a keystone of successful cooperation.4 People who are positive, predictable, and sensitive toward others tend to perform very well at the job of getting along.4

Robert Hogan, PhD, founder and president at Hogan Assessments, rightly observed, “Career success depends on the ability to successfully interact with others, build and maintain relationships, and manage one’s social environment.” In other words, successful workplace cooperation depends on emotional intelligence, which consists of socioemotional skills related to identifying and managing one’s own and others’ emotions. Emotional intelligence matters because emotion influences how we act and are perceived at work.

Getting along helps your group to get ahead—and, by definition, you get ahead too. Cooperation also provides additional organizational benefits, aside from merely achieving shared goals.

Benefits of Cooperation at Work

Among the many benefits of cooperation at work are individual status, acceptance by others, employee engagement, and team performance. We’ll look at how getting along relates to each benefit using our software development team example.


All groups have social hierarchies. In a team’s hierarchy, a person’s status is determined not only by job title but also by reputation. The director of technology may be nominally in charge of the software development team, but the project manager might actually be more effective at facilitating team cooperation, thus making them a more effective leader. Effective leaders persuade others to set aside their individual goals for the good of the team and are evaluated according to the team’s performance.2 That is the Hogan definition of a leader—one who builds and maintains a high-performing team. A leader must leverage their reputation to achieve goals by means of a team’s work.

Successful leadership, then, depends on the ability to get along—to convince others to share goals and succeed or fail as a team. These critical socioemotional skills, including negotiation, affect whether someone attains a leadership role or leads effectively. To someone seeking power, status, and the control of resources (the universal motive we call “getting ahead”), cooperation also serves the pursuit of leadership. According to Dr. Hogan, “You can’t get ahead unless you can get along.”


Fulfilling our core human motivation for acceptance by others is one of the benefits of cooperation at work. Social acceptance leads to feelings of belonging and trust. Social exclusion causes pain and distress.5 (Yes, it actually hurts.) When the senior software architects are getting along at work, each is more satisfied with their work life.

A sense of belonging at work built on mutual acceptance among group members is an important metric in the financial outcomes of organizations. Employees who feel accepted at work tend to perform better, stay employed longer, take fewer sick days, and recommend their company to others.6 A company of 10,000 employees with a strong sense of belonging could save $52,000,000 per year through productivity and talent retention.6


Cooperation also builds employee engagement, which is an attitude of enjoyment and interest toward work. Decades of engagement research prove that employee engagement raises quality and profitability, while reducing accidents, theft, and absenteeism.7 Suppose a junior developer is struggling to get along with the other members of the software development team. That person could be counted among the 77% of global workers who aren’t engaged.7 They would be much less likely to do their best work.


Groups that cooperate to achieve their goals succeed; groups that don’t can fracture and fail. In prehistoric warfare, the very survival of the group members depended on getting along. The software development team’s lives probably aren’t dependent on their ability to cooperate, but their livelihoods probably are. If they utterly fail to produce expected business outcomes, their organization’s survival could also be at risk. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that team productivity affects group survival.

As you may recall, effective leaders create teams of individuals who are committed to shared goals. Team performance, then, is incumbent on good leadership. And good leadership, in turn, relies on the ability to get along with others.

Personality Predicts Performance

The benefits of cooperation at work are many for individuals, teams, and organizations. Cooperation originates in human genetic history and continues to have a wide influence on global business outcomes. Organizations truly cannot survive without it. Lacking teeth and claws, we instead have social status, teamwork, and leadership to help us succeed.

So, how can we gain more understanding about how we tend to cooperate at work? The nature of human nature shows our innate impulse for cooperation in groups. “At a very deep level, people need social acceptance and respect,” Dr. Hogan said. “It is biologically mandated that you try to recruit people to support you.” Within our teams, our personalities indicate what behaviors we are likely to use to get along at work. Being calm, charming, compliant, curious, and more all contribute to our reputations and thus our prospects for getting along in any given group. That’s why we say at Hogan that personality predicts performance. Who we are determines how we cooperate.  


  1. Hogan, R. (2006). Personality and the Fate of Organizations. Routledge.
  2. Hogan, R., & Sherman, R. A. (2020). Personality Theory and the Nature of Human Nature. Personality and Individual Differences, 152,
  3. Hogan, R., & Blickle, G. (2018). Socioanalytic Theory: Basic Concepts, Supporting Evidence and Practical Implications. In V. Zeigler-Hill & T. K. Shackelford (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Personality and Individual Differences.Sage Reference, 110–129.
  4. Hogan, J., & Holland, B. (2003). Using Theory to Evaluate Personality and Job-Performance Relations: A Socioanalytic Perspective. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(1), 100–112.
  5. Williams K. D. (2007). Ostracism. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 425–52.
  6. Carr, E. W., Reece, A., Kellerman, G. R., & Robichaux, A. (2019, December 16). The Value of Belonging at Work. Harvard Business Review.
  7. Gallup Workplace. (2024). What Is Employee Engagement and How Do You Improve It? Gallup.