Co-opetition and Language Teaching Organisations

200px-3d10_fm_de_vilafrancaOver the last year I have noticed a shift in how some EFL publishing companies  and other EFL groups are moving away from just talking about what they are doing and how wonderful their products, services and authors are to sharing interesting blog posts, discussions and information generated by other publishing companies and EFL professionals. This current climate on EFL social networks is refreshingly energising and is a great forum for growth at both individual and industry levels.

To a certain extent this is an example of co-opetition, a concept I was first introduced to back in 1999. For those of you not familiar with the term it is a mixture of cooperation and competition which arguably leads to a supportive, innovative, and pro-development work culture and climate. However, although at an industry level EFL co-opetition is on the up and publishing companies and individuals are reaping the benefits, few language schools seem to be fostering this sort of climate within their organisations.

A lot of language schools either seem to be very cooperative or very competitive but few seem to bring the two forces together. Few recognise the benefits of nurturing a sharing, collaborative environment a long with stimulating and rewarding individual excellence. Being competitive is part of human nature and so encouraging a certain amount of competitiveness is healthy I feel in any organisation. This is why we love playing games and one of the reasons why the concept of gamification is so popular in the EFL industry at the moment. We rise to the challenge of trying to beat out opponents and strive to win. A competitive environment, therefore, provides us with an incentive to do things faster, better, cheaper, etc. with corresponding benefits for our organisation where we work.

But, a highly competitive environment can lead to winning at the expense of others and therefore at the expense of the organisation where we work. This competitive culture can become a problem especially in larger organisations. Let’s take the example of a language school with different departments, different branches and even different schools. Each part of the language organisation will probably work with different markets and therefore have characteristics and objectives which are unlikely to be the same. On the whole specialist groups exist for strategic reasons and not as money-making ventures in themselves (probably covering costs and small profit margins is all that is expected). However, in some competitive environments these groups are pitted against each other in terms of turnover and profit. While this policy can occasionally help to spur people to react to poor results, on the whole it is not conducive to encouraging beneficial synergic relationships between the groups.

Language organisations which cultivate a culture of cooperation on the other hand, tend to lead to a happier sharing work-environment and a strong institutional identity and interest in the welfare of the school as a whole. Indeed Peter Senge in his book “The fifth Discipline, the learning organisation” (1990) argues that this culture is necessary for organisations to learn and grow in the right direction. He questions why a company with managers with an average IQ of 120, functions at a collective IQ of 63? Lots of brilliant individuals do not mean a brilliant team. So fostering a cooperative culture would seem to be beneficial.

A cooperative culture naturally arises in smaller and newer language schools where most people working there tend to have a closer relationship and feel that everything they do plays a part in the success of the school. However, this culture of cooperation stops working well when two things happen, firstly, when only a few people contribute to the greater good and the rest feed off what the few share, and secondly, when no recognition is given to those contributing more or showing excellence. The incentive to continue to contribute to the common good tends to diminish when nobody seems to notice or appreciate these contributions.

So it seems to make sense for  language schools to try a third way and take a digital leaf out of what is happening on the social networks in the EFL community and try to develop a culture of co-opetition. I’m not suggesting that it is easy to create such a culture but if schools strive to cultivate a supportive, dynamic, working culture in which ideas are shared but at the same time encourage individuals to strive to reach their potential as individuals, the result could lead to a happy and thriving environment both for the school and for the individuals working there.


Senge, Peter M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, – Doubleday 

3 thoughts on “Co-opetition and Language Teaching Organisations

  1. Hi Fiona, thanks for this really interesting post.

    Creating a culture of sharing and collaboration between teachers is something I am always trying to foster, but here you shine a light on 2 key issues:
    – what to do when only a few people contribute to the greater good
    – how to give recognition to those who continually reach a level of excellence in this regard
    I try to keep prompting those in the former group, in 121 chats, appraisals or post-obs feedback, and praise those in the latter group.
    I’d be interested to hear any other suggestions on dealing with these two issues…


    • Hi Josh,

      Glad you found the post interesting.

      I wish I had some good advice to give you but it’s very difficult to do. I worry more about the second group than the first as I want to keep the second active group happy and contributing to the growth and development of the school. I worry that if they don’t feel appreciated they will not see the point in continuing to contribute. After all, you can very satisfactorily tweet, write blog posts, join in and start lively discussions on social networks without involving the school where you work if you don’t feel appreciated there. And that would be is tragic waste! So, how can we make contributing to the greater good of the school a thing worth doing? Recognition is key I think (we like to feel noticed when we do something which benefits the place where we work) and, if possible, opportunities as a result of outstanding work. Ideally these opportunities would be in line with the personal ambitions of those teachers who contribute most and make sense for the school at the same time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s