Coordination (n.) is defined by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2005 [2]) as "1: the act or action of coordinating; 2: the harmonious functioning of parts for effective results." Furthermore, to coordinate means (tr.v.) "2: to bring into a common action, movement, or condition: harmonize" and (intr.v.) "1: to be or become coordinate especially so as to act together in a smooth concerted way."

Coordination seems to assume several properties. Firstly, coordination occurs between two or more agents. Secondly, coordination can occur between different agents or elements, such as two people, people and technology, or people and beasts. Thirdly, coordination (e.g. harmonization) may occur even if none of the agents intended to, although most coordinated activities are probably intended.

Those properties are important because they help make of coordination a global category that includes others such as cooperation and collaboration. This has, indeed, been Perezgonzalez (2005 [4]) positioning when drawing up a model for coordination management. With coordination as overall category, other related concepts can be drawn as subcategories, each indicating a different degree of coordination and all resulting in certain degree of coordination as final output. Let's define some of those concepts here, before explaining the model in more detail below.

  • Mutual adjustment incorporates the property of being mutual -thus, between interacting agents or elements-, while adjustment (n.) implies a low degree of coordination -even non-intentional- better described as "4: a means (as a mechanism) by which things are adjusted one to another"- adjusted (adj.) meaning "1: accommodated to suit a particular set of circumstances or requirements" (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary [2]).
  • Collaboration is defined as in to collaborate (intr.v.) as "1: to work jointly with others or together, especially in an intellectual endeavor" (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary [2]), which requires intentionality towards coordination among the collaborating parties, but not a commitment for any large amount of effort to be put in the relationship nor any explicit requirement for all parties to share the consequences of the relationship.
  • Coordination (n.) is defined as "1: the action of cooperating: common effort; 2: association of persons for common benefit" (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary [2]), which further requires a new explicit property of sharing efforts and consequences.

Theoretical frame

Coordination, cooperation and related concepts are rather used as stand-alone concepts than as part of more complex models. Therefore, few models exist that consider coordination as a multifaceted issue. Here are a few of those models:

Hierarchical models of coordination / cooperation

Hierarchical models of coordination (or cooperation) focus on creating a hierarchy of coordination. This way, the use of different strategies, the intensity of interaction or any other property signals the resulting level of coordination. This models, albeit mostly theoretical, are well suited to the management of coordination by simply changing those strategies, intensity of interaction, etc.

Marvell and Schmitt (1975 [1])

These authors define cooperation as an interaction between individuals which is characterized by its levels of complexity (this dependent on the adding or subtraction of certain fixed properties). The minimum requirement for basic cooperation (or "disjunctive cooperation") to exist is that both goal-directed behavior and sharing of consequences between participants occur. Four levels of cooperation can, thus, be defined in hierarchical order:

Levels Requirements Resulting cooperation
Level I goals & consequences disjunctive cooperation
Level II + division of labor conjunctive cooperation
Level III + mechanical controls mechanically coordinated cooperation
Level IV + social controls socially coordinated cooperation

Whetten (1987 [7])

Whetten focuses on inter-organizational coordination, but also provides a hierarchical structuring of coordination according to the quality of the relationship (i.e. degree of commitment, such as shared goals, resources committed and involvement of the higher echelons in the organization). Three types of coordination are, thus, possible:

Levels Commitment Resulting coordination
Level I low mutual adjustment
Level II medium alliance structure
Level III high corporate structure

Schmidt (1991 [6])

Schmidt focuses at the individual level, applying Rasmussen's theory (e.g. 1983 [5]) of cognitive processing to cooperation in work settings. Thus, he mimics Rasmussen's three levels of cognitive engagement, and provides a three-level hierarchy of coordination:

Levels Rasmussen's level Resulting cooperation
Level I skills level augmentative cooperation
Level II rules level integrative cooperation
Level III knowledge level debative cooperation

Mitchell (1996 [3])

Although Mitchell is more concerned with a theory of compliance with international law than with a theory of cooperation, he also provides a useful hierarchical understanding of cooperation (or, rather, 'interdependent self-interest') based on two strategies regarding legal compliance:

Levels Favored strategy Resulting cooperation
Level I rule violation collaboration
Level II legal compliance coordination

Perezgonzalez (2005 [4])

Perezgonzalez worked out a hierarchical structure of coordination based on some of the previous theories, especially Marvell & Schmitt (1975 [1]), which he expanded. The purpose of such hierarchy was to offer a theoretical model to assess and manage degree of cooperation as a manner of increasing organizational coordination. The model results in six levels:

Levels Requirements Resulting cooperation
Level I interaction mutual adjustment
Level II goals collaboration
Level III + consequences disjunctive cooperation
Level IV + division of labor conjunctive cooperation
Level V + mechanical controls mechanically coordinated cooperation
Level VI + social controls socially coordinated cooperation

Supporting evidence

Similarities between hierarchical models

The similarities between the different hierarchical models could be taken as theoretical evidence of those models dealing with a similar construct: that coordination (or cooperation) is based on interaction, and that such interaction can vary in intensity or other property as for creating a hierarchy of coordination.
The following table is a tentative match of the hierarchical models introduced earlier. As it can be observed, the different hierarchies seems to reflect a common pattern whereas coordination can be increased or decreased in nature by way of managing the presence or absence of certain properties (be this intensity of interaction, preferred strategy, etc).

Levels Marvell & Schmitt Whetthen Schmidt Mitchell Perezgonzalez
Level I - - - Mutual adjustment - - - - - - Mutual adjustment
Level II - - - Alliance structure Augmentative Collaboration Collaboration
Level III Disjunctive cooperation - - - - - - - - - Disjunctive cooperation
Level IV Conjunctive cooperation - - - Integrative - - - Conjunctive cooperation
Level V Mechanical coordination Corporate structure - - - - - - Mechanical coordination
Level VI Social coordination - - - Debative Coordination Social coordination

Refuting evidence

Way forward (to do list)

1. MARVELL Gerald & David R SCHMITT (1975). Cooperation. An experimental analysis. Academic Press (New York, USA), 1975. ISBN 0124763502.
2. MERRIAM-WEBSTER ONLINE DICTIONARY (2005). Retrieved from on 10/07/2008.
3. MITCHELL Ronald B (1996). Compliance theory: an overview. Chapter 1 in James CAMERON, Jacob WERKSMAN & Peter RODERICK [eds] (1996). Improving compliance with international environmental law. Earthscan Publications (London, UK), 1996. ISBN 9781853832611.
4. PEREZGONZALEZ Jose D (2005). An alternative way of managing health and safety. Pergonomas/ (USA), 2005. ISBN 9781411634282.
5. RASMUSSEN Jens (1983). Skills, rules and knowledge; signals, signs and symbols, and other distinctions in human performance models. IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, SMC, vol.13, issue 3, pp.257-266.
6. SCHMIDT K (1991). Cooperative work: a conceptual framework. Chapter 4 in Jens RASMUSSEN, Berndt BREHMER & Jacques LEPLAT [eds] (1991). Distributed decision making. Cognitive models for cooperative work. John Wiley & Sons (UK), 1991. ISBN 9780471928287.
7. WHETTEN DA (1987). Interorganizational relations. Chapter 15 in Jay William LORSCH [ed] (1987). Handbook of organizational behavior. Prentice-Hall (New Jersey, USA), 1987. ISBN 0133806502.

Knowledge Management Space

Relational coordination
In aviation, there is also a model of coordination defined by Gittell (2002) as Relational coordination.

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