A Code of Cooperation is a document created by people who work together to encourage an emotionally healthy work environment. It accomplishes this by formally establishing common behavioral expectations that can be supported by all. Codes of Cooperation may articulate both behaviors which a group wishes to encourage as well as those to be avoided. They should be created with input from all group members and are most effective when embraced and supported by everyone.

Getting participants to buy in

The process for developing a Code of Cooperation is essential to getting all participants to buy in to and support the document they are creating. The process starts with a small group brainstorming session, followed by a large group consensus in which the entire group discusses, debates and combines all statements into one master list. Due to this process of brainstorming and discussion, participants are more likely to agree with and support the Code since they were given the opportunity to discuss their own ideas rather than having those ideas thrust upon them.

Defining respectful behaviors

All people have different definitions of what it means to treat others respectfully. In numerous Connecting With Respect workshops, we have heard, “isn’t it just ‘common sense’ to treat people right?” or “doesn’t everyone know what it means to be respectful to someone else, so why do we have to write it down?”

While we may believe common sense is universal, it is not. One’s idea of common sense on the way to treat someone may be completely different than another’s.

This is why it is important to provide specific behaviors to support each item listed in a Code of Cooperation. The following is an example of a weakly constructed Code of Cooperation statement:

“We will be positive at work.”

While this sounds nice on the surface, being “positive” may mean something different to each person since it does not specifically describe a behavior.

Another thing to notice about this statement is that it uses the word “will”, which puts the intention somewhere into the future, thereby weakening the call to action.

An example of a stronger way to state a similar intention might sound something like this:

“We smile, speak encouragingly and bring our very best selves to work with one another each day.”

A good rule of thumb to use is to always determine with each statement whether or not you can actually observe a person doing something specific like smiling, offering assistance, saying “thank you,” etc.

Get it in writing

Getting these agreed upon actions and behaviors in writing cements the importance of the acceptable ways we all want to be treated. It also provides a visual reminder when someone lapses and disrespects or mistreats someone else. We can point to the code and remind them what we all agreed was the proper way to treat someone. Some groups may even decide to print a poster-sized copy, add their signatures and display prominently in their work area as a constant reminder of their commitment to following their Code.

As useful as training is to start the process of culture change to create a more respectful workplace, developing a Code of Cooperation may be a more tangible way to see that change enacted on an ongoing and consistent basis by all employees. Putting those accepted behaviors in writing and formalizing them may make all the difference in moving forward as a respectful organization.

Code of Cooperation example

The following is the Code of Cooperation created by and adhered to by all employees of Legacy Business Cultures. It was created using the same process as described in this article. Note the formatting used by each statement: present tense, “we” statements that provide specific actions or behaviors to support each item.

  • We respect each other by listening and responding collaboratively to ideas, opinions, and feedback.
  • We demonstrate the highest level of integrity and accountability by being 100% honest and keeping our commitments to each other.
  • We respect each other’s work and personal lives. We acknowledge accomplishments and make sure everyone is recognized for their wins.
  • We foster innovation by seeking, giving, and receiving creative input from one another.
  • We empower and trust each other to do the job we were hired to do.
  • We look for ways to make each other smile.
  • We extend common courtesies by saying “please,” “thank you,” and “I am sorry.”


Paul Meshanko is an author, professional speaker and business leader with over 20 years of experience in leadership development and organizational culture change.
After a 12-year career with AlliedSignal, he opened Legacy Business Cultures in 1997 to serve the Nation’s growing demand for innovative and proven strategies for creating best in class workplace cultures. Paul specializes in change management and employee engagement training, diversity and inclusion training, executive coaching and organizational assessments. Under his leadership, the business has grown to become one of the most successful boutique talent and development providers in the country.

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