3 Keys to Successful Cooperation

UPDATED: October 17, 2023
PUBLISHED: May 10, 2017

In Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, Cooperation is defined as something one should do “with all levels of your co-workers. Listen if you want to be heard. Be interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way.”

Coach Wooden expanded upon the importance of cooperation as he reflected on the various ways in which technology and progress are bringing people together like never before. He pointed to all the people involved in developing and operating the high-speed travel that we use to crisscross the country. He looked at the space program and how many thousands of people worked together at every level to make every launch possible. He was in awe of global media that could beam images from around the globe into our homes in a matter of moments because a chain of people were working together to bring us news about other human beings elsewhere in the world.

“It’s a small world,” Coach said. “When you stop and think of the food we eat, the means of transportation that gets us from place to place, the clothes we wear; almost every essential for our daily life someone else is responsible for, not ourselves. In everything around us, we need others in every way, and the surest way to have cooperation of others, so that we can make the most of our own ability, is to be cooperative ourselves.”

Related: 5 Essential Lessons You Can Learn From Basketball

Breaking down his definition of the concept, there are three components to Coach Wooden’s definition of cooperation:

1. “With all levels of your co-workers.”

A young man once posed this question to Coach: “Next week, I will be starting my first job as a manager in a brand-new department. What advice can you give me?”


“Make sure the people in your department know that they’re working with you, not for you.”


Coach replied, “Make sure the people in your department know that they’re working with you, not for you.”

The young man nodded enthusiastically and responded, “Coach Wooden, what other advice can you give me?”

Coach smiled, then repeated slowly and carefully: “Make sure the people in your department know that they’re working with you, not for you.”

2. “Listen if you want to be heard.”

One night I was having an energetic but amicable telephone conversation with my mother-in-law, Nan Wooden (Coach’s daughter), on a topic where we simply did not agree. Nan was in the middle of stating her position when she stopped suddenly and asked me, “Honey, are you listening to what I’m saying or are you just thinking about what you’re going to say when I’m through talking?”

I was caught. I had been thinking about what I was going to say when she was done rather than actually listening to her words. Be a better listener than I was on that occasion—you’ll get far better cooperation.

3. “Be interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way.”

In the 1970 National Championship game, UCLA faced Jacksonville University and their great All-American center, Artis Gilmore. Early in the game, things weren’t going well for UCLA; they were trailing in the score and Gilmore was dominating the game. After a timeout, the Bruins made a key change in their strategy against Gilmore and the game turned around. Gilmore only made 9 out of 29 shots. UCLA won their sixth national title, 80 to 69.

What makes this story unique, however, is that the change in strategy that Coach Wooden implemented had been the suggestion of one of his players, Sidney Wicks. Because he was willing to listen to others—and had created an environment where people at every level of the team felt safe sharing ideas because they knew all shared a common goal—the team was able to succeed at the highest level of competition. This moment perfectly illustrates the importance of one of Coach’s favorite expressions: “What is right is more important than who is right.”

We can only reach our full potential if we have the cooperation of others. Coach Wooden’s definition is a great checklist to help us understand how to gain, and maintain, that all-important cooperation.

Related: How John Wooden Led His Teams to a Victorious Life

This article originally appeared on TheWoodenEffect.com and has been republished with permission.

Craig Impelman

As Coach Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman had the opportunity to learn Coach’s teachings firsthand and wrote about those lessons for his site, www.woodenswisdom.com. He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.