Humans collaborate with non-kin in special ways, but the evolutionary foundations of these collaborative skills remain unclear. We presented chimpanzees with collaboration problems in which they had to decide when to recruit a partner and which potential partner to recruit. In an initial study, individuals recruited a collaborator only when solving the problem required collaboration. In a second study, individuals recruited the more effective of two partners on the basis of their experience with each of them on a previous day. Therefore, recognizing when collaboration is necessary and determining who is the best collaborative partner are skills shared by both chimpanzees and humans, so such skills may have been present in their common ancestor before humans evolved their own complex forms of collaboration.