Neutrophils, monocytes and macrophages are closely related phagocytic cells that cooperate during the onset, progression and resolution of inflammation. This Review highlights the mechanisms involved in the intimate partnership of phagocytes during each progressive phase of the inflammatory response. We describe how tissue-resident macrophages recognize tissue damage to promote the recruitment of neutrophils and the mechanisms by which infiltrating neutrophils can then promote monocyte recruitment. Furthermore, we discuss the phagocyte-derived signals that abrogate neutrophil recruitment and how the uptake of apoptotic neutrophils by macrophages leads to termination of the inflammatory response. Finally, we highlight the potential therapeutic relevance of these interactions.