Complex Collaboration: Building the Capabilities for Working Across Boundaries: Volume 10


Table of contents

(15 chapters)

This work was partially supported by the Center for Collaborative Organizations, formerly The Center for the Study of Work Teams. The change in name reflects our recognition that collaboration occurs at many levels of organization besides the team level. The Center has always considered bridging the gap between the academic and practice worlds a mission to be pursued. The success of that bridging is critical for understanding practice and for basing practice on tested theory. The chapters in this book reflect this kind of bridging partnership.

Michael Beyerlein is Director of the Center for Collaborative Organizations ( and Professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology at the University of North Texas. His research interests include all aspects of collaborative work systems, organization transformation, work stress, creativity/innovation, knowledge management and the learning organization, and complex adaptive systems. He has published in a number of research journals and has been a member of the editorial boards for TEAM Magazine, Team Performance Management Journal, and Quality Management Journal. Currently, he is senior editor of the Elsevier annual series of books Advances in Interdisciplinary Studies of Work Teams and the Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer Collaborative Work Systems series. He has authored or edited 15 books. His most recent are Beyond Teams: Building the Collaborative Organization (2002), The Collaborative Work System Fieldbook (2003), and Team-based Organizing (2003). He has been involved in projects at the Center for Collaborative Organizations (formerly, The Center for the Study of Work Teams) with such companies as Boeing, Shell, NCH, AMD, Raytheon, First American Financial, Westinghouse, and Xerox and with government agencies such as Veterans Affairs, DCMAO, EPA, and the City of Denton.Douglas A. Johnson is director of the Industrial/Organizational psychology program, professor of psychology, and associate director of the Center for Collaborative Organizations at the University of North Texas. He has published research in a variety of areas ranging from teams, leadership and job satisfaction, to operant conditioning and interpersonal attraction. He co-founded and served as president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Organizational Psychology Group (now Dallas Area Industrial/Organizational Psychologists), and participated in the creation of the Dallas office of the consulting firm, Personnel Decisions International, from whom he recently retired.Susan Tull Beyerlein holds a Ph.D. in organization theory and policy with a minor in education research from the University of North Texas. Since 1995, she has been an instructor of business and psychology at Our Lady of the Lake University in Irving, Texas. Susan has served as a research scientist/project manager with the Center for Collaborative Organizations at the University of North Texas, and has been a recipient of research grant awards from the Association for Quality and Participation, the National Science Foundation, and corporate donors. Since 1995, she has co-edited the Elsevier/JAI Imprint annual book series entitled, Advances in Interdisciplinary Studies of Work Teams, and has served as an ad hoc reviewer for The Academy of Management Review. She has been a member of the Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer Collaborative Works Systems series since its inception. Susan has published book reviews on contemporary business offerings in Business and the Contemporary World, and her work has also appeared in Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, Journal of Management Education, Empirical Studies of the Arts, and Multiple Linear Regression Viewpoints. She is a member of the Academy of Management, Beta Gamma Sigma – the honor society for collegiate schools of business, and Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society.

Complex collaboration refers to situations where working together effectively across boundaries is critical for complex projects and problems. This work often involves projects of large scope and long duration. The knowledge of a variety of disciplines may be involved. Such projects may cross organizational, national, and/or cultural boundaries. The problem of managing such situations includes ambitious schedules, conflict of cultures and practices, massive amounts of information, multiple languages, and ambiguity of roles and responsibilities. Complex collaboration represents a capability that is essential to effective execution in such situations as new product development, mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, and supply chain management, as well as large government projects. A number of issues emerge in examining complex collaboration, including: unit of analysis, critical relationships, resource development, virtual teaming, key skills, and improvement processes.

People have worked together since the beginnings of human time. Since then the forms of collaboration have barely changed. While a group of laborers building the pyramids of Egypt might seem to bear little resemblance to a team of machine operators working in a plant, they actually have much in common. Both groups are made up of people of similar backgrounds with clear loyalties and interests, interacting face-to-face to perform relatively well-defined tasks in pursuit of a shared goal.

Product development becomes more complex when co-development involves multiple parties crossing boundaries of functions, companies, countries and even competitors. An interdisciplinary framework is needed to understand the challenges of structuring collaborative work within global product teams – especially in the research arenas of strategic partnerships, product development teams, collaboration, distributed work, organizational learning and new metaphors. The multi-party partnership of the Joint Strike Fighter Program at Lockheed Martin, the largest aerospace program in history, provides an illustration of the complex information-sharing and problem-solving challenges in aligning a large, distributed, global integrated product team in an environment where even connectivity is a challenge. It sets the stage for the innovative management approaches needed to build collaborative climates as well as research directions for the future.

In this chapter, we make the argument that science-based firms in the life sciences are expected to actively expand the volume and scope of collaborations, and broaden the kinds of partners with whom they collaborate, as they grow larger, older, and become successful. We base our arguments on a general process of organizational learning in which organizations with diverse ties are exposed to a broader stock of knowledge, heterogeneity in the portfolio of collaborators facilitates innovation, and repeat contracting enables organizations to deepen their protocols for the exchange of information and resources. We draw from these ideas the conclusion that interfirm collaboration is not a transitional stage, or stepping stone, to success or maturity, but a significant organizational practice in technologically advanced fields. Extending this argument, we suggest this strategy of interfirm collaboration represents neither dependency nor specialization but an alternative way of accessing knowledge and resources.

This chapter compares the literature on public and private sector collaboration and considers the implications for success in collaborative relationships between the sectors. It highlights key comparative drivers of intent for both types of organization, explores the relationship between them, and proposes a framework for primary investigation based on the relationship between the key areas of competitive positioning and level of risk. A case study analysis of two complex strategic partnership initiatives in Wales,1 both involving collaboration between local health boards, local authorities, health trusts and other statutory, voluntary and private sector stakeholders is then used to illustrate the complexity of successfully managing relationships in this context.

How can studying the case of the modern business school potentially give us a better understanding of the phenomenon of complex collaborations? (Gregoire & Prigogine, 1989; Peak & Frame, 1994; Stacey, 1995). Why does a business school need to enter into complex collaborations? (Lorange, 2000, 2002c, 2003). As a starting position, we should recognize that the activities of the classic business school are generally rather mature. There is fierce competition among business schools, the supply is abundant, and there are only a few established, elite business schools that can be seen as being truly different from the large agglomeration of schools. As such, we can see the business school arena as relatively mature, even atomistic.

With the advent of the resource-based and dynamic capabilities views of the firm, researchers of collaborative relationships have raised the question as to whether superior management of such relationships does indeed explain observed differences in collaborative performance of individual firms. While most research to-date has concentrated on antecedents and development of such management capabilities, in this chapter we propose a comprehensive construct aimed at capturing what constitutes collaborative capability. Results of an exploratory field study of vertical relationships in the software service sector suggest that collaborative capability consists of structural, cognitive, and affective dimensions. Based on our findings, we believe that the three dimensions of collaborative capability act as complements rather than substitutes, and that superior collaborative performance depends on a proper balance of the three dimensions.

Collaborative forms range from co-located teams engaged in short term local projects, to international joint ventures, to worldwide networks of organizations and citizens linked together to generate global social change. In order to discern patterns that transcend the breadth of forms (including virtual), a new term is introduced that encompasses the entire spectrum: collaborative entity (CE). The diverse and far-ranging CE literature is then integrated into the Collaborative Capacity (CC) Framework. That framework is comprised of ten broad constructs and their interrelationships that, when considered together, capture fundamental aspects of all CEs. The CC Framework provides a bridge-building language to help facilitate inter-disciplinary, multi-dimensional dialogue, research, and perspectives on fostering collaborative capacity.

Executives of network organizations seek to combine core competencies and talents of individual firms, along the various links of the value chain for a given project. These firms are brought together in alignment for the purpose of providing organizations a competitive advantage. Using multiple examples as well as results from an extensive research project, this chapter introduces a multidisciplinary model for leading network organizations. The model is informed by theoretical and empirical research and by executive practice. It includes consideration of an organization’s internal interactions as well as its interactions with the environment and with the external organizations within its network. The chapter provides leaders a set of four imperatives for achieving effective collaboration within networks.

We construct a theory of team collaboration to explain how social actors activate their network ties to gain access to and acquire the use of social capital held by other network actors. Drawing from weak-strong tie theory and closure-brokerage models of network structures, our theory specifies dynamic processes in which relations vary in their potential for activation, and thus, project teams have differential probabilities of mobilizing and gaining collective use of the varied resources held by their network alters inside and outside the team. The theoretical scope is interorganizational team whose members are employed by two partnering organizations and are assigned to a joint project with a single task or goal to be accomplished within a limited period. We present and discuss a set of propositions about factors that affect the ability of a team to access its members’ social capital for use in a project task.

We examine collaborative complexity arising from strategic alliances among competitors. In high technology industries, rapidly evolving and modular technologies increase the likelihood that collaborative alliances will develop between partners who also compete with one another. Partnering under these conditions involves choosing collaborative structures that foster the transfer and integration of some resources, while simultaneously protecting other resources from unintended transfer. Using resource-based, transaction cost, and industrial organization economic theories we develop a model to depict the risks and rewards of collaboration under different modes of competitive interdependence. Two dimensions underlie our conceptual model: resource interdependence and competitive interdependence. Resource interdependence is the degree of integration needed for the resources contributed by alliance partners as reflected in the nature of the resources and their co-specialization. Competitive interdependence gauges the similarity between partners in their overall strategic capabilities and customer markets. We conclude with a discussion of the contingent use of inter-organizational structures to enable partners to balance resource contributions and resource protection in collaborative-competitive relationships.

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Book series
Advances in Interdisciplinary Studies of Work Teams
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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