Reading Response – “Conceptualizing and Measuring Collaboration”

Thomson et all argue in “Conceptualizing and Measuring Collaboration” that  from both a theoretical and practical standpoint, the meaning of collaboration has to be better defined in order to measure and, with this data, better implement collaboration. Pages 23 through 28 specifically provide a review of the theory on collaboration, categorized by the authors in 5 key dimensions of collaboration which seem very much interconnected. I personally interpret these dimensions as a possible checklist for successful collaboration. In my own words, these are the requirements for successful collaboration within the 5 dimensions:

To govern means “to conduct policy, actions and affairs”. Much like within any organization, governance within collaboration is important because without a transparent framework of rules (the policy), the participants will become uncertain on how to operate within the collaboration. Like any other part of the collaboration, the management of these rules should be a shared responsibility.

Even with great guidelines on how to operate within a collaboration, the collaboration can be unsuccessful without proper administration of these policies and actions. The administrative structure of a collaboration is decentralized because of the autonomous nature of a collaboration (see ‘Organizational Autonomy’) and because of that, it might be even more important that these structures are set up correctly and with agreement of all parties.

Organizational Autonomy
In any collaboration there is a conflict of identity and interest. Partners in a collaboration will need to juggle between their own identity, thriving to meet personal goals, and that of the collaboration, achieving the collaboration goals while maintaining accountability to their partners. This creates a very dynamic partnership (and holds, according to Innes, potential for creativity) but can lead to frustrations in the collaboration. The interest of the individual can never conflict with the goals of the collaboration.

Because of the autonomous nature of a collaboration (the tension between personal and joined goals), mutual beneficial interdependencies are very important for the success of a collaboration: it is the drive of the collaboration. These dependencies can happen in two different ways: either because one partner has unique resources the other party can benefit from or because of shared interests, for example missions, target audiences or culture. Is one of these reasons for collaboration better than the other?

Trust is a central component of collaboration. Even if all parties are able to keep both its personal and the joined goals in mind and the collaboration is build on solid interdependencies, the partners of the collaboration still have to trust that the other party has been truthful in providing information and will follow through on its promises. Trust can exist for short-term collaborations as well long-term ones, but it will be build on the reputation of the parties.

Although the article gives excellent insight in the theory behind the 5 key dimensions, I’m interested in the evidence of these 5 dimension in practice. Please give an example of a collaboration that was unsuccessful because of the wrong implementation of one of the 5 dimensions. Do you think that certain collaboration might not need all 5 dimensions to be successful, or do you think a certain dimension is more important than the others?

6 thoughts on “Reading Response – “Conceptualizing and Measuring Collaboration””

  1. I have had a few experiences in the past where I have been in a group for a project and I have had to do more work than my partners because they did not follow through with their end of the collaboration. In the most recent example I can think of, there was at least some substantial group work in conceptualizing the project, I ended up doing most of the physical work and preparing all of the presentation because my partners did not offer to step up and help nor did I trust that they would do a good job if they did more work. This has long been a personal issue with collaboration: I believe in my own vision, and I sometimes do not trust my group members enough to let them have a say in the project. In this case, I could argue that all five dimensions are missing to some degree, but mostly governance, mutuality, and norms—there has usually been a lack of understanding in how to truly function as a group and a lack of shared benefits taken from the group in which one party profits way more than the other.

  2. I think the idea of being able to measure the success of a collaboration is really interesting. A great example of this is Building 20, a building part of MIT that turned out the be an incubator for innovation (without trying to be). What is fascinating about this building is that the space itself was decrepit and uncomfortable, but because of these conditions led to collaborations that would have otherwise never occurred. Learn more about Building 20 here:

    So by looking at precedents and examples of past successful collaborations, we can start to think about ways of developing a tool for measuring the potential success for future collaborations.

  3. For me, trust is always the key factor for good collaborative works, yet it’s the hardest one to be built. Sometimes you might trust the party / group with good reputation, but you might not really trust the people who actually work with you. When I was working, our company once collaborated with an association which was in good reputation, however, the person who was in charge of our case was irresponsible thus causing us many troubles. In the end, that collaborative experience was not good. Trust is hard to build yet easy to break, I think that’s why sometimes collaborate with each other is hard.

  4. From my experience, I would say Organizational Autonomy is quite theoretical but also impractical. I think this might also be one of your questions too. I believe that for every single group, there can and should be a share and consistent understating of the goals members want to achieve in the future. However, it changes through time. It is difficult to ask every member to stay to their original pursuit along the process. And in reality, there are also tons of variables that generate conflicts to occur during collaboration such as the relationship between members or the personal interest takes over collective goal. So the principle of “The interest of the individual can never conflict with the goals of the collaboration.” seems a little too ideal for me. I had a team that everyone began with strong passion and all every excited to make something happen. However, in the process we found out that some of the members didn’t want to stick to the original goals and they wanted to change it. The negotiation failed and we split. It ended no as we thought but it is also a good experience to see how important we need to keep us on track all the time in case some important members would lose it sooner or later.

  5. This summer I worked in a group of five people to design something collectively, with absence of administration as well as trust. The members of the group weren’t aware of each other’s capabilities and had difficulty trusting each other’s work. And lack of hierarchy in the group as well as no constraints in the project resulted in all five of us stepping on each other’s toes to create something which each of us individually thought was the best. As a result, we could come up with a range of ideas but were unable to reach a consensus because neither of us had the power to make a decision for all of us. Each one also wanted to prove to be more powerful than the other.
    In my opinion the structure for a group, especially for long term goals, needs to be very well laid out along with assigning work to someone and letting them own it. In order for collaboration to work well there needs to be trust amongst the group members.

    However, I am also working in a group right now, where all of us are working collaboratively to create a new product and everyone’s feedback is understood, valued and implemented. The project requires a constant iterative process in order for it to work well. In this case, the group considers more thoughts and actions from every individual and implements them during the process even though it may not be implemented in the final version. This format of the group for such a project works well even without hierarchy and structure or any set norms.

  6. I believe it is important to have some sort of structure or guidelines when it comes to working in a collaborative. If you lay out and delegate who is responsible for what things may gel together. People have different strengths and it is important that you utilize these strengths in a group.

    I’ve had a really bad experience this semester working with a certain student. This student actually asked each person in the group for a substantial amount of money without even notifying the instructor. This student was definitely a strong communicator and some what bossy making choices for the entire group, but in reality she didn’t do any of the work just assigned task to certain students. I on the other hand had to speak with her and told her this is all wrong and I will not give you anything. In the end all funds had to be returned because the teacher had found out. It was an awful experience and definitely an eye opener.

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