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Organizational Collaborative Ecosystems

By: Chuck Piazza | 06 Mar | 3 comments


Working with people around the world is a wonderful opportunity to create new ideas and bring them to life. Multiple perspectives are crucial for success in the unpredictable world we live in. No one can see the whole system anymore.

Bernice Moore’s insight from her latest blog posting is so true, particularly that last sentence—that no one can understand today’s professional and organizational issues or complete work tasks alone. It is about collaboration and teamwork.

If organizational success is reached through various forms of collaboration, what actually is collaboration? Once understood, how can it practically be established and promoted in today’s fast-paced global organizations?

While not easy questions to answer, seven adventurous Saybrook University OS students joined by a business professional who studied at Fielding Institute signed up for a team development and collaborative workplace systems course, and have set off on an adventurous journey to explore these questions and see what they discover together.

The journey is comprised of many routes travelling in the same direction. At the moment, to set a foundation for applying their learning to the workplace, some are grappling with how to articulate what actually is collaboration and what is its relationship to cooperation and teamwork.

Sparked by the latest banning of telework at Yahoo! by Marissa Meyer, some are exploring if high levels of collaboration can actually be achieved in virtual work environments.

Others, focused on practical organizational processes, are striving to identify the critical tools needed to implement appropriate, effective, and efficient collaborative work systems in organizations.

The class members participate in all of the discussions that comprise the various routes to understanding collaborative workplace systems.

What follows are some the insights that are emerging as the journey progresses.

To begin, while sharing key insights, this post is more about enabling deeper inquiry than it is about presenting answers. It is about inviting others—non-class members—into the evolving dialogue engaged in by these courageous colleagues (eight students and one faculty member).

Further, while content is set out to critically examine during this semester, the heart of the course is the collaborative interaction among the course participants in collaboratively shaping the course, being committed to the learning process and each other, and in helping each other achieve their diverse course research agendas. A noble but not easy task when life and work demands so much from students these days.

Learning is occurring because each believe in collaboration and that it adds value to the task at hand. They are willing to create a virtual learning place, establish a collaborative ecological learning system, and risk broadening their own learning outcomes to include being sincerely involved with each other’s professional interests. While it is not easy or always clear what to do for the course, they experiment to discover or create the next step or process because they are committed to each other and the process.

This is an important lesson for today’s professionals.

Other insights that can be drawn from this collaborative venture:

First, collaboration is a dynamic and complex organizational phenomenon that can be encouraged and fostered, but cannot effectively be mandated. Choice plays an important role, as does trusting relationships. It has a human dimension concerned with social networks, leadership styles, and workplace members’ personalities and interaction, and a mechanistic side focused on efficient processes, effective tools and assessment analytics.

Collaboration is not an end within itself, but a means to an end; that is, an organization-based process or tool that leads to a decision being made or a task being completed. Unproductive collaboration wastes valuable time and resources.

The exact nature and characteristics of collaboration are still being discovered. Trying to work collaboratively, in many instances, is still uncharted territory.

In their 2012 article "Collaborative Public Management: Where Are We and Where Are We Going?," Rosemary O’Leary and Nidhi Vij set out that collaboration can be viewed from many angles, some being:

  1. An emergent process between interdependent organizational members who negotiate the answers or solutions to shared concerns or problems;
  2. Working in association with others for the mutual benefit of the participating parties;
  3. A joint activity by several parties where working together adds value to the work by their working together rather than separately; and
  4. Process of facilitating an operating of multi-organizational arrangements to solve problems that cannot be solved or easily resolved by a single person or organization.

From working with the students in this course, I would add that effective organizational collaboration is rooted in the participants’ interest in and commitment to both the organization’s overall goals and success as well as their colleagues. Each participant assumes the appropriate level of accountability needed by the process to successfully achieve the desired outcome.

Second, organizational collaboration:

  1. Is deeply rooted in interdependence, interactive relationships, and dialogical conversations;
  2. Involves, but is significantly more than mere cooperation;
  3. Can be formal and informal, intra and inter-organizational in nature;
  4. Must be supported and fostered by the organization’s culture, structure and leadership if it is to be effective;
  5. Involves focused networking and intentional interaction that is grounded in the projects or organization’s overall operational style; and
  6. Can be achieved in a co-located or dispersed (virtual) workplace environments.

Third, collaboration needs a particular ecosystem to exist and thrive. It emerges from and is supported by a collaborative organizational culture and spirit, an ecology of human interdependence that gives rise to an adaptive structure and set of processes characterized by intentional open conversations and trusting relationships focused on mutual benefit.

More specifically it requires empowering leaders that:

  1. Enable cross boundary networking, dialogical communication and interactive engagement.
  2. Foster open, honest, and trusting relationships among co-workers, and
  3. Promote communication styles that involve active listening, engaging with others, dialogue, constructive criticism, and being open to challenges and feedback.

Organizations that seek to have a collaborative workplace must hire managers and a workforce that can and want to work in such an environment. Employees have to believe that working with others adds value, enhances the outcome, and raises workplace creativity and innovation. Workforce members who do not believe in collaboration or are not willing to develop collaborative skills will be resistant and become obstacles to organizational success.

Fourth, there are many forms and levels of collaboration. It can take shape as intra and inter-organizational links, groups, (social) networks, teams (co-located and distributed/virtual), partnerships, alliances, and communities.

When charting the movement towards being collaborative, a difference can be seen between

  1. Being logistically accessible,
  2. Willing to be available,
  3. Open to being cooperative,
  4. Choosing to collaborate, and
  5. Deciding to engage as a workplace team or partner.

Moving from one state of being to the other is a conscious choice to become more engaged, establish deeper working relationships, and assume more responsibility.

Fifth, effective workplace collaboration efforts involve assessment and measurement processes and analytics. The organization’s culture, leadership, workforce, work environment, and operational processes among other facets must be assessed they can accommodate a collaborative work style.

How to conduct such an assessment will be the topic of my next post on collaboration. In the meantime, what insights have you drawn from your experiences of participating in collaborative organizational ventures?

Read other posts by Chuck Piazza

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Comments and Discussions

As a participant in this

As a participant in this class, one of my most significant insights has been that there is no one right answer to collaboration. This is beautifully captured in the aggregate in the insights shared in this article above. However, I have to say that the experience surfaced this for me in a way that I am not sure I would have fully understood otherwise. Since I am a student in this class, I realized I had an unconscious expectation that Chuck would at some point say, “Ok, this is right and this is wrong about what you have surfaced in this discussion about how to approach this.” That never happened, of course. We are participants, and with the direction and input provided by our instructor, I realized it is our responsibility to navigate these questions collectively to land on what can only be decided collectively: what will serve us both individually and as a group.

This was a pretty significant shift for me, made more so by the realization that this experience reflects the nature of navigating collaboration in organizational life as well. I wonder how often others or I have waited for someone else to come up with the “right” answer, when in truth, no ONE else can. And as Khwezi notes above, this takes not only this understanding, but also choice and commitment to engage.

organizational collaborative ecosystems

One thing that jumped out at me in your blog was the commitment of the participants to each other's success. One's level of commitment determines the value they place on the experience, the learning and on other; the level of vulnerability one chooses to reveal (their risk);and the extent to which each have chosen to participate.

At the end of the day collaboration is about choice - what we will give of our selves (whatever aspect of our being we choose to make available) to others. We give of our selves not to some inanimate, nondescript thing called an organization but to the people we meet, interact, and exchange in those places, to the people with whom we are in relationship, a caring, sharing, and nourishing relationship. When we are invested in the success of other as well as our own then can then benefits of collaboration appear.

On Participating in Collaborative Organizational Ventures

One of the most difficult challenges that impede collaboration in the workplace is culture. In fact, I am surprised to witness a high degree of reluctance to collaborate when level of trust is low and competition is so high. In some instances, it takes a lot of awareness building and training to melt the ice among employees even in the same department. Leaders have to intervene to slowly change the mindset and build the collaborative spirit. It will be very interesting to find specific and effective ways to do that.

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