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Unique Features of Collaboration

Collaboration is promising if people and organizations can connect with each other in a meaningful process that does justice to the interests and focuses on a meaningful ambition. It's a major task to create the right conditions for this.

Organizing between organizations is a form of organizing in which people from autonomous organizations make sustainable agreements and thus coordinate parts of the work. It leads to a diversity of cooperative relationships that have a sustainable intention, but are finite.

Cooperation issues have started to determine the administrative agenda in many organizations. The boardroom realizes that no organization can survive alone and without other organizations can solve the complex issues of our time. Whether it concerns innovation, good care, economic development, sustainability, public order and safety or overcoming a recession. Collaboration is therefore necessary, but certainly not self-evident. Speech confusion and difference of opinion often form a stumbling block. Common glasses can offer a solution.

The theme of 'collaboration' is receiving increasing attention in the development of organizations. Being able to collaborate well also places demands on organizations that participate in collaborative processes: having a vision of collaborating, a collaborative strategy, the presence of collaborative individuals and conditions for collaborative behavior. These are examples of conditions for effective external and internal collaboration. Conditions that currently find their way into the agenda of many change processes as key themes.

Characteristics of a cooperation issue

Some people enjoy working together, others find it very unpleasant. Apparently, there are circumstances or characteristics of working in partnerships that are a pleasure for one and a source of frustration for another. We searched for the essential characteristics of collaboration, because it's precisely these that determine their special features.

1. A great deal of interdependence

Each of the partners must give up part of their autonomy in the confidence that they'llget more in return. This's often a major challenge and above all a vulnerable process. Directors and managers find it difficult to give up autonomy. This may tempt them to frustrate the process rather than stimulate it. The parties also realize that they can't do without and with each other. As a result of this interdependence, there's a complex game of dealing with different partners, coalition formation, partner choice and position play.

2. An unclear center of power

In environments where multiple parties and at the same time nobody alone holds the key, there's always uncertainty about the center of power (Schruijver and Vansina, 2007). Who's pulling the strings? There's no clear answer to this question. Because: power is divided over several parties, parties derive power from different sources and power and influence are exercised in different ways and according to different styles.

The power of parties is often underestimated. Probably because power isn't always clearly visible. It's then important to 'learn to read' the distribution and application of power.

3. A new reality

In circumstances in which multiple parties have to make ends meet, parties jointly create a new reality (Weick, 1995). A partnership starts from scratch. In the beginning there are only a meaningful relationship and a vulnerable process. This's a complex process, not only because parties have to formulate an issue and a solution together and together give meaning to an opportunity in the market. Also because the only basis they've for that lies in the mutual relationships and interaction. It's always the challenge to bring together different interests and ambitions to form a commonly supported view of (solving) the common problems.

4. The appeal of heterogeneity

As a party you're fascinated by the other because they help you discover yourself. At the same time, you fear the other person because he can be a threat. This paradox creates ambiguity, because the real basis for cooperation is formed by the differences between the parties (Hoebeke, 2004). Agreements between parties are the basis for competition. So the more cooperating parties move in the same field, the greater the chance of competition between them. In practice it proves difficult to understand this paradox and its dynamics.

5. A dynamic context

Any attempt to map a complex situation is out of date when the map is drawn. Causality is rarely visible, it's more a case of plausibility and often coincidence. Every action means that there's always a new situation. The parties are constantly assessing the situation in a collaboration, because the situation is constantly changing. That means that every conversation has an element of establishing trust again. This's never self-evident and must always be redefined. A complex choreography is created of partners who always define their mutual relationship.

Cooperation described

Organizing between organizations is a form of organizing in which people from autonomous organizations make sustainable agreements and thus coordinate parts of the work. It leads to a diversity of collaborative relationships with a sustainable intention, but nevertheless collaborate finite.

Organizing between organizations...

This's different from working together between individuals in departments, teams or projects. But that collaboration between individuals is certainly relevant. After all, it's always about cooperation between people!

... is a form of organizing...

There's a sense of purpose, people must want to put energy into it, it must have meaning and value, it requires the use of resources and it leads to results. A collaboration also develops its own dynamics. it concerns its own objective and strategy, specific control, process design, allocation of resources and its own management style.

... where people...

Directors, managers, professionals are often closely involved in partnerships. Collaboration is therefore always human work, with all the dynamics that go with it.

... from autonomous organizations...

So cooperation is about voluntarily letting go of 'little' autonomy in the expectation that letting go will yield benefits. This makes collaboration between organizations such an exciting area. There's no direct control: it's about interests, mutual influence, communicating, negotiating and trusting the good intention of the other. Within organizations, control and uncertainty reduction are important dogmas that can be at odds with collaboration between organizations.

... based on sustainable agreements...

Collaboration is based on implicit or explicit agreements that can take many forms. They can be formal and laid down in complex legal contracts. They can even take the form of a new organizational entity (a joint venture, cooperative association). There may be informal agreements, oral agreements; sometimes there's talk of no more (or less!) than psychological contracts.

... with a diversity of collaborative relationships...

Collaborative relationships can take different forms. For example, there are alliances in which organizations create a new environment in which risks, costs and returns are shared. For example, there are networks in which autonomous organizations join forces to serve specific interests and goals.

... with a lasting relationship, but finite...

We don't consider a one-off sale on a market as a cooperative relationship: after all, there's no sustainable intention. In our opinion, if one organization takes over the other and the acquired organization gives up its autonomy, this isn't a cooperative relationship, because in principle the initiative has a permanent intention.

In principle, we consider everything in between as a collaborative relationship.

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