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COLLABORATION IN WORK SETTINGS

ELIZABETH LEE LOUGHRAN, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Abstract

In the past two decades collaboration has been proposed as a means for reducing alienation in the workplace, for increasing productivity, and for increasing the capacity of organizations to adapt to fast-changing environments. However, to date very few thorough studies have investigated precisely what collaboration is and how it functions in the workplace. The purpose of this study was to describe collaboration in enough detail so that practitioners will be able to vary specific aspects within the organization, thereby increasing the likelihood of collaboration occurring.^ A three-sided analytical model was developed in this study that looked at work groups according to the type of unit involved (individual, small group, organization, society), the perspective taken (purpose, structure, process), and the degree of collaboration (more collaborative, less collaborative). Using this model it was proposed that collaboration has six general characteristics: (1) It meets group purposes requiring creativity and innovation. (2) It meets individual purposes for self-actualization and social interchange. (3) It takes place in small group settings. (4) The small groups exist within a larger context which fosters both autonomy and interdependence. (5) Processes foster formation of goals and productivity. (6) Processes are synergetic.^ It was further demonstrated that these six characteristics are based on some basic assumptions and beliefs which, taken together, form a coherent value structure. The elements are a belief in human potential, a belief in living in harmony with nature, a present and future time perspective, a "being-in-becoming" action modality, and a value on both individual and cooperative relationships. General terms describing this value structure are synergy and holism.^ The six characteristics and underlying values were then used a framework to explore the literature on small group and organizational structures and processes. It was demonstrated that small group variables which support collaboration are: the conceptualization of power as empowerment; a small sized group with stable boundaries and a heterogeneous membership; roles differentiated by function; norms supportive of collaboration; leadership seen as empowering and differentiated; decision making, efficient, creative and shared; conflict resolution, confrontive and constructive; and communication widely shared. Furthermore, group processes that facilitate change (socialization, termination, learning, and group development) are exercised in ways congruent with collaborative principles.^ Systems variables that support collaboration include the existence of many small groups within the system, norms of forming and disbanding groups regularly, and an organizational structure based on the definition of power as a nonscarce resource. Models of organizational structures, which act to increase power in the system, were explored, including the matrix and network organization. Furthermore, the systems concept was used to differentiate among freestanding collaboratives, intraagency, and interagency collaboratives.^ This more detailed analysis of collaboration was then used as an analytical model in three practical applications. First, four familiar case studies were analyzed, using the model to deepen understanding of successes and failures. Next, the model was used to diagnose and make suggestions to an on-going work group. Third, the model was used as a basis for a training design which had, as one of its purposes, the increase of collaborative functioning.^ These three applications proved promising enough to suggest that more long-term comprehensive research be designed to test various components of the model. Specific designs were proposed that would address the three expressed needs for collaboration: the need to reduce alienation, to increase productivity and to increase the ability of organization to adapt to a change environment. ^

Subject Area

Social research

Recommended Citation

LOUGHRAN, ELIZABETH LEE, "COLLABORATION IN WORK SETTINGS" (1981). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI8201353.
http://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI8201353

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