Huxham, Chris and Vangen, Siv
Doing things collaboratively: realizing the advantage or succumbing to inertia?
Organizational Dynamics, 33(2) pp. 190–201.
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There has been much rhetoric about the value of strategic alliances, industry networks, public service delivery partnerships and many other collaborative forms, but reports of unmitigated success are not common. In this article we explore the nature of the practice of collaboration, focusing in particular on some of the reasons why collaborative initiatives tend to challenge those involved. Two concepts are central to this exploration. The first is collaborative advantage. This captures the synergy argument: to gain real advantage from collaboration, something has to be achieved that could not have been achieved by any one of the organizations acting alone. This concept provides a useful ‘‘guiding light’’ for the purpose of collaboration. The second concept, collaborative inertia, captures what happens very frequently in practice: the output from a collaborative arrangement is negligible, the rate of output is extremely slow, or stories of pain and hard grind are integral to successes achieved.
Clearly there is a dilemma between advantage and inertia. The key question seems to be:
If achievement of collaborative
advantage is the goal for those
who initiate collaborative arrangements,
why is collaborative inertia
so often the outcome?
To address this question, and the question of what managers can do about it, we will present a set of seven overlapping perspectives on collaborative management. This is extracted from the theory of collaborative advantage, which has derived from extensive action research over 15 years. We have worked with practitioners of collaboration, in the capacity of facilitators, consultants and trainers, in a wide variety of collaborative situations. We have kept detailed records about the challenges and dilemmas faced by managers, and of comments they make in the course of enacting their collaborative endeavours. Many such statements are reproduced as illustrative examples in this article.
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