Guide Practices for Network Management : In Search of Collaborative Advantage

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Edited by Steve Cropper, Chris Huxham, Mark Ebers, and Peter Smith Ring
  1. Magnus Mikael Hellström
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  3. Boundary Spanning and the Art of Persuasion

The goals paradox serves as a reminder that there will be underlying tensions and that managerial responses need to incorporate these. Accepting the paradox however, does not mean abandoning active management of goals. It does not provide normative guidance on how to manage goals but aims to support participants in understanding their collaborative relationships and so allow them to devise their own management strategies for a fuller account of this conceptual framework, see Vangen and Huxham Managing Trust As with the issue of goals, trust is also seen as a necessary condition for successful collaboration Lane and Bachmann yet the reality of many collaborations suggests that trust is frequently weak - if not lacking altogether.

This particular paradox then suggests that there is a need to look at how trust can be built and maintained between partners in the context of collaboration. Thus building can be conceptualized through a loop as depicted in Figure x. This argues that two factors are important in initiating a trusting relationship. The first concerns the formation of expectations about the future of the collaboration; these will be based either on reputation or past behavior, or on more formal contracts and agreements Gulati Given the difficulties of agreeing aims, as discussed above, this is a non-trivial starting point.

The second starting point involves risk taking; partners need to trust each other enough to allow them to take a risk to initiate the collaboration Gambetta This reinforces trusting attitudes and provides a basis for more ambitious collaboration. Reinforce trusting Gain underpinnings attitudes for more ambitious collaboration Aim for realistic initially modest but successful outcomes form expectations about the have enough trust and take future of the collaboration a risk to initiate the based on reputation or past collaboration behavior or contracts and agreements Figure x.

Trust can be developed over time moving gradually towards initiatives where partners are willing to take greater risks because a high level of trust is present. When risk and uncertainty levels are high, a strategy involving incremental increases in resource commitments may indeed be the preferred strategy. In many situations however, the collaborative advantage aimed for requires the collaborating partners to be more ambitious, and hence adopt a higher risk approach. The small wins approach may for example be in contradiction with the need to address major social issues rapidly or meet the requirements of external funding bodies for demonstrable output.

More comprehensive ways of managing trust have different implications for initiating and sustaining the trust building loop. We will elaborate a bit further on this below. Typically, there are differences in views about who the central members are and what their roles or membership status are with respect to the collaboration. In practice it can be difficult to be certain about what organization, collaboration or other constituency if any individuals represent.

Simply identifying with whom to build trust therefore can be very difficult and time-consuming. Working out with whom trust should be built is not the only challenge in getting started in the trust building loop. As we have already discussed above, practitioners continuously raise concerns over the establishment of joint aims. Seeking agreement on aims to effectively initiate the trust building loop can be problematic in practice.

In situations where the small wins approach is not feasible however, the risk associated with the collaboration has to be managed as an integral part of trust building.

Risk is usually associated with opportunistic behavior and vulnerability relating to apprehensions that partners will take advantage of collaborative efforts by for example claiming ownership of joint efforts. When the aim is to build trust however, risk management cannot be concerned with guarding against opportunistic behavior e. This requires efforts associated with aims negotiation, structural ambiguity, clarification of expectations, willingness and ability to enact the agreed collaborative agenda in view of associated power and influence relationships and so on.

These activities are extremely resource intensive and time consuming and their management requires a great deal of skill and sensitivity. Hence the effort is only recommended where trust cannot be built incrementally. Sustaining the trust building loop then requires the participants to work together, gradually becoming more ambitious, over time, in their joint endeavors.

Unfortunately, while all organizations are dynamic in nature, collaborations are particularly so because they are sensitive to transformation in each of the partner organizations and therefore may change very quickly.

Effort put into building mutual understanding and developing trust can be shattered, for example, by a change in the structure of a key organization or the job change of a key individual. Sustaining the trust building loop therefore, requires continuous attention to trust relationships. Alongside the issues relating to the dynamic nature of collaboration, power issues in particular seem to challenge efforts aimed at sustaining the loop.

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An appreciation of the inevitability of power imbalances as well as the ability to interpret any actions that members take in response to them may help prevent loss of trust. Furthermore, an understanding of the way in which balances of power tend to change during the life of a collaboration and indeed whether and how power imbalances can and should be deliberately shifted seems essential in sustaining the trust gained.

If not managed effectively, any one of these issues can prevent trust from developing or even cause loss of trust. Ideally therefore, all these issues need to be managed simultaneously and, due to the dynamic nature of collaboration, in a continuous manner. Failing to do so may cause the trust loop to fracture. This framework has sought to illustrate in broad terms the contrast between two different approaches to the management of trust: small wins versus comprehensive management.

Both approaches have their merits. The illustration of each intends to provide insight to inform the managerial judgment about the kind of trust building activities that are appropriate to collaborative situations for a fuller account of this conceptual framework, see Vangen and Huxham a. Studies have shown that similar and compatible cultures yield greater connectivity and shared understanding between partners which render the act of collaborating less problematic Beamish and Lupton In practice, however, collaborations may necessarily span organizational, professional and even national boundaries thus incorporating cultural diversity that may cause conflicts, misunderstandings and points of friction Bird and Osland ; Shenkar et al, Indeed, research has tended to focus on addressing such friction rather than treating culture as one of the resources that may lead to synergistic gains.

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Cultural similarity and diversity is thus in tension. Our research points to three inter-related management tensions in this respect, each of which focuses on a particular interaction within collaboration. A brief summary of each tension is provided below. Typically, partners have different structures and procedures expressed through the organization but constituted additionally through professional practices or idiosyncrasies rooted in national cultures that they deploy to meet their own goals.

When such distinct resources can be deployed jointly, they can be used to pursue collaborative goals.

Magnus Mikael Hellström

Paradoxically, this need for flexibility may compromise those structures and processes that enable them to deliver their core business which enables them to make a contribution to the goals of the collaboration in the first place. We thus identify an accommodation tension defined in terms of the poles of flexibility and rigidity. Flexibility in structures and processes, working through - and sometimes in spite of - difference, is necessary to accommodate diverse cultures.

Agency tension Following on from the accommodation tensions above, in culturally diverse collaborations, organizational representatives typically have to respond to cultural frictions at the inter- personal level within structures that are ill fit for that purpose.

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However, managers express much frustration about not being in control of operational and strategic matters pertaining to the collaboration and the perception that they lack power, authority or discretion to respond appropriately. While it is entirely reasonable that managers should be supported and empowered to act on behalf of their organizations for the purpose of the collaboration, any individual autonomy needs to be exercised without leaving the individuals vulnerable and organizations at risk.

We can thus identify an agency tension defined by the poles of autonomy and accountability - which can play out in a number of ways. In terms of generating advantage through cultural diversity, managers undoubtedly need enough individual autonomy to act on behalf of their organizations even to the extent of deviating from established organizational procedures.

In the midst of this complexity the quantity tension arises. It captures the sense in which increasing levels of complexity need to be embraced to secure advantage from cultural diversity. However such complexity requires an increasing level of control and simplification in order to militate against complexity induced inertia. First, organizations seek to find partners with a similar culture or who are able and willing to compromise. This will yield connectivity and understanding between the partners and hence be easier to manage.

Typically they achieve such control by seeking to be the lead, thus effectively imposing their culture upon the collaboration, or by actively controlling the channels of communication between partners. Notwithstanding the pragmatic need to control the complexity of collaborations, there is nevertheless a real opportunity cost associated with simplifying cultural diversity. Selecting partners that are culturally similar, insisting on being the lead partner or limiting the number of individuals involved will effectively limit the potential for stimulation, creativity and reward.

Similarly, they reflected on how greater diversity between their own organization and their partners would lead to greater opportunities to diversify rather than simply expanding their core business. The quantity tension is thus defined by the poles of complexity and simplification.

The essence of the tension lies in dealing with the complexities stemming from the number and cultural diversity of the partners that are involved. Retaining control is a necessary element of steering the joint agenda forward, however embracing complexity is necessary if the collaboration is to generate advantage through cultural diversity. They are intended to highlight areas of pertinent tradeoffs and compromises that should inform managerial judgment.

As illustrated in figure x. By contrast the right poles of the tensions suggest that for cultural diversity to yield advantage, there needs to be substantial control. Here, the response is to simplify the extent and impact of diversity - organizations and individuals similarly show a bias outwith the collaboration in order to maintain their contributions.

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Boundary Spanning and the Art of Persuasion

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