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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

The emotional and relational challenges of working in collaborative systems: the bumpy road from competition to collaboration

THE CHALLENGES OF MULTIPARTY COLLABORATION Organizations, administrations, and social groups are increasingly challenged or forced to collaborate across the boundaries. In turbulent environments (Trist, 1983) problems are often ill defined, technically complex and scientifically uncertain. They are beyond the scope of a single organization to solve. Several stakeholders have vested interests and they differ in perspective, information, power and resources. The differences in perspective lead to adversarial relationships and conflict. However, stakeholders are compelled to collaborate, because incremental or bilateral efforts do not produce satisfactory results (Gray, 1989). Multiparty collaboration is an organizational strategy to develop sustainable solutions for societal and environmental meta-problems that require multidisciplinary and multi-organizational involvement (Gray, 1989; Huxham, 1996). Multiparty collaboration is '(...) a process through which parties who see different aspects of a problem can constructively explore their differences and search for solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible' (Gray (1989: 5). The parties come together precisely because of their membership in other organizations (Zagier Roberts, 1994). Therefore in a collaborative group inter-groups characteristics are predominant (Vansina, Taillieu & Schruijer, 1998). Gray (1989) distinguishes five characteristics of multiparty systems: (1) the stakeholders are interdependent; (2) solutions emerge by dealing constructively with differences; (3) joint ownership of decisions is involved; (4) stakeholders assume collective responsibility for the future direction of the domain; (5) collaboration is an emergent process (Gray, 1989). Multiparty collaboration can be viewed as a developmental, transitional process where participants grow towards mature relationships in the process of dealing with a difficult task. In my research I try to increase understanding of the nature of this emergent process and of the challenges of engaging in collaborative work. In this paper I analyze the process that emerged in an effort to change competitive relationships between organizations into a structural collaboration. I try to make sense of how the key stakeholders coped with the uncertainty and ambiguity of this self imposed change process. I focus on transitional phenomena that occurred and how these hindered or facilitated the change process.'