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Collaborative Systems

A Systems Theoretical Approach to Interorganizational Collaborative Relationships


Donald Neumann

High failure rates often observed in practice suggest that interorganizational collaborative relationships, e.g. strategic alliances, collaborative networks and collaborative supply chains, are still not well understood. This work contributes to their understanding by focusing on their nature. Based on second-order cybernetics and social systems theory, a novel model of interorganizational collaborative relationships is proposed: the Collaborative System. This model explains the following: the organizational function of these relationships; their nature and structure; their emergence and evolution; and the high failure rates observed in practice. Obeying the requirements of a good theory, the proposed model sheds new light on the understanding, research and practice of collaboration.


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Chapter 2


Collaborative Relationships Just as the Industrial Age has been an era characterized by the growth and spread of the large hierarchically controlled organizations, life beyond the Bubble may be characterized by a variety of business and non-business organizations based on cultures of relationship rather than culture of control. Peter Senge, 2010, p. 363 In pre-industrial societies artisans were the basic producing unit. Most ac- tivities involved in production were concentrated in their hands. But, even then, it is probable that increasing product complexity and demand required interactions to supply the artisans with raw materials and tools. This trend developed slowly until the Industrial Revolution, which was marked by for- mal organization, division of labor and a focus on efficiency and efficacy through the intensive use of technology. In this so-called industrial society, the interdependence among organizations increased further. Their interaction became a precondition for their own existence. Despite this fact, it was only in the early 1960s that interorganizational relationships became a subject of scientific research. Up until then, the focus of organizational science was mainly directed at intraorganizational phenomena, while interorganizational interactions were widely neglected (Evan, 1965, pp. B218). Interactions among organizations can assume different forms1. Examples include the direct interaction of members, the emission of public opinions, 1At this point interactions should be understood broadly as any form of communica- tion among organizations. 18 CHAPTER 2. COLLABORATIVE RELATIONSHIPS economic transactions and the appeal to law. This multi-faceted nature of interorganizational relationships allows them to...

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