Has working with people from other organisations become a value to pursue in and of itself? Jane Webb, PhD student at Chalmers, the Department of Technology Management and Economics, reflects on this question in her licentiate thesis: "He just doesn't catch it in his heart." Untangling goals and values in inter-organisational collaboration.
Tell us about your research!
Today it’s common that people from many organisations work together to tackle societal challenges, like social exclusion or sustainability transitions. I spent time with people working in two examples of this, observing how they got their work done. I’ve called my thesis “He just doesn’t catch it in his heart”. This is a quote from someone telling me about his frustration when a partner didn’t seem to have the same idea as he did about what they were working together for. This got me wondering about the different goals people have for collaboration and the values that connect to these. I’ve analysed some of the goals and values in the two settings where I did fieldwork. I talk about what a web of goals and values means for finding a way to keep collaboration going.
Why is this important?
Researchers and managers often take for granted that it’s possible to reach a shared understanding when it comes to the goals of inter-organisational collaboration. In my research, I talk about how such a sense of shared understanding may lead to people not putting in the time and effort to pick up on the wide variety of goals. Some of these goals may be complementary. Some may be in conflict. A lot of them are hidden until people really sit down and talk about it. I believe that collaboration itself is underwritten by a load of values about how people should interact with each other and what each person should put into the collaboration. Talking about expectations of what partnership entails on a regular basis helps people better understand these values and figure out how they can pursue a variety of goals.
Why do you find this area interesting?
Goals and values are everyday words that we all use, whatever we work with, the whole time. It’s a very human topic. Researchers have put time into studying dynamics within a team, or between people working across different teams that are part of the same company/organisation. Something really exciting happens, though, when the team is made up of people who come from different organisations. Within an organisation, employees have a lot of shared reference points – the ways they get things done, the jargon they use, the different people they see as responsible for change initiatives…When a team is made up of people from different organisations, they have to shape something new. And it’s super-exciting to watch these processes!
What are your most important research findings?
I ask whether work between people from different organisations has become a value to pursue in and of itself. I encourage everyone taking part in inter-organisational collaboration to put effort into finding out about the variety of goals and values of their fellow participants. This helps create working practices that encourage many perspectives, something that helps with coming up with new approaches to the big issues facing society.
Was there anything that surprised you during your research?
My approach to research is always to follow my gut instinct – what matters to people and what is surprising to me during fieldwork are what I live for! I was pleased to find a topic for the licentiate thesis which allowed me to talk about both of the inter-organisational partnerships that I have studied. They are very different from one another. But considering how people talked about goals and values in both settings, helped me understand something new about each setting.
What new knowledge do you bring forward in your research?
I pay attention to what happens when people from different organisations bring together personal goals and values, and the goals and values that they associate with their home organisations. I see this muddle of goals and values as adding a real energy to joint work. It can be frustrating and eat up a lot of time, but if people learn to live with the variety of goals and find a way to bring some of them together, then real magic happens.
“My research is all about inviting people to reflect. If people think more about the way they interact with others, I’ll be very happy”
- Jane Webb, Chalmers
What do you hope for your research to lead to?
I put the spotlight on some aspects that are important to be aware of when working with people from other organisations. My research is all about inviting people to reflect – whether they’re participating in inter-organisational collaboration or are researching inter-organisational collaboration. If people think more about the way they interact with others and the research questions they’re asking, I’ll be very happy!
What will be the next step in your research?
I’ll be continuing with fieldwork for most of 2018. Then I’ll take stock of all the material I’ve gathered. I’m lucky enough to have regular contact with the people of one partnership between fourteen organisations over two years – there’s a lot that I would love to write about! First things first though, I’ll present a conference paper in June 2018 where I get more into the ideas I’ve sketched out in the licentiate.
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