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February 15, 2006

Clear Boundaries and Close Collaboration

I was talking the other day to a member of a project team of about a hundred people from several organizations located at more than half a dozen sites. High levels of trust and cooperation contributed to the quality and speed of the work they did, he said.

One source of that collaborative spirit won’t surprise you. The project leader made a point of bringing many team members together for frequent meetings (rotating them among the “home” sites of participants). After the meetings, they had dinner together; once, they spent some hours on a farm that belonged to a friend of the leader. That helped them get to know and trust each other.

Another contributing factor is less obvious. The project leader, he said, created a clear sense of tasks and boundaries. People knew precisely what elements of the project they were responsible for. As a result, they did not worry that other team members would encroach on their territory. That sense of security made them more willing to talk about their work to others and to offer and ask for help. Clarity and openness about people’s work also helped members understand what others on the team were doing and, therefore, where it made sense to look for and share needed expertise.

So establishing appropriate clear roles, tasks, and boundaries may be one way to encourage collaboration.

A familiar example that suggests the same point is the movie industry. Commentators have pointed to the fact that independent contractors come together to make films as proof that virtual (or maybe temporary) organizations can be successfully formed to carry out particular projects. But there are two special features of these movie-making groups. One is that they are drawn from networks of people who already know each other and each other’s work well. The other (relevant to my point here) is that roles, responsibilities, and boundaries are precisely defined in the movie industry. Directors direct, actors act, gaffers do lighting, the best boy helps the gaffer, and foley artists do sound. When they gather to do a movie, they know what their jobs are and how they can help each other.

Posted by Don Cohen on February 15, 2006 11:23 AM | Permalink

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Is it New Age Taylorism ;-)

Posted by: Alain Savard | February 20, 2006 10:32 AM

Hey Don

In film crews (and probably many other ad hoc expert-based organizations), I think the equation is:

leadership (i.e., articulated purpose and clear direction) + expertise + clear roles & boundaries = high performance

Apply that to say an operating room team at a hospital.

Yes, there may be collaboration as well, if collaboration means cross-functional teamwork to solve operating problems.


Posted by: Terrence Seamon | February 15, 2006 05:54 PM

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