Becoming collaborative: enhancing the understanding of intra-organisational relational dynamics
thesisposted on 01.07.2019, 08:09 by Eloise Grove
Managing the delivery of highway maintenance and management is complex. A multi-faceted and highly reactive service provision requires the coordination of an interconnected web of intra-organisational inputs. Collaborative approaches for the management of such complexity has attracted a great deal of research attention over the years but there remains a lack of research examining collaboration “in flight”. In Construction Management Research (CMR) studies orientate toward antecedents and processes for the application of a collaborative approach. Practically, contracts are used to govern these works, to coordinate expectations, and to structure relationships, with most of the work procured under transactional, non-collaborative and financially punitive forms of contract, which makes the enactment of collaborative working practices even more challenging. To investigate how collaborative approaches to service delivery might improve performance, this study examines the conditions that render collaboration operable when deployed within non-collaborative delivery frameworks. To aid this understanding the theoretical lens of institutionalisation, a theory underutilised in CMR, is used to unravel the multiplicity of factors acting to both support and erode collaborative working practice as observed at the micro level. Typically, institutional theorists examine micro and macro elements separately. Through a longitudinal case study consisting of four and a half years of participant observation, this study adopts an approach to examine micro-practices of collaborative behaviour to reveal how collaboration plays out in practice, leading to an understanding of how collaboration is shaped by macro-institutional logics. Through the lens of institutionalisation this study supports a reconceptualisation of collaboration, not as an exceptional event, but as an ongoing journey of accomplishment. This work follows the observations of three improvement initiatives designed to enhance collaborative working for the purposes of service improvement.
Early findings revealed formalised collaborative efforts improved performance but benefits realised remained localised. Bringing people together to collectively work through an isolated issue did not automatically lead to more or better collaboration. Pockets of collaborative efforts were found to be unsupported by wider governance mechanisms leading to short term interventions, unsustainable over time. Using institutionalisation to make sense of the observations revealed tensions between regulatory and cognitive/normative institutional logics; tensions that were observed to impact negatively on service delivery, particularly given the non-relational contractual arrangements employed to procure and govern service provision. For example, cognitive logics to engage in collaborative solutions were overshadowed by logics that put commercial needs front and centre.
Contrary to the dominant discourse in CMR that describes how collaborative interventions can be applied to positively impact project performance, this research reveals the need for sustained collaborative effort. Whilst other work in the field deterministically positions relationships (collaborative or otherwise) as a product of contractual arrangements, findings here suggest collaborative behaviours can thrive in unfavourable contract mechanisms. As such, this work proposes a framework for an alternative approach to supporting collaboration that addresses the failure to recognise conflicting logics, understand why conflict arises and effectively manage the consequences, particularly in adversarial environments.