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Business Trends

Collaboration in Business Networks

Understanding Collaboration from a social context can give us clues on how Business Networks can embrace and execute on collaboration. Barbara Gray[1] gives a useful definition of collaboration as 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. Collaboration starts with a network that fundamentally enables communication.


There are many related terms that are used in the context of group problem solving including collaboration, partnership, coalition, alliances, strategic alliances, consortia, networks and intersectoral group. Ellen Taylor-Powell[2] organizes these terms on the basis of goals of the participants and the degree of identity preserved in the group interaction. The insight was that starting from a network that enables basic communication, support groups come together on independent goals and independent contributions, task forces , councils and alliances are coordinated on complementary goals, partnerships and consortiums typically have joint goals but independent identities working cooperatively, and finally, when there are joint goals and joint identities collaboration is born. This characterization of the group problem solving using the 5 C’s (Communication – Contribution – Coordination – Cooperation – Collaboration) presents us with an opportunity to map the evolution of Business Networks.

Ellen’s[3] article continues to give a breakdown of the collaborative process. A collaborative process has the steps of form-norm-storm-perform-adjourn.


Collaborative activities have a distinct begin (form) and an end (adjourn). Since the collaboration was established to solve a certain issue or problem, there is a clear action criterion (perform). The alignment (norm) of the group and the perspectives is necessary before the generation of alternatives (storm).  The aim of collaboration is action driven by a spontaneously formed group. Although the actual members and content of the group can change, the nature of the collaboration gets reasonably well defined and independent of these changes as long as the process of collaboration is followed.

Business Networks today are largely Coordinated with organizations serving complementary goals in the chain of interactions. As these networks evolve into Cooperation and Collaboration activities, it is reasonable to assume that the basic form-norm-storm-perform-adjourn phases of collaboration will play out.

While the Business Networks are progressing along the trajectory starting with Coordination to Cooperation and then on to Collaboration, the participating businesses will have to prepare themselves and successfully execute the form-norm-storm-perform-adjourn cycle of Collaboration. The recent trend of the willingness and eagerness of businesses to engage closely with their ecosystems is indicative of how new dynamics for the ‘form’ phase of Collaboration is evolving. We are also seeing emerging models for shared intellectual property management, shared revenue, etc, which is defining the ‘norm’ phase. Similarly, the collaborative innovation models such as SAP’s Innocentive program[4] or Dell’s IdeaStorm[5] signify how the ‘storm’ phase is shaping up in the world of collaboration. The appropriate vehicles for ‘perform’ are still evolving but one may think of SAP’s focus on Business Network Transformation as a great stride on this path. Since there is a temporary merger of the goals and identities in the interest of problem solving via Collaboration, at organizational levels this would mean a fully trusted interaction window that allows for data and personnel involvement. The window of open and trusted interaction needs to be controlled, monitored and managed to minimize any long term risks that are exposed due to the necessity of the Collaboration. Thus ‘adjourn’ phase of the Collaborative process is an option Organizations in the Business Network will exercise depending on the situation and the degree of exposure of resources.  On the other hand, the collaborating entities will be constantly grouping and regrouping with each other whereby a distinct adjournment with regard to the Business Network is perhaps never going to be a marked event!



[1] Barbara Gray Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems © 1989

[3] ibid.

[5] extracted on 25 Jan 2010

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