September 17, 2002
Collaborative work systems are those in which conscious efforts have been made to create strategies, policies, and structures as well as to institutionalize values, behaviors, and practices that promote cooperation among different parties in the organization in order to achieve desired business outcomes. While many organizations vocalize support for teamwork and collaboration, collaborative work systems are distinguished by intentional efforts to embed the organization with work processes and cultural mechanisms that enable and reinforce collaboration. New forms of organization continue to emerge with CWS as an essential facet. Team-based organizations and self-managing organizations represent types of collaborative systems. The computer revolution has made possible networked, cellular, and spherical forms of organizing, which represent more transorganizational forms of collaboration.
Why the urgency? The challenges organizations face seemed to be escalating rapidly. The number of global issues that impact an organization proliferate, including the terrorist threat, continued deforestation of ancient lands by debtor nations, wars, famine, disease, the accelerating splitting of nations’ consciousness into the haves and the have-not surround the globe, which feels hatreds – all aspects of interrelated political, social, economic, environmental challenges that will ultimately reduce quality-of-life on a worldwide scale if not addressed. These are the systemic, wicked problems that depend on many minds lodged in a common value set committed to improving human welfare in all settings. The business community must work with city, county, and state governments, with nation states, and with transnational organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Bank, to bring enough intellectual and financial capital to bear on the problems to do something about them – demanding collaborative initiatives at all levels.
Michael M. Beyerlein is director of the Center for the Study of Work Teams and professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology at the University of North Texas. He has edited or cowritten twelve books on collaboration.
Craig McGee is a principal with Solutions, and president and past-president of the Organization Design Forum, a professional society dedicated to the theory and practice of designing high-performing organizations.
Linda Moran works for AchieveGlobal. She has written or co-authored five books, including Self-Directed Work Teams: the New American Challenge.
Sue Freedman is founder and president of Knowledge Work Associates, a consulting firm specializing in collaboration and change in complex organizations.