Communication in collaborative interorganizational relationships: a field study of leadership and stakeholder participation

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Koschmann, Matthew Alan, 1977-

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The purpose of this study is to further our understanding of organizational communication in collaborative interorganizational relationships (IORs) in the nonprofit sector. The specific communication practices of leadership and stakeholder participation were investigated during a 10-month ethnographic field study, which included meeting observations, in-depth interviews, and document analysis. Results indicate that collaborative IORs demonstrate a form of leadership that is distributed throughout the collaborative partners that mediates between common and competing interests and is sustained through communicative practices of casting vision, translating, asking, & listening. This enables collaborative IORs to foster collective action, despite the absence of formal authority structures. Additionally, this study demonstrates the reciprocal process of stakeholder participation needed to sustain collective action in collaborative IORs. Authentic participation is both provided to collaboration members through voice and opportunity, and provided to collaborative structures by collaboration members through contribution and commitment. Furthermore, the participation of multiple stakeholders in collaborative IORs gives rise to three communicative tensions: focus/inclusion, talk/action, and sector discourse/collaborative discourse. These tensions are balance through interaction between collaboration members as the continually negotiate the social order that constitutes collaborative IORs. Overall, these findings help us better understand the practices of human interaction that foster collaborative relationships among organizations, particularly health and human service organizations. This gives much-needed attention to the process of interorganizational collaboration, which complements the literature's dominant focus on antecedent conditions and outcomes. This research also draws more attention to the important social issues of communication and interaction in interorganizational collaboration, beyond the economic and resource-based theories so prevalent in past research. Theoretical implications and directions for future research are also discussed.