Although difficult, complicated, and sometimes discouraging, collaboration is recognized as a viable approach for addressing uncertain, complex and wicked problems. Collaborations can attract resources and increase efficiency, facilitate visions of mutual benefit that can ignite common desires of partners to work across and within sectors, and create shared feelings of responsibility. Collaboration can also promote conceptualized synergy, the sense that something will “be achieved that could not have been attained by any of the organizations acting alone” (Huxham, 2003). However, previous inquiries into the problems encountered in collaborations have not solved an important question: How to enable successful collaboration? Through exploratory sequential mixed-methods research conducted in three empirical studies, I discover how interorganizational collaborations can overcome barriers to innovate and rejuvenate communities and understand the factors and antecedents that influence successful collaboration.
In the first study (Chapter 2), I use a grounded theory approach to identify the factors involved in successful collaboration. My interviews with leaders in affordable housing cross-sector collaborations revealed most collaborations for affordable housing encounter a common set of obstacles: funding, partnering, community, and/or government. Key findings suggest leaders of successful collaborations exhibit heightened emotional and social competencies, take actions intended to create a better future, remain mission-focused, and continuously redesign to meet ongoing challenges. Further, successful collaborations were innovative—creating solutions that rejuvenated their communities.
To confirm and validate the findings in the first study, I propose a theoretical model emerging from the qualitative research, designed and empirically tested through a survey of 452 leaders and managers participating in ongoing or recently completed interorganizational collaborations. In this second study (Chapter 3), I found design attitude (ß = 0.45, p < 0.001), shared vision (ß = 0.32, p < 0.001), and autonomy (ß = 0.16, p < 0.01) all positively affect successful collaboration performance. The study proposes a theoretical perspective for collaborators to adopt design science (i.e., a solution finding approach utilizing end-user-centered research, prototyping, and collective creativity to strengthen individuals, teams, and organizations), the language of designers, and a design attitude as an empirically informed pathway for better managing the complexities inherent in collaboration. This study is also the first to quantitatively validate a design attitude scale for building better collaborations.
In my third study (Chapter 4), I examine mutuality as a critical antecedent of successful collaboration performance and the importance of active listening in team interaction. This study uncovers the link between mutually beneficial exploration with validated constructs from my second quantitative study: boundary spanning (ß = 0.73, p < 0.001), design attitude (ß = 0.65, p < 0.001), shared vision (ß = 0.35, p < 0.001), and autonomy (ß = 0.34, p < 0.001). Finally, I propose how successful collaboration performance research can contribute to the development of evidence-based strategies for creating practitioner tools (Chapter 5), and I provide examples to guide practitioners (Chapter 6).
This dissertation makes theoretical and empirical contributions to the literature on interorganizational collaboration extending the traditional theoretical framework to include nontraditional literature streams and theories, and connecting theory to practice. Through an integrated framework, evidence-based tools and strategies for building successful collaboration is articulated where successful collaboration performance and innovation facilitates rejuvenative collaboration. The findings will be useful for leaders and managers in nonprofit, private, and government sectors interested in building better collaborations.