Basic principles in the design of complex collaborations


  1. shared goals
  2. complementary capabilities
  3. compatible cultures: bias for performance, mutual respect and trust
  4. high level management support
  5. access to resources
  6. prior experience


  1. formal roles, tasks, expectations and understandings: charter, formerly-defined liaison roles
  2. special governance structures: all entities represented, clarity and simplicity, clear decision authority
  3. information, performance metrics, and information systems

the more critical the project and the greater the time pressures, the closer the collaborators need to work together and the greater the need for explicit and unambiguous decision-making processes, structures and authority.

People and relationships

  1. liaison roles and collaborating pairs
  2. lateral skills

Collaborations across different organizations almost always require separate liaison people to represent each of the organizations involved in the collaboration. On the other hand, complex collaborations within a single organization can get by with one person serving as the link between the separate plants, teams or units if the sites have close ties and if the liaison person is able to effectively represent each site via his or her experience, cultural background, and language skills.

Collaborative process

  1. facilitative but adaptable leadership
  2. frequent communications among participants and with external stakeholders via multiple means: face to face interactions and relationship building
  3. attitudes, expectations, and norms: mutual respect and trust, communication norms
  4. formal and informal learning processes: adaptable goals and plans, utility of early wins
  5. fun and playfulness


*1:Beyerlein et al (2004) "Complex collaboration: building the capabilities for working across boundaries" Advances in interdisciplinary studies of work teams. Vol. 10.