Organizational Models for Collaboration in the New Economy

By DeFillippi, Robert J. | Human Resource Planning, December 2002 | Go to article overview
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Organizational Models for Collaboration in the New Economy

DeFillippi, Robert J., Human Resource Planning

Technology Drivers and Collaboration

The new economy is a knowledge-based economy without borders, where the race is between companies and locales over how to learn faster and organize more flexibly to take advantage of technology-enabled market opportunities (Kelly, 1998; Best, 2001). Within this new economy, the World Wide Web is ubiquitous. It has transformed geographically separated locales into a "global village" for information sharing, social interaction, and economic exchange. Technology, in particular, ever-expanding digital bandwidth, has resulted in the creation of new-economy forms of intangible, knowledge-based capital, the value of which now exceeds that of the physical capital that once dominated old economies (Castells, 2000; Tapscott, et al., 2000). Whereas old-economy business models emphasized organizationally defined tasks and roles, new-economy business models value self-organizing teams, companies, and industry-based clusters or communities of networked firms and institutions to meet the changing requirements of innovative projects, the boundaries of which transcend the rigidities of old-economy hierarchies. The perspective taken in this article asserts that the careers and work experiences of new-economy workers are interdependent with their involvement in Web-enabled teams, companies, and social and industry communities through which project work is accomplished (see Exhibit 1).

We evidenced a shift from immobile-wired infrastructures to mobile, miniature, and wireless modes of communication, computing, and transacting. Customers demand "any time, any place" solutions of their problems. Such demands have led companies to invest in creating online business processes and services as either substitutes or supplements to brick-and-mortar service offerings (Gulati & Garino, 2000). Moreover, by compressing the time cycles for satisfying customer requirements, companies now face unprecedented organizational challenges in adapting their human resources and organizational practices to the fast-moving business environment. Rigid organizational routines will destroy economic value when market and technological requirements advance (Leonard-Barton, 1995).

Innovative enterprises that employ technology to facilitate independent, project-based collaborations are the hallmark of the new economy (Quinn, et al., 1997). Such collaborations can range from arms-length information sharing to highly interdependent joint cooperation in the creation of new products and services (Best, 2001). Information technology now makes possible a variety of collaborative workspaces for project teams, companies, and industry clusters or networks. In the sections to follow, we examine each of these modes of collaboration and assess the opportunities and challenges for HR managers and their new economy knowledge workers.

Technology, Teams, and Trust

The new economy's performance demands and its technology tools are affecting the way in which project teams are organized. First, in the old economy, companies facing predictably long-term and stable demands for products and services could create work teams of relatively long duration. But new-economy companies face much shorter demand cycles and less-predictable customer requirements. As a result, new-economy companies must be able to create and dissolve teams rapidly in response to rapidly changing requirements. Team members must be prepared to change their team affiliations frequently and effectively and efficiently to collaborate with new team members on new projects. Such short-lived teams challenge more orthodox notions of building group cohesion and commitment over time (Mullen & Copper, 1994).

Second, old-economy companies were typically staffed through stable, long-standing organizational units, so that marketing departments had marketing teams, engineering departments had engineering teams, and project boundaries largely reflected internal organizational arrangements.

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