Collaboration in scientific research : factors that Influence effective collaboration during a period of transformational change
Waruszynski, Barbara Theresa
Collaboration and Teamwork
In an era of fiscal restraint, federal science and technology organizations are promoting more advanced whole-of-government solutions to complex problems through effective intra-organizational and inter-organizational collaboration. Although the literature reveals that there are several factors which influence the effectiveness of collaborations, there remains a major gap in determining which factors affect researchers’ attitudes and behaviours to collaborate during periods of organizational change. This ethnographic study aims to bridge this gap by: (1) identifying the factors that influence researchers’ attitudes and behaviours in scientific research collaborations; (2) establishing if these factors affect team outputs and outcomes; and (3) understanding if organizational change impacts the effectiveness of research collaborations. Theories on teamwork, collaboration, social interdependence, social systems, and organizational change are incorporated to examine effective collaboration practices in one case study. The Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) under the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) within Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) is the case under study, and is employed to understand the effectiveness of scientific research collaborations during a period of transformational change. Twenty-six participants took part in this qualitative study, including 13 researchers and 13 managers. Based on interviews with federal researchers and managers, and industry managers, and a focus group with federal managers, the findings reveal that there are several factors that influence effective collaborations: (1) collaborative culture (e.g., shared vision, governance, and values of mutual trust and respect); (2) leadership (i.e., visionary, collective, and team leadership); (3) human and financial resources; (4) team integration and synergy (i.e., shared commitment and team cohesion); (5) shared communications (e.g., face-to-face communications); and (6) interpersonal relationships that are enabled by social interdependence. The findings also suggest that the above factors positively influence the quality of collaborative team performance in the following ways: (1) ability for researchers to work in a collaborative culture through a shared vision, an established governance, and values; (2) visionary, collective, and team leadership styles that enable an integrated collaborative environment and goal attainment; (3) human and financial resources that support the right team composition and funding to successfully complete the projects; (4) team synergy for accomplishing goals and generating good quality outputs; (5) shared communications to foster greater information sharing and trust between researchers; and (6) social interdependence to nurture relationships over time. Team viability is dependent on how well the team performed together to achieve its project goals, and if researchers trusted each other and shared information throughout the collaboration. Individual and team satisfaction is based on participants’ overall contentment (individually and as a team) in producing scientific or client-related outputs and outcomes. This study has also shown that organizational changes have an impact on the factors that influence effective collaboration. The findings suggest that effective collaboration is contingent on researchers’ adaptability to organizational change. Although the transformation of the forest sector generally fostered positive change, there were specific factors of organizational change that challenged the effectiveness of collaborations. These factors include: (1) the lack of integrated research programs and processes between the CWFC and its main industry partner; (2) new government administrative processes that impacted scientific productivity; and (3) the lack of face-to-face interactions due to government travel restrictions. Based on the literature review and this doctoral study, a new model on collaboration is proposed and provides a list of factors that are considered to be important in facilitating effective collaboration. Additional research is required to better unfold the interrelationships between these factors and how their interrelationships impact effective collaboration, particularly during periods of organizational change. Recommendations are put forward on how to improve collaboration in the workplace and are intended to inform departmental policies, practices, and programs on ways to enable better collaboration. Recommendations are also suggested for the conduct of future research on team science and propose ways to improve collaboration in scientific research.