Theoretical Foundations of Cooperation in Cluster Organizations

Chapter 3 presents the theoretical foundations of cooperation, appearing in the subject literature, and the juxtaposition of selected concepts with the specific nature of cluster organizations (COs). Due to the fact that this topic is relatively widely described in various sources, only those concepts and publications that had a relatively high potential to be applied to cases of cluster cooperation were selected for this chapter. The first part of this chapter deals with fundamental issues related to the term “cooperation” itself and the different forms that cooperation can take. Subsequently, the factors and conditions, the fulfillment of which plays an important role in the establishment of effective cooperation by the entities, as well as the main factors responsible for the final success of a given cooperation act, were considered. The elements discussed in this section are referred to as “catalysts” and “inhibitors”, i.e. factors and conditions that favor the establishment and development of cooperation (catalysts) and ones that inhibit these processes (inhibitors). Due to the specific nature of this chapter, much more attention was paid to the catalysts of cooperation. The purpose of the second part of the chapter is to present the existing theories of cooperation, that is comprehensive, coherent concepts of cooperation taking into account different paradigms of perception of reality and the multiplicity of contexts in which a specific concept can be applied. Wherever it was possible and reasonable, the authors referred to the theoretical issues discussed to the problems of COs and the specific nature of cluster reality.

Cooperation - Basic Findings

Essence and Forms of Cooperation

The history of mankind is not the history of specific individuals, but a chronicle of the effects of joint actions undertaken by these individuals and the totality they create (small and large social groups). Both the biological evolution of the human species and the increase in the complexity of human social life have been, are, and will be determined by the nature of the collective efforts of individuals and the entire groups that they form. Although joint actions have been, and still are, rather homogeneous, the forms in which (individual or collective) entities carry out specific (Gray, 2000) acts of cooperation vary considerably.

When discussing the issue of a homogeneous basis for joint actions (and thus, in fact, referring to the general motivation for cooperating with others in a specific problem area), one should consider the following observation, which is essentially a truism but accurately describes the main motivational backbone responsible for establishing cooperation between people: no human individual or no higher-order entity comprised of individuals is and will ever be self-sufficient. This results directly from the imperfect biological structure of human organisms and the finite amount of resources available in the human environment - this has a secondary effect on the nature of the social relations and relationships established between individuals and groups of these individuals (e.g. enterprises). By cooperation, entities are able to mobilize the potential and achieve the objectives which they could not achieve on their own. At the same time, it is worth remembering that each specific act of cooperation (especially undertaken at the level of aggregates of individuals, i.e. organizations) has specific effects not only for the cooperating entities, but also for other actors of social life related to them (in the perspective of cooperating enterprises, interorganizational cooperation may affect not only the cooperating companies themselves, but also, e.g. their suppliers, customers, or even the entire industry). Moreover, the effects of such a cooperation may also cause a lasting change in the further environment of the cooperating entities: they may, for example, have the effect of spreading a specific model of cooperation among, e.g. enterprises in the industry, pointing out to the authorities (central or local government) a valuable direction for a policy stimulating interorganizational cooperation, or even initiating changes in the existing axionormative system of a given community.

In addressing the issue of the diversity of forms of cooperation, one cannot fail to mention the important terminological findings related to the term “cooperation” - not only in terms of the standard discrepancies between the different definitions of the term, but above all in terms of the need to make a terminological distinction and highlight the increasing intensity of cooperation in relations of different nature and objectives. As Camarinha-Matos and Afsarmanesh (2008) point out, the problem when considering the notion of cooperation is no longer just simple ambiguity (or merely a lack of an unambiguous understanding of the often interchangeably used terms of “collaboration” and “cooperation”), but also the overlapping of related terms, referring to the sphere of relations between entities - relations concerning the exchange of specific resources carried out for the benefit of all the entities involved. According to Camarinha-Matos and Afsarmanesh, the following terms require clarification and thus the establishment of relatively clear boundaries between them: networking and coordinated networking, as representing the first two phases/stages of establishing and maintaining relations based on the achievement of at least partly common objectives, and cooperation and collaboration as terms referring to more developed acts of cooperation between two or more entities.

It can be assumed that the first, most basic form of cooperation is networking, which “involves communication and information exchange for mutual benefit” (Camarinha-Matos & Afsarmanesh, 2008, p. 311). It is a form of cooperation, the purpose of which - although similar in the entities involved - will not be joint in nature, and will therefore not be oriented towards the common good, but only towards the benefit of each individual entity. In the reality of cluster cooperation, the exchange of information by representatives of individual cluster entities, carried out more or less regularly or on the occasion of some specially organized meetings and events, held within the framework of the CO, or spontaneously, on an ad hoc basis, at the initiative of one or more members, may be considered an equivalent situation. It is also possible to imagine a situation in which a group of entities exchanging their experience/opi- nions/knowledge would also include organizations which are not members of a given CO, but for a specific reason are vitally interested in obtaining or sharing information important for the achievement of their goals (such contact does not have to be regular).

A one level higher in the hierarchy of cooperation forms is coordinated networking, which is understood as: “In addition to exchanging information, it involves aligning/altering activities so that more efficient results are achieved. Coordination, that is, the act of working together harmoniously, is one of the main components of collaboration” (Camarinha-Matos St Afsarmanesh, 2008, p. 311). As an illustration of this form of cooperation applied to cluster reality, it can be assumed that there is a formalized, special platform for communication among members of a CO, which will be used by the member entities, i.e. to obtain and publish information on topics of interest to them. This platform can be understood both in a sophisticated way - as devices and software deliberately purchased and installed for the use of cluster members (cluster server with a communicator, e-mail using CO alias, video meeting application, etc.). - and in a simple way, i.e. the use of solutions already existing in the organization to maintain and develop communication with other members (e.g. mailing list of cluster companies, using company e-mail addresses). Another variant of coordinated networking may be, for example, joint lobbying activities of cluster companies as well as individuals and organizations from outside the CO interested in the effects of such lobbying.

Another more advanced form of cooperation compared to the previously discussed ones is cooperation, which “involves not only information exchange and adjustments of activities but also sharing resources for achieving compatible goals. Cooperation is achieved by division of some labor (not extensive) among participants” (Camarinha-Matos & Afsarmanesh, 2008, p. 311). In this case, a reference to the cluster reality may be a situation in which a part of CO members would get involved in the implementation of a specific project/task. The objective of such cooperation would be common, its effects would belong to all the entities involved in their achievement (as regards the detailed rules of distribution, the participating entities would have to agree in advance), and each of the entities involved would consequently have specific tasks to perform (with the use of their own resources). However, a characteristic feature of “cooperation”, which distinguishes it from “collaboration”, is that although the initiative to launch and the action plan to implement such a project most often come from one entity or a narrow group of entities, a wider range of participants is usually involved in the implementation of such a project.

However, the highest, most developed form of cooperation of (individual or collective) entities remains collaboration, in which “entities share information, resources, and responsibilities to jointly plan, implement, and evaluate a program of activities to achieve a common goal” (Camarinha-Matos & Afsarmanesh, 2008, p. 311). Collaboration assumes not only taking responsibility for the execution of a predetermined part of the work, but most importantly, it extends the scope of participation of all entities involved also to the phase of formulating objectives, planning and designing paths to achieve them, as well as the consequences (both positive and negative) of achieving (or failure to achieve) the expected effects of cooperation. The entities involved in collaboration must not only have the appropriate capacity to achieve the main objective, but also a multilateral trust in and of their partners that each of them will be willing and able to engage in joint activities to the extent enabling the achievement of the previously planned effects. The discussed form of cooperation is basically the most desirable form of cooperation between entities forming COs due to the maximization of the synergy effect that can be created during collaboration. However, this is the most difficult form of cooperation to achieve, as it requires an above-average maturity of the entities involved and the existence of relationships based on trust between them (this issue will be discussed in more detail later on). In COs, this form of cooperation is most often used to develop, create, and distribute a new product or service that will be distributed under the CO brand. With cooperation aimed at creating a completely new marketable quality, it is necessary for the member entities to be fully involved from the very beginning of the process to its completion (regardless of whether the process ends in success or failure). This means both sharing the benefits generated and risking difficulties during the process.

Camarinha-Matos and Afsarmanesh stress that within a single alliance there can be a dynamic change in the form of cooperation that the entities involved in the implementation of a given project undertake at a given stage - in some phases, it is not necessary to maintain interaction at the level of collaboration, but only cooperation. This is of particular importance in tasks where it is sufficient to separate sub-tasks that are independent of each other - then each of the entities is responsible for the implementation of the assigned part, and the final goal will be achieved after all sub-tasks are completed. However, pre-empting the facts slightly, it should be added that the results of the research presented by the authors in this publication allow the above conclusion to be extended and specified: in COs it is possible not only to move from one form of cooperation to another (the levels of cooperation distinguished by the authors will be discussed in detail in Chapter 5) but, due to the fact that in principle no CO is homogeneous and consists of a certain number of subgroups, one should talk about simultaneous occurrence and use of more than one form of cooperation in a given CO (each group may cooperate on different principles - nothing stands in the way of a CO being internally divided into cooperation circles, each of which will function using a different form of cooperation).

Another proposal for the classification of possible forms of cooperation that can be undertaken by individuals or collective entities is a four- divisional one, based on a combination of two 2-variant criteria: criterion I - approach to manage the cooperation; and criterion II - type of involvement in the cooperation. Although the original authors of the cited classification - Y. L. Doz and O. Baburoglu (Doz & Baburoglu, 2000) - did not use the above-mentioned names to define particular dimensions of cooperation, it seems that the terms proposed here quite accurately reflect the idea behind the inclusion of these particular criteria for distinguishing cooperation in their considerations. Within criterion I, two situations can be distinguished: “designed” and “smooth” cooperation (these terms are also not entirely consistent with the nomenclature introduced by Doz and Baburoglu (2000), who, in this context, described cooperation as “Design” and “Process”), whereas criterion II consists of “articulated” and “involuntary” cooperation (“Explicit commitments” and “Common Ground” in Doz and Baburoglu) (pp. 182-183).

In the context of criterion I - “designed” and “smooth” cooperation - it should be stated that each of these forms is applied in different acts of cooperation - each proves to be more useful in certain conditions. “Designed” cooperation should be associated with a situation where the entities involved take care of shaping more or less formal frameworks for cooperation processes. In this case, the relevant thing is not only a clear division of roles during cooperation and the resulting different obligations, but also the definition of the arrangement of these roles in the area that is subject to cooperation (in this context, it becomes particularly important to establish a hierarchical order). “Smooth” cooperation (the “Process” variant in Doz and Baburoglu) is associated with a much lesser emphasis on creating formal or at least clearly articulated conditions for joint activities. Using the language of Bourdieu’s theory, this variant could be described as a situation in which entities operate in a certain field of reality and know the realities of it, even though they are not written down anywhere. However, this does not prevent them from functioning properly in a given field, because each participant has internalized the rules of operation within it (Bourdieu, 1977; 1984; 1986; 1990).1

Criterion II - defined here as relating to the type of involvement of the cooperating entities - includes two basic variants: “articulated” and “involuntary” (“Explicit commitments” and “Common Ground” in Doz and Baburoglu). For the variant of “articulated” cooperation, the entities not only declare their willingness to cooperate to achieve a specific result, but - above all - they make a clear commitment to active involvement in the implementation of a specific project. The degree of formalization of such a commitment is most often determined by the very specificity of the area of cooperation as well as the attitude and relations with other partners involved - a tendency may be observed to formalize commitments more willingly in the case of cooperation between partners in alliances considered uncertain (e.g. due to a lack of trust in the other partners) (Ring & van de Ven, 1992). “Involuntary” cooperation is the interaction of a specific group of entities that builds on the community that exists between them, e.g. values, standards, goals, specific nature of the industry, etc. Shared beliefs, worldviews, and knowledge constitute a natural ground for often spontaneous actions combining the efforts of more than one entity.

By putting these criteria together, four main types of cooperation can be observed at the intersection of individual variants of both criteria: “involuntary and designed”, “involuntary and smooth”, “articulated and designed”, as well as “articulated and smooth” cooperation. When transferring all these types of cooperation to the ground of COs, it should immediately be stated that each of them is sometimes used by entities cooperating within the framework of a CO. Of course, none of the identified types of cooperation are suitable for all conditions - it must be made clear that some of them work better in one combination of conditions and others in completely different conditions. However, as mentioned above, the results of the research presented by the authors of this publication allow us to draw a conclusion about the possible occurrence of a situation in which more than one type of cooperation will be used in a CO at the same time due to the fact that all COs establish sub-groups, each of which can work in different conditions (thus the cooperation models adopted in particular sub-groups will most probably differ from each other).

An example of “involuntary and designed” cooperation can be the very establishment of a CO - on the basis of a specific community (localization, industry, business potential, and goals set for a specific entity, e.g. an enterprise), a certain group of entities sees the possibility of establishing cooperation relations and - after making a joint decision to establish a CO - starts designing and planning activities, the main objective of which would be to create a CO composed (at the beginning) of all initially interested entities. “Involuntary and smooth” cooperation is a model that quite often occurs in COs due to being natural and obvious to appear in cluster conditions: enterprises that are similar to each other or complementary to each other (while still having compatible goals) explore different paths of cooperation in a flexible way that provides them with the possibility of potentially terminating a given act of cooperation without negative consequences for its participants. A good example of such activities is one of the basic functionalities of any CO, i.e. exchange of information between members. Often, especially at the very beginning of operation of a CO, such an exchange of information is not regulated or planned in any way, and rather takes place in a way “incidentally”, as a complement to other events taking place within the CO or as a response to an ad hoc need of one or more members. Cooperation in the “articulated and designed” model can be referred to a situation where some members of a CO (very rarely all members - unless the CO would consist of a very small number of participants) would want to implement a specific project, e.g. a common product or service. Such an intention would require the members involved in its implementation to both plan the various phases of its achievement and establish a precise division of labor between the participants, as well as to articulate a commitment by each entity to take on some of the responsibilities, costs, and workload necessary to achieve the objective set and accepted by all. “Articulated and smooth” cooperation is a manner of interaction of cluster entities, which includes a combination of officially undertaken commitments (or - in the absence of official declarations - the trust existing between the partners regarding the stability of their involvement in cluster activities) with flexibility and openness to enter into new ideas.2

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