A method to advance mutual understanding in a multi partnership project

Tapani Ryynänen, Kim Jansson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


In group work, especially across organizational borders, it is challenging to transfer and manage information. In a joint research project initiated by several companies the management group has an important role as information and knowledge transferring medium. This role can be supported by using a facilitated systematic method that interconnects the corporate level and the network level (management group level) processes thus reducing the stickiness of the information and supporting participants ability to exploit the information. A group of Finnish maritime industry companies together with the researchers used the method to think up and elaborate the most valid challenges to establishing business in China. The challenges were listed, combined, evaluated, and put through SWOT analysis. Finally the management group considered the possible steps to take both as a group and as a single company. Often we see in real life inefficient communication between partners in R&D projects. In multi-partnership projects the centre of communication is the project team, often in smaller projects acting also as a management team. Communication tasks within and by this group are where efficiency should be improved. Each partner in the project has its own communication and decision processes also on the company level, where often company confidential information is handled. These processes are interconnected via a management group, in such a way that both benefits of sharing information and keeping the confidentiality of information can be achieved. Thus hindrances in communication between management group (network level) and partners’ own organizations (corporate level) as well as within the management team are an important issue. By applying methods fit for this dialog, communication, decision making and documentation of the process can be improved. In this paper, we will describe a method that supports this dialog. A case of networked co-operation is presented, where dialog takes place between individual companies through the management team of a joint research project. Communication has both a technical and social dimension. “The social dimension of an organization is especially crucial in the network organization because the type of coordinated action that is required is rarely routine.” (Nohria and Eccles, 1992). Any extensive method implemented should support both elements. Group work, especially in the context of business networks where several firms are represented often by several individuals, is not an unbroken process, but a series of separate fragments. These discontinuity points take place both in time and space and need to be managed in order not to waste only time and money, but most important, knowledge. There are two important issues in having a fruitful dialog among a group of cooperating companies: (1) exchange of information and (2) priorization. If this dialog is ongoing and objective-oriented in nature, it should be documented in sufficient detail to allow “audit trail” type of analysis, adjunct learning enabling and better development method implementation. Learning is a key to exploit available information. Argyris (1982) argues that executives’ are disconnected from their reasoning processes while making tough decisions. When several managers form a management group, these separate and unconscious reasoning processes need to co-operate to make decisions justifiable. Therefore a method that directs this mechanism makes learning more efficient and more transferable. Information becomes shared as well as owned within and by the management group during the process through group work and researchers’ actions. These actions structure, visualize and document information during the process; they also give group members tools to transfer information from corporate level to network level and vice versa. Innovation related sticky information (Hippel, 1994) can be found also in this process. A group of companies discussing how to improve probability of a successful market entry is a very innovative composition. Von Hippel has classified reasons why information is sticky. “Some reasons have to do with the nature of the information itself, some with the amount of information that must be transferred, and some with attributes of the seekers and providers of the information.” In this process, the first and the third reason are very relevant, but the second is no problem due to quite limited amount of transferred information. Though the amount of information obtained during the process was quite big, it was acquired from outside for the group, not passed between the members. Especially in the beginning of the process, the nature of information is qualitative, even fuzzy, though as process moves forward, more detailed and focused issues are handled. Most partners are in the middle of their own process “trying to understand and communicate”. Information is also classified; issues handled are very much on the strategic level. From a research point of view it is often challenging to study qualitative information, but quantification of data is always a fuzzy transition. Where this transformation take place - in the mind of the researchers mind or in that of an interviewee, - is the difference. This method uses interconnected qualitative and quantitative tools to try and create an observable relation between different types of information. This is not only for researchers to utilise, but in a development focused process with a group of people from several companies this provides a tool that supports group communication and learning. Attributes of the seeker and provider exist both on the personal and organisation level. Each member of the management group has two roles: one within the group (network level) and one within the company he represents (corporate level). He has to balance these roles based on the mandate given to him by the company he is representing. This mandate defines the corporate level attributes of the person. He also has personal level attributes, such as knowledge and experience, along with personality attributes that make him a person, a character. And as we know, some characters are easier to co-operate with than others. All this is naturally true also in the case of the researchers participating in the project.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-331
JournalThe Business Review Cambridge
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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