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Building Bridges: A Study of Coordination in Projects

On August 13, I successfully defended my dissertation. Today, I submitted my final, approved version to University of Michigan’s institutional repository. That version won’t be available until after I receive my degree in December, but you’re welcome to read a nearly identical version of my complete dissertation.

Dissertation Abstract
In our efforts to understand how collaborative work can be accomplished, we often turn to discussions of “coordination” for help. However, the concept of coordination is inadequate for explaining the many interdependent processes at work within successful collaborations. In this dissertation, I examined a collaborative construction project — the Woods Avenue Bridge (WAB) Project — with many coordination demands. I used data from this project to develop the concept of adaptive capacity — the set of capabilities a team develops that enable them to adjust to internal and external stresses.

Through analyzing meeting minutes, interview transcripts, and documents the project team developed, I was able to identify behaviors and approaches the team took that may have enabled them to better respond to changes in their environment. I use a specific example of a time when the team successfully redesigned the structure they were building in the field to illustrate the kind of coordination work adaptive capacity enables.

From data about the WAB Project, I identified components of adaptive capacity including perspective taking, multimembership, affect, and social capital. Understanding these components and the adaptive capacity they can develop helps us understand what about a team enables them to accomplish coordination work. Without adaptive capacity, we lack an integrated explanation of the ways in which different components interact and how those components address coordination.

This dissertation contributes to our understanding of how collaborative teams accomplish coordination by refining the concept of adaptive capacity and integrating earlier literatures on coordination, collaboration, and adaptation. The concept of adaptive capacity helps us understand the resources collaborative teams develop that make it possible for them to find flexible and creative solutions to their coordination problems.

So, what do you think ?

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