ASIS Midyear '98 Proceedings

Collaboration Across Boundaries:
Theories, Strategies, and Technology

Volunteer and Business Organizations:
Similar Issues for Collaboration

M. J. Norton
University of Southern Mississippi



Business/corporate and volunteer professional organizations are confronted with significant challenges related to changing social and economic constructs. Dramatic developments in technology, increasingly interconnected economies, accelerating industrial competitiveness, and recognition of the interdisciplinarity of most fields is leading to revisions in the architecture (Gerstein, 1992) of both types of organizations. The emerging functional response employs collaboration as a method to exploit information resources and to manage activities. There are similarities among the issues that impact both commercial and volunteer organizations. Motivating successful business/corporate collaboration may depend on some of the same factors that affect volunteer professional organizations. Examining volunteer motivation and concerns which influence the management of collaborative projects may provide insight into general performance which could be translated into enhanced employee productivity. This paper is an initial examination of issues related to volunteer professional and business/corporate organizations looking for similarities in concerns. Bear in mind that volunteer work is usually an effort beyond one's existing employment, in a strict sense an unpaid job. Is what moves people to volunteer, to take on additional tasks, also possibly what it is beyond fiscal reward that keeps people working? Could recognizing volunteer motivation and behavior provide information which could be applied to improve employee participation and productivity? Is the emergence of collaboration as a strategy also a mechanism to improve job satisfaction?

Volunteer and Business/corporate Organizations

Volunteer organizations are collaborative efforts among individuals with some commonality or cross-intersection of goals or interests. There are at least three readily identifiable classes of voluntary groups, 1) those that are motivated by social conciousness or purposes; 2) those oriented toward participatory pleasure or self-improvement; 3) those that are professionally related. These three broad classes are neither definitive nor mutually exclusive (Pearce 1993). For example, a group focused on environmental issues may also provide opportunities for members to participate in some activities which would be classified under participatory pleasure, such as hiking, biking, and birdwatching. Similarly, a professional group, while intent on the current issues of a the profession may also be advocating social concerns and providing access to a professionally based self-help body. Detailing these three categories into specific organizations or associations will not be fruitful in this discussion. However, it is important to recognize voluntary groups cover a wide variety of forms: religious organizations, health clubs, neighborhood associations, labor unions, fraternal groups, hobbyists, book clubs, professional and trade groups, to mention just a few. Further, the actual impact and importance of voluntary efforts is too often underestimated and undervalued. According to the American Association of Retired Persons Survey of Civic Involvement (1997) approximately "44% of all adults have volunteered time in the past 12 months. Many of the volunteers are giving substantial amounts of their time, with 40% of these averaging more than ten hours per month" (AARP, 1997, p. 82). The same survey found the third most frequently reported membership was in professional or trade organizations, 27% of Americans. Membership in religious organizations was the highest at 61%, followed by health/sports/country clubs 29%.

Organizational architecture varies from minimalist informal groups to heirarchical structures, suggestive of a business run by a board of stock holders with a profit motive. Among the more structured groups are volunteer organizations related to a particular trade or profession. In order to function, these organizations are composed of a small core of staff that guide and provide services to a volunteer body of collaborators who are the moving force and intellectual resource of the organization. The majority of members belong to the organization, pay dues or memberships for a variety of services, such as journals, newsletters, database access, discount priviledges, facility access, and so on. Members belong for a variety of purposes but are usually not paid to belong either by the organization or their business affiliations. Examples of such professional organizations with large volunteer components are the Association for Information Science (ASIS), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and the American Library Association (ALA). The primary difference between these organizations and business/corporate bodies revolves around the personnel; members of a professional organization pay dues to belong and render services voluntarily, members of a business/corporate organization are paid compensation and benefits, and render services related to agreed upon position tasks. A secondary characteristic of the professional organization which might differentiate it from the business/corporate one, is the professional organization's membership is often the primary consumer of the very products that the members create (Pearce, 1993, 23) through their cooperative and collaborative actions. Such is the case with ASIS, ACM, ALA and many volunteer professional organizations. Most of the publications of these groups are the result of the efforts of members, the membership is also one of the primary consumers of the product. This is also true of the creation and production of the content of most of their meetings and other organizational activities. Though the members are among the first level of consumers, this is not to suggest that they are the only consumers. The quality of the products rendered by such organizations opens a variety of markets. All three of these are information based associations, which means they are dependent on a more skilled level of volunteer, and fit what Tecker and Fidler (1993) refer to as an "information based and knowledge based" organization. These organizations perform collection, management, distribution and creation of access to information as well as acting to transform "raw data and descriptive information by including interpretation, advice, judgement about what on an increasingly extensive list of things to know is more important to pay attention to...(Tecker, 1993, 9)."

Business/corporate organizations also produce and use tremendous amounts of information, which may be annotated for relevance to specific internal users. More and more business organizations are attempting to become information based organizations. Some businesses' sole product is value added information. Regardless of a business/corporation's status as an information based business, all businesses/corporations use information. The success of most entereprises, whether mining coal or data, is influenced by how well they use and exchange information. Recent research suggests inappropriate distribution of internally generated information is one of the constraints affecting business/corporate organizations. Information to support decisions, or reports of advances within the same corporation may be unavailable within an organization because of poor interorganizational communication channels, attempts to confine information as a method of political power accumulation or just lack of a vehicle in the hierarchy to share information (Shaw & Perkins, 1992).

Motivating Performance

Traditional commercial organizational structures employing the organization-as-machine model have been constricted by two key components of the model; strict adherence to hierarchical management and information flow, which impedes rather than advances decision making, and rigid rules and procedures which limit flexibility and innovation. These aspects of the traditional model inhibit an organization's ability to be responsive to changes in technology, economics, business and social conditions (Nadler & Gerstein, 1992). Volunteer professional organizations have usually been less tied to the traditional organizational model but also have been threatened by inflexibility and lack of responsiveness to economic and social realignments. Diversified individual and professional priorities, as well as evolving complex lifestyle demands affect participants' willingness and availability to be active in professional organizations. The same factors have affected the worker pool. "As more educated workers with greater mobility and a desire for noneconomic returns from their employment (pride, a feeling of worth and accomplishment, challenge, and growth) came into the work force, the organizations built on this model [traditional organization-as-machine] had a more difficult time motivating and satisfying workers (Nadler & Gerstein, 1992, 114)."

Recent studies focused on the change in volunteer demographics during the last thirty years indicate that the core pool of individuals being drawn from for volunteer work has diversified. The shifts are related to changes in social structure, economics, and education levels, and are primarily the result of worker movement and industrial relocations responsive to macroeconomic trends. Shifts in population, modification of job markets, and new skill levels have resulted in different values, motivating factors and expectations of and by workers, and concurrently of and by volunteers. People of different experience levels and age groups will have different value structures as well as varied motivational factors. The recent three generations (pre-WWII to mid 1970s) have been shaped by distinctive forces which affect what and how they are motivated (Tecker, 1993). All three generations and cultural identities are represented in the modern work force and volunteer organization. Volunteer motivation will fall into three categories of voluntarism -- for the good of the society, for the good of the profession, and for self-enhancement. Murk and Stephan (1991) report that "Voluntarism is tied to the identities of people: where they live, where they work, what they do on their jobs and what their interests are outside of their regular jobs" (Murk & Stephan, 1991, 74). Work motivations start with economic security but are also shaped by the forces of the society around them and the social organization of the workplace. Employee motivations will revolve around economic need, self-enhancement and self-fulfillment, not necessarily always in that order. A variety of circumstances indirectly related to an individual's work will factor into remaining in a position or seeking alternative employment: geographical proximity of home and job, preference for a certain school district, familial responsibilities, availability of educational or cultural opportunities. However, job satisfaction and performance, typically essential to keeping a position, will be specifically affected by the nature of the workplace: the organization architecture, the individual's role and recognition of that role in the organization, the work environment, and the work itself. Improvements to production, to quality of products and to the fiscal health of corporations can be tied to employee involvement. "Based on research findings that when employees are involved they are more motivated to perform, their commitment to the organization increases, quality increases, and they contribute better decision making (Nadler & Gerstein, 1992, 128)." To maximize employee involvement and commitment to a business, motivational factors must be considered. To gain the most from volunteers, professional organizations must provide opportunities to fulfill individual reasons of voluntarism. To do this, they must recognize that volunteers have different motivations, and even submotivations. To involve employees in effective collaboration and redesign of the organizational structure requires understanding employee motivations outside the framework of simple fiscal reward. According to Nadler and Gerstein (1991) discussing high-performance work systems, two decades of research indicate employees with a sense of ownership in the business activities or products have a higher level of commitment and are internally motivated; there is lower absenteeism; increased quality in products; increased openness to new ideas and improved ability to adapt.

Minimal Criteria for Performance

Employees and volunteers have basic criteria which will increase the likelihood that they will perform. Both prefer to have tasks which they feel are meaningful and will have some impact. "Individuals act when they sufficiently value the potential outcomes of their actions and when they believe they can accomplish the desired performance (Shaw, 1992, 168)." Volunteers, usually with limited time, want to work on carefully defined projects with identified endpoints and specific goals. They want to ensure that time spent on any activity is meaningful, and any time given to a volunteer task will make a contribution worthy of their involvement (Gerber, 1991). Among reasons given for not volunteering was the concern that the effort would not really accomplish anything. One of the reasons Shaw and Perkins (1992) identify for failures in organization communication and an incapacity to act, is powerlessness, the sense that something is unchangeable so why try. Job performance may be critically impacted when workers do not have clear goals in sight, are not aware of the value or role of their efforts to the success of the business, or do not perceive themselves having an avenue of open communication. Lacking confidence about the importance of their contribution may diminish their sense of responsiblity or investment in the business' products (Hamel & Prahalad, 1994). Employees and volunteers perform better if they are interested in the outcome of the tasks and have some investment in them. This internal motivation is critical for volunteer organizations and probably plays a larger role in employee performance than it is credited. Internal motivation occurs "when the volunteer comes to believe that it is in his or her own self-interest to be actively involved, to accept responsibility, and to fulfill that responsibility effectively (Tecker & Fidler, 1993, 11)." Internal motivation comes from personal or professional commitment to an idea or mission. All organizations need to identify for their members or employees and for their affiliates, areas of commitment. People do not participate well in circumstances they have insufficient information about, or do not recognize as being important to them personally or professionally. Workers who are connected to the mission of a business, who understand their roles in pursuing it are more likely to be empowered, involved, and committed contributors to the organization (Hamel, 1994).


Willingness to participate in a collaborative endeavor will also be based upon circumstances that both employees and volunteers will recognize. Collaboration provides opportunities to work with people one might not normally have any interaction with, yet it also provides chances for people to excel on their own by placing them in a slightly different environment. Collaboration can result in the sharing of responsibilities and decreased time demands. However, collaboration can also contribute to increasing the time demands of a project if it is not properly managed. People with limited time want to work on carefully defined projects with identified endpoints and specific goals. Unlike business obligated collaboration, volunteer efforts are difficult to enforce, however an individual's motivation is key to completion of the task. Whether workers are compensated or volunteer, lack of commitment and motivation will cripple any project. Much voluntary activity would be impossible without collaboration. Whether the volunteer group's mission is flood relief or conducting academic conferences, it is the pooling of resources, labor, capital and time that potentiates success. Reasons for participating in collaboration are similar in some areas to reasons why people volunteer -- such as the opportunity to improve socializing skills, to learn more about a particular interest, to maintain skills, to make a transition from one situation to another, to demonstrate a special skill or to enable the completion of some purpose. Employment related motives are equally possible for both employee and volunteer. Including getting to know important people in the professional community; gaining new skills for future paid positions; impressing current employers,or peers; enhancing status or prestige by being affiliated with a particular group (Murk & Stephan 1991). Collaboration is an essential aspect of the modern workplace, as an opportunity to improve communications, and a method to have a cross fertilization of ideas.

Involving people with high interest in a project improves the likelihood that the project will be completed, regardless of whether the project is voluntary or compulsory. Rewarding the efforts of participants appropriate to their motivation or interests can engender loyalty and enhance performance. Providing sufficient information for collaborators to determine their responsibility, the time-table, the outcomes and impact of the undertaking on the participants, as well as the larger role of the project, are essential to successful collaboration and mission outcomes. Volunteer professional organizations are seed beds for collaborative exploration and involvement. They are often based on the willingness of a volunteer collaborative body of experts to produce high quality products to please a diverse corpus of consumers from a variety of fields.

Modern business/corporate environments striving to survive will be involved in collaboration to ensure information sharing. Renewed analysis of worker and volunteer motivations should be undertaken, for both attracting volunteers and retaining workers. Initial examination indicates business/corporate organizations have much more in common with volunteer professional organizations than recognized. Professional organizations composed of volunteers from several fields and supported via the collaborative efforts of their own volunteers may be a better model for cooperative performance in businesses than had been previously considered. Enhancing employee productivity and participation might be accomplished via broadened appeals to the 'volunteer' in the worker. Applying models for recruiting volunteers, which ultimately result in collarborative action to benefit the organization or its mission, to maintaining employees should be explored.


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Paper presented at the 1998 midyear meeting of the Association for Information Science, May 17-20, 1998, Orlando, Florida.

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