People engage in joint activity for many reasons: because of necessity (neither party, alone, has the required skills or resources), enrichment (while each party could accomplish the task, they believe that adding complementary points of view will create a richer product), coercion (the boss assigns a group to carry out an assignment), efficiency (the parties working together can do the job faster or with fewer resources), resilience (the different perspectives and knowledge broaden the exploration of possibilities and cross check to detect and recover from errors) or even collegiality (the team members enjoy working together).

We propose that joint activity requires a “Basic Compact” that constitutes a level of commitment for all parties to support the process of coordination. The Basic Compact is an agreement (usually tacit) to participate in the joint activity and to carry out the required coordination responsibilities. Members of a relay team enter into a Basic Compact by virtue of their being on the team; people who are angrily arguing with each other are committed to a Basic Compact as long as they want the argument to continue.

One aspect of the Basic Compact is the commitment to some degree of goal alignment—typically this entails one or more participants relaxing some shorter-term local goals in order to permit more global and long-term goals to be addressed. These longer-term goals might be shared goals (e.g., a relay team) or individual goals (e.g., drivers wanting to ensure safe journeys). A second aspect of the Basic Compact is a commitment to try to detect and correct any loss of common ground that might disrupt the joint activity.

We do not view the Basic Compact as a once-and-for-all prerequisite to be satisfied, but rather as a continuously reinforced or renewed agreement. Part of achieving coordination is investing in those things that promote the compact as well as being sensitive to and counteracting those factors that could degrade it.

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